Tyneham is the famous Dorset village on the Jurassic Coast, six miles from Wareham, north-east of Worbarrow Bay. It is set in a beautiful valley “frozen in time”, now deserted and only accessible when, with the Ministry of Defence’s permission, the Lulworth military firing ranges are open, which is generally every weekend. In November 1943, the 252 inhabitants were given one month’s notice by Sir Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, to leave their homes. The village was to be used as a military firing range in preparation for the forthcoming D-Day invasion of Europe. The official letter stated, ‘the Government appreciate that this is no small sacrifice which you are asked to make, but they are sure that you will give this further help towards winning the war with a good heart.’
The villagers believed they would return one day and left a note on their church door, asking that the church and houses be treated with care. Tyneham has a beautiful setting and can be visited most weekends, when the firing ranges are open. Although described as a ghost village, many visitors leave Tyneham with warm, but sad memories of this beautiful place. The ruined homes represent the ruins of people’s lives.
It is a beautiful and moving place to visit. You can see from the information boards and the physical evidence, which families lived in the houses and what each room was used for. The Schoolhouse has been fully restored and other than the church, is the only building in the village with doors, windows and a roof. It is maintained by the Ministry of Defence as part of the agreement for the acquisition of the village. It is now a gallery and museum. It was built by the Bond family in 1856, but was closed in 1932 due to the lack of pupils. The school mistress’s logbook records the reasons for pupils failing to attend, which include illnesses, such as smallpox and diphtheria, but also inclement weather. The village contains a rare example of the K1 telephone kiosk, introduced by the Post Office in 1929.
St. Mary’s Church dates from the thirteenth century and is constructed from limestone rubble. It contains monuments to the Bond family, the most recent owners. The church organ and bells were removed and taken to Steeple, a village close by. The church is now effectively a museum. It has become famous, because on its door a note was left which read:-
‘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.’
In the Domesday Book, the village was known as “Tigeham”, meaning goat enclosure. From 1683, the village was owned by the Bond family. When it was requisitioned, they were paid £30,000 for the loss of their land, but most villagers lived in tied houses and did not own any property. They only received compensation for the vegetables in their garden. Major-General Mark Bond expected to inherit the Manor House, but after being wounded and captured, he returned, after being released from a German prisoner of war camp. He then learnt from his father, that the Manor House had been compulsorily purchased.
In the 1980s, the village was used for filming “Comrades”, the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. In 2006, “Angel’s Share” was also filmed here.