Ruined houses and white telephone box
England,  Ruins,  War

Tyneham: a village frozen in time

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

Notice on the door of Tyneham Church

Until 1943 Tyneham in Dorset was a typical small English village, with a church, school-house, cottages and a nearby manor house. But in November of that year the army requisitioned the village and surrounding land to use for preparations for the D-Day Landings, and the people were forced to leave. As most of them didn’t own their land (it belonged to the Squire) they received compensation only for the produce in their gardens.

Military firing range sign
Sign near Tyneham

At the time, the residents fully expected to be able to return to their homes after the end of the war, as the notice they pinned on the door of the church makes clear.

However, the end of the war came and went, and the village remained in army possession. There were various meetings organised to lobby for its return, and a public enquiry. In response the government produced a white paper setting out the need for land for military training etc. and arguing that in those circumstances they didn’t need to honour their pledge to return the land.

Today’s Tyneham stands as a testimonial to those who once lived there and to the sacrifice they made (albeit not through choice) in giving up their homes for the country’s ‘war effort’. The cottages are all ruins, in each of which a moving plaque tells the story of the families who once lived there.

The church has been restored and commemorates the lives of all these families. It also has a timeline giving the full history of the village set against the national and international events that affected it.

List of dates and events
Part of the timeline in Tyneham Church

Also restored is the old school-house, which for me was the most fascinating of all Tyneham’s buildings. It is laid out as if for a nature lesson, and visitors are asked to imagine that the children have just gone out for a nature walk, leaving exercise books still open on their desks. I particularly liked seeing the teacher’s comments in the books, and also the row of coat-hooks by the door. We met a local man there who was filming a DVD; he told us that two of the children whose essays were on display were still alive and he hoped to bring them to the school to film them there and capture their memories – what a wonderful idea!

As the timeline in the church says:

‘Whether you agree with the Army’s continuing presence or not, the Tyneham Valley has escaped the unsightly tourism developments, only too prominent along the adjacent coastline. It has been untouched by modern intensive farming practices and is a haven for wildlife, supporting many rare and threatened species. Tyneham is a valley frozen in time.’

Note: because the village is still part of the army ranges, access is allowed only at (most) weekends and on public holidays.

There is an excellent set of resources online at http://www.tynehamopc.org.uk/ with old photos, descriptions of the various buildings, detailed information about the village families and lots of links for researchers. See, for example, this page about the post office: http://www.tynehamopc.org.uk/places/tyneham/the-row/post-office/.

Worbarrow Bay

Black and white dog on a beach
At Worbarrow Bay

While visiting Tyneham we also took one of the walks in the area, an easy one mile stroll to Worbarrow Bay. The path runs between woodland on one side and a hill marked out for firing targets on the other. A little before you reach the sea you pass a row of cottages, all that remain of the one-time village of Worbarrow, which like Tyneham was requisitioned during the war.

The path emerges at the eastern end of Worbarrow Bay, and a short downward scramble takes you onto the pebble beach. Here you can walk by the sea, look for fossils (I thought I’d found one but now I’ve got it home I’m not so sure!) or simply relax and watch the waves come in. The bay is much less crowded than popular Lulworth Cove and its neighbours, but on the downside we found it a little scruffy and rubbish strewn. A sign was advertising a ‘rubbish pick-up’ the following weekend, which seemed definitely needed.

Panorama of bay with white cliffs
Worbarrow Bay
View of a bay with white cliffs
Worbarrow Bay from the cliffs

At the point where the path ends there are a couple of picnic tables, and signs describe the village as it once was and the lives of those who lived there. You can return to Tyneham by the same path, or follow a slightly longer route along the ridge of the hill to the east.

I visited Tyneham in 2005

20 Comments

  • Oh, the Places We See

    Beautiful images of places that mean much to those who live nearby and those who visit. Your information adds a lot as well.
    Thanks so much for following Oh, the Places We See. We’re traveling mostly in the U. S. right now, but hope to get back to Europe soon!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for that lovely feedback 🙂 I’ll be very happy following your US adventures. My husband and I have enjoyed many great road trips there and hope to do more in the future once such things are possible again!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I don’t watch that series but I believe the abandoned village they featured was a fictional one based on what happened at Tyneham and elsewhere in the country – the military requisitioned several such villages

  • Simone

    Fascinating! I had no idea such a place existed! It must be so surreal to visit this village and have a look into its history in such a way. If I am ever in this area I will make sure to drop by.

    Oh, and I pressed enter too quickly on my previous comment, lol, so you probably only see the first letter of my name. But maybe you have guessed it was me by the email address.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I knew who you were, and (I hope you don’t mind?) I’ve edited the comment to complete your name, as you were happy to include it in full here 😉 Tyneham is a fascinating place, I’m sure you’d love it if you get the opportunity to visit!

  • Anne Marie Byrne

    Worbarrow Bay looks beautiful and Tyneham sounds fascinating. So sad that neither the residents nor the Squire were allowed to return to live in the village. The timeline is very interesting, I was intrigued by Sylvia House, who was the last person to get married in Tyneham Church. No husband is listed!

  • Ruthi

    Very interesting and rather sad. Have never heard of this place before and I would love to go there when we get out of our current awful reality

  • starship VT

    Sarah, you sure keep on the go! I first learned about Tyneham when it was featured on a TV episode of “Mysteries of the Abandoned,” which is also how I learned about Buzludzha several years ago (which was also featured on “Dark Tourism”). Doesn’t seem quite fair you’ve seen them both now, LOL!! Had not previously heard of Worbarrow and the history there, but the bay looks beautiful. Exactly what kind of fossils are found on the beach there? Sounds like my kind of beach walk!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh, it was years ago we went here Sylvia – I’m reworking some old VT material and trying to make some varied posts here as I establish the site 🙂 I should try to find old episodes if that programme if they are available anywhere as I’d love to see what they made of both places, and I might get some inspiration for future trips!

      This is part of what’s known as the Jurassic Coast, famous in England for its fossils. It’s a World Heritage site – you can read all about it here: https://jurassiccoast.org/. There’s a new film out about Mary Anning, a famous fossil hunter, starring Kate Winslet, which I’m keen to see.

Do let me know what you think - I'd love to hear from you

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