About an hour west of Bournemouth and less than a half mile from England’s intimidating Jurassic Coast is Tyneham village, a feudal relic and one of the country’s best-preserved ghost towns. Tyneham’s 225 residents were evacuated by the War Office in December of 1943 in preparation for D-Day.
After the war the temporary measure became permanent and the village was never allowed to return. In the years following the war the Army abandoned the village and to this day uses the area as a test range and training ground.
cover photo courtesy Guy Carpenter
Tyneham’s Family Bond
The abandoned village of Tyneham lies in an east-west valley between the Purbeck Hills in south Dorset near Lulworth. Archaeologists have discovered the town and its surrounding valleys were once occupied by the Romans, with the earliest known owner believed to be Robert, Count of Mortain. Robert was the second Earl of Cornwall and the half-brother of William the Conqueror, who granted Robert ownership of what would become Tyneham in exchange for his loyalty in battle during the mid-to-late 1000s.
In William the Conqueror’s “Great Survey” of England published in the Domesday Book, the land under which Tyneham was situated was known as “Tigeham,” which roughly translated to “goat enclosure.” Over time the name evolved to Tiham, and eventually, Tyneham. For centuries nearly all the villagers have depended on the landowners to make a living.
The small village of Tyneham would see many owners across several hundred years before landing in the hands of Nathaniel Bond in 1683. Bond purchased Tyneham from the Williams family, and lived in Tyneham House with his family until his death in 1707.
[ In 1685, Lady Alice Lisle, daughter of Edith Bond, was sentenced to burn to death for harboring a refugee from the Battle of Sedgemoor. The sentence was later ‘reduced’ to death by beheading instead. ]
Nathaniel passed ownership to his son John Bond, who likewise passed it to his son Dennis Bond. Dennis passed it to Reverend William Bond, who notably added the south transept to the village church for the family’s private use. By the 1850s another Nathaniel Bond was in charge, his contribution was the Tyneham School, established in 1860.
Following the second Nathaniel was Reverend Henry Bond, who led Tyneham until his death in the 1870s. William Bond succeeded Henry and lived in the Tyneham House until his death in 1935. He outlived the Tyneham School, which closed in 1932 due to a lack of pupils. The town suffered an era of decline under William Bond, starting in 1912 when the Coast Guard closed its nearby station and families moved away after the First World War
Tyneham’s final private owner was Ralph Bond, who inherited the town in 1935 and managed it for eight years until a forced sale in 1943 brought 260 years of Bond family ownership to an end.
Ministry of Defense
In 1943 Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet selected Tyneham’s valley for a military firing range and training ground in advance of the D-Day invasion. The village’s proximity to the precious southern coastline and a former Coast Guard station, as well as being situated in a relatively sparsely populated region, meant Tyneham posed a path of least resistance to Britain’s War Office, precursor to the present-day Ministry of Defense (MoD).
[ Other English towns evacuated: Povington, Egliston, Worbarrow, Stanford, Imber ]
Tyneham had been on Churchill’s radar since at least 1941, when Tyneham House was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force as an administrative center for the radar station at nearby Brandy Bay. The government’s involvement increased two years later, when in November of 1943 the Southern Command of the military gave notice to the villagers that they would be required to leave.
TRAINING AREA, EAST HOLME,
In order to give our troops the fullest opportunity to perfect their training in the use of modern weapons of war, the Army must have an area of land particularly suited to their special needs and in which they can use live shells. For this reason you will realise the chosen area must be cleared of all civilians.
The most careful search has been made to find an area suitable for the army’s purpose and which, at the same time, will involve the smallest number of persons and property. The area decided on, after the most careful study and consultation between all the Government Authorities concerned, lies roughly inside of the square formed by EAST LULWORTH – EAST STOKE – EAST HOLME – KIMMERIDGE BAY.
including your properties – see overleaf [HANDWRITTEN]
It is regretted that, in the National Interest, it is necessary to move you from your homes, and everything possible will be done to help you, both by payment of compensation, and by finding other accommodation for you if you are unable to do so yourself.
The date on which the military will take over this area is the19th December next, and all civilians must be out of the area by that date.
A special office will be opened at Westport House, WAREHAM, on Wednesday 17th November, and you will be able to get advice between the hours of 10a.m. and 7p.m., from there on your personal problems and difficulties. Any letters should be sent to that address also for the present.
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.
Major-General I/c Administration,
Just before Christmas 7,500 acres were cleared and 225 people were displaced. The last villager left a note on the door:
“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.”
