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13 November 2014

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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > Tyneham - Dorset's ghost village

Tyneham village church

Tyneham village church

Tyneham - Dorset's ghost village

In the preparations for D-Day, a tiny coastal community was 'temporarily' evacuated as part of the war effort - but it's now 65 years since anyone lived there.

The village of Tyneham on the Isle of Purbeck is one of the forgotten casualties of World War II.

A small coastal village in a rural and picturesque location sounds idyllic - but it was its location that led to its downfall.

Situated not far from a military firing range, the development of increasingly powerful tanks in nearby Bovington meant the army needed more space to test their machinery and to train their soldiers - and Tyneham found itself in the way.

In the throes of World War II, and with the military's preparation for D-Day (the Allied  Forces' invasion of Normandy in June 1944) well underway, on November 17 1943 the people of Tyneham each received a letter from the War Office.

St. Mary's church has been restored and is open to visitors

St. Mary's church has been restored

'National interest'

In 'national interest', the village's 225 residents were given notice to leave their homes by December 19 1943 - just over one month away.

The letter explained that a special office would be set up in Wareham for residents' questions, and that: "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."

Before they left, one resident left a hand-written note on the door of the village's church, St. Mary's. It 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."

The villagers were promised they would be able to return to their homes when the war was over - but in fact no one would ever live in the village again.

Most of the buildings are in ruins

Most of the buildings are in ruins

Protests and a public enquiry

After the war, while some of the original Tyneham evictees had settled happily in to newly built homes in Wareham, others remain dissatisfied.

Protests followed, but a public enquiry in 1948 seemed to end the matter: a compulsory purchase order was issued for the land - Tyneham was to stay under the permanent ownership of the Ministry of Defence.

Over the following years, further action groups sprang up, all demanding the village be reopened for people to live there. 

But agreements on the land's use could not be agreed to the satisfaction of all involved - campaigners, the county council (who recognised that the land's military use had benefits to the local economy), and the Ministry of Defence (who still needed a suitable gunnery range).

And, significantly, years of army practice had rendered many of the village's buildings derelict and inhabitable anyway.

A derelict coastal cottage

A derelict coastal cottage

A curious attraction

Today, Tyneham remains part of the wider area known as the Lulworth Ranges, which includes the MOD-owned training area for the army's Armoured Fighting Vehicles Gunnery School.

Tyneham still attracts the curious - when the area is open to the public, people come for the coastal scenery, and to visit what's left of the village.

The school has become a kind of museum, and 'preserved' as if the children had just left (although the school had actually closed in 1932 - long before the 1943 evacuation); while the restored St. Mary's Church acts acts a living museum to the small village that was simply just in the wrong place - but won't ever be forgotten.

last updated: 20/05/2009 at 11:17
created: 11/12/2008

Have Your Say

Do you have connections to Tyneham? Have you visited it? Leave your comments below.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

I have lived in Dorset all my life and have visited Tyneham many times. I would love to see the village restored and given back to the families of the previous occupants. How much longer will the MOD continue to destroy the beautiful countryside around the Purbecks?

Kristina Moran (Toms)
I visited this village quite a few years ago with my parents. My father lived here in a small cottage during his childhood and attended the local school. My father wanted his ashes laying in Tyneham when he passed but I was told that the military were still using it as a target range. The school and church are maintained very well and there is still a feeling in the air that this place should never be forgotten. I am sure it is time for the military to hand it back to the local people.

philip skinner
just returned from a visit to tyneham and was both both facinated and sad at the demise of this village.The village does however offer a glimpse into the distant past and how a small community functions, with people born in the area and most likely living their whole life here and then ending up in the church yard,! I remember coming to see tanks firing as a youngster at the tank ranges as my father worked for the mpbw (now doe)and had security clearance to take me into many interesting places with a military flavour.All in all a nostalgic place that i would urge anyone in the area to visit.

my nan lived in tyneham her name was christina green she lived in north eglistton farm cottages

I recall Lulworth, but not this once beautiful village by the sea.

alex moneypenny
i am 11 and i find that real interesting. i have to do it for a project at school.

Michael Gannon
I have visited Tyne ham on many occasions and can,t help but think that had it been handed back to the original villagers it now would be little different to countless other Dorset villages in that it would be swamped by over devlopement.

hazel steele
my uncle was a shepard in TTyneham his name was Wiliam Upshall

christopher cole
I visited the Tyneham in 2006 and will visit again soon I hope. It has left a lasting impression on me especially the school room.I hope all that had to leave have fared well since,and the village will be preserved for future generations and may one day be lived in again.From C.Cole. Christchurch, New Zealand.

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