In 1943 Tyneham villagers were given just a month to evacuate their homes in support of the war effort. They were told they could return after the war was over, but they never went back. The village now stands as a testament to that era, with some dilapidated houses, a phone box and a few lovingly restored buildings.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy ghost towns and other abandoned buildings. We don’t have so many ghost towns in the UK; the country is too crowded and too small. Abandon anything here for any length of time and it will be bought up by developers and made into a luxury housing estate or a supermarket.
That’s why I was excited to track down this place.
Until the 1940s Tyneham was a small village on the south coast of England. It had a school room, a postoffice and a church. Most of the villagers would have made their living from farming or fishing. Life would have been hard. People had large families, all living together in small houses. There would have been no electric or running water, in common with most small rural settings at that time.
Between the two world wars the village population started to dwindle. Industrialisation was changing the way of life for many. The schoolroom closed in 1932, due to insufficient numbers of children. By the start of the second world war only around 250 people were left living in Tyneham.
In December 1943 the military took over the village and the land around it, to use for training soldiers fighting in the Second World War. The villagers, numbering around 225 by then, were given a month’s notice to evacuate their homes. This was on the understanding that they would move back after the war was over.
Except they never did. The military kept hold of the land, making a compulsory purchase in 1952.
Tyneham was run on a feudal system. The wealthy landowners received compensation for the land (around £30k) however the villagers were all tenants and as such received only small amounts of money for the vegetables they had planted and never got to eat.
This phonebox is a replica. In 1985 they filmed the movie Comrades here (no I don’t remember it either but it’s on Amazon Prime) and accidentally destroyed the original. This one was brought in by the film company to replace it. More recently it was completed with these notices to replicate just how it would have looked in 1943 when the village was abandoned.
After you have finished looking around the village there is a track (well signposted) leading down to the beach at Worbarrow Bay. It is around twenty minutes walk away. This part of the coast is only accessible either from Tyneham when the road is open or from walking along the coastal path from nearby villages, so it makes a somewhat quieter beach to enjoy. In an area becoming increasingly (over) developed it is a welcome break.
The village is shut away in the Lulworth range, inaccessible for much of the week. The MOD open the land to the public at specific times, normally weekends and holidays (but not every weekend, you need to check) when it is not being used for military exercises.
I almost didn’t go, since their own website said how difficult it was to find (and I’d had a week of driving in circles trying to find things that weren’t even declared difficult).
Actually it’s not too hard. There is no mobile phone signal (since nobody lives there) but it is on Google maps. You need to drive along narrow country lanes for what feels like an eternity and eventually you get there. There is no public transport (anything bigger than a car wouldn’t get through the lanes). There is a £2 ‘suggested donation’ for car parking but entry to the village is free.
The nearest town is Wareham.