A Permanent Measure
Like many seized villages during World War II, Tyneham was supposed to be returned to the residents at the conclusion of the war; however in 1948 the Army placed a compulsory purchase order on Tyneham to maintain the arrangement, which lasts to this day. The Bonds received £30,000 for Tyneham, but most villagers were tenants and had no property of their own. Ralph Bond died in 1951, reportedly still grief-stricken about the loss of Tyneham and its effect on his family’s legacy. The remainder of Tyneham valley was compulsorily purchased in 1952 for £30,000.
For the next twenty years news articles would continue to celebrate the sacrifices made by Tyneham, the village that ‘Died for D-Day’. On public holidays the roads were opened to permit access to the beach, but the town remained behind barbed wire and the watchful eyes of military guards. When the guards weren’t looking, looters ransacked the properties of their remaining valuables. The Army incensed former residents when it dismantled the Tyneham House to repurpose its 14th and 15th century stonework to homes in Melcombe and Athelhampton.
Notably, Tyneham is one of few WWII-era requisitions yet to be returned to its previous owner. Former villagers have called for a return to the village and campaigned for the valley to be added to the National Trust. In 1974 former Tyneham resident John Gould wrote to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, pleading for the village’s return. “Tyneham to me is the most beautiful place in the world and I want to give the rest of my life and energy to its restoration … Most of all, I want to go home.”
Frozen in Time
The Ministry of Defense has rejected any suggestion to return the land to the original residents, but public persuasion in 1975 did lead to increased access when the military began opening up the village and surrounding footpaths on weekends and throughout August. The Ministry also allowed St. Mary’s church to hold a service in 1979, the chapel’s first in 36 years.
The Army’s occupation of Tyneham was detrimental in the looting and dismantling of the main house, but it was also responsible for the property’s time-capsule preservation and not surrendering to redevelopment. One positive corollary is the natural habitat that has formed out of the abandoned village with the absence of humans. It is now a wildlife sanctuary despite its collapsing buildings and grounds littered with scrap range targets.
Beyond the Ministry’s ownership, bylaws exist to prevent commercial development (which explains the lack of a café, gift shop or restaurant).
Lynda Price has spent 20 years researching Tyneham’s history and warns against romantic memories of Tyneham. “While it was a traumatic experience, especially for the older residents, many people don’t appreciate it was basically a feudal set-up with people working for the Bond family.”
One thing not frozen in time was the integrity of the structures, which over time had been compromised when the buildings were looted for their materials. Said Price, “there was a lot of pilfering after the war. It was under the radar but everyone knew it was happening.”
The village and surrounding valley remain properties of the Ministry of Defense, however as of 2017 access is allowed most weekends and all public holidays. Entry is free but restricted to certain times, and only when the Lulworth Ranges are open to the public. Signs warning the public of unexploded ordinance suggest it’s not wise to explore beyond the marked paths and trails.
The Army Range Liason Officer at nearby Lulworth Camp looks after Tyneham while a team of wardens handles maintenance and daily operations of the facilities. Tyneham is not under 24 hour surveillance, but you want to visit when it’s open – because when it’s closed armoured vehicles use it as a firing range for their gunnery school. Don’t get lost or stuck, there are no phones and cell reception is poor; nobody will be calling for help.
Awarded posthumously, England’s George Cross is granted to any service member or civilian in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.” The nostalgist would say Tyneham deserves a shout: Valiant as any soldier and having paid the ultimate price for its country.
A consolation prize would be finding its way onto the National Trust.
Photos courtesy Guy Carpenter
Many of the village buildings have fallen into disrepair or have been damaged by (decades of) shelling and vandalism.
St. Mary’s Church (map): The limestone Church of St. Mary remains intact and dates from the 13th Century. The south transept was added in the mid-19th century by Reverend William Bond for private use by the Bond family. The church has a stained-glass window by famed English church designer Martin Travers while its graveyard features memorials to the Bond family.
After the town was vacated, the church was neglected and fell into disrepair. Fittings were relocated; the bells and organ found their way to Steeple church while the Jacobean pulpit was moved to Lulworth Camp. Tyneham’s Church of St. Mary was renovated in the late 1970s, and in 1979 held its first service in 36 years. Today the church is open to the public. It is maintained by the military and serves as a museum to Tyneham, with charts, documents, and photos displaying the town’s history and minutiae of village life.
Rectory (map): This building was home to the village rector, or member of the clergy in charge of the parish. The house was not immense but it was large enough to accommodate a moderate-sized Victorian family. It featured a fenced yard, private driveway with allée, and a tennis court. Attached to the north side of the structure is a large conservatory that was once home to many exotic plants and peach trees. One design flaw was the roof: It was built at a very shallow pitch, which resulted in bad leaks during big storms. It was a constant battle; despite hundreds of pounds spent on repairs, the problem was never solved.
Serving as Tyneham’s rector required independent wealth. Tyneham was poor and could not afford luxuries such as a buggy or car service, which meant the rector’s wife had to walk twelve miles for shopping. After the town was evacuated, the rectory was briefly used as military billeting before being abandoned after the war. In the years that followed local farmers were using the rectory to store hay. This caught fire in the 1960s and caused significant damage to the building, essentially gutting the building and collapsing the roof. By the time fire engines put out the flames, the rectory was a smoldering shell.
Rectory Cottages (map): This building served as home to staff of the clergy and those who cared for and handled the daily operation of the church. Like many of the other structures, after the town was evacuated it was used as military housing before being abandoned and falling into disrepair.
Today its walls still stand, however the building’s doors, roof, and windows are long gone.
Tyneham School (map): The school was established by the Reverend Nathaniel Bond (1804–89) in 1856. It was built to accommodate up to sixty children, although it never reached this number. Initially it served more than just Tyneham; children ages 4-14 from neighboring villages and farms also attended. Attendance suffered during poor weather, outbreaks of illness, and during the peak of farming season when most children helped with farming operations.
When the coastguard station at Worbarrow closed in 1912, nearly half the pupils left. It was later declared as property of the rectory and was closed in 1932 when enrollment had fallen to just nine students. The remaining students were moved to Corfe castle school and the building was then used as the village hall. In the early 1990s it was refurbished, and eventually re-opened in March of 1994. Like the church it also serves as a memorial, and is home to a museum of original Tyneham artifacts.
In 2013 the school again needed and received repairs to the floor and roof; it was re-opened in November of 2013.
Tyneham House (map): Aka the “Great House,” Tyneham House was originally constructed in 1523 and served as the primary residence of Tyneham’s landowner for more than 420 years (the last 260 under the Bond family). It is located about a half mile east of the town center, hidden in the woods (map). Tyneham House was a secluded Elizabethan manor home, unique in its immense privacy offered by Tyneham’s Great Wood.
Tyneham House was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force in 1941, several years before the rest of the town was evacuated. The RAF used the building as an administrative center for the radar station at Brandy Bay.
After the MOD took over, the house was used as billeting for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the war. After WWII Tyneham House was vacated and boarded up. Over time it deteriorated and was stripped of its valuable possessions. Its interior was reportedly gutted and redistributed, with some décor also finding its way to the United States. In 1967 the Ministry of Works quietly demolished the Great House brick by brick, claiming it had fallen into disrepair and could not be restored. While several walls are still standing and the foundation is in place, this area is off-limits to the public. (see the remains on Google satellite view)
Tyneham Farm (map): The farm is the large complex sitting several hundred feet south of the Tyneham town center. For centuries this collection of buildings stored animals, feed, hay, and farm equipment. On a given day a dozen farmhands would be buzzing around the central complex while several dozen more tended to the fields. The Great Barn was also used to host shows. When the town was evacuated the farm was abandoned. Tyneham Farm’s final tenant was S. C. Churchill, unpopular because he embraced the industrial revolution and laid off workers when he introduced tractors to the valley. The military did not use the farm due to its proximity to the firing range.
Today the original farmhouse has been reduced to a handful of bricks – but the Great Barn, bull house, granary, stables, tack room, and cowsheds remain. In the mid-2000s the remaining farm buildings underwent a restoration to how they looked and operated in the 1940s. The farm was reopened to the public in 2008, and conservation work is still ongoing. In 2009 the farm complex hosted the village’s first concert in more than 70 years.
NOTE: Behind the farm is Povington Hill, which is still used as a live firing range. Parts of the farm fall within the constraints of this live firing range. Do not explore this area outside of official visitation hours.
Laundry cottages (map): Also known as Taylor’s Cottages, for many years this building was the only dwelling in the village with running water. It most recently served as home to the Taylor family. Family patriarch William Taylor was hired by the Bonds as a woodsman, while his wife and daughters performed the village’s laundry duties from 1902 until the town’s evacuation in 1943.
Every Monday morning the laundry arrived in two huge wicker hampers delivered by cart. The Taylor children also worked in Tyneham House, making beds and mending covers, curtains, and sheets. Used as barracks by the military for several years before being abandoned.
Post