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.
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.
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/.
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.
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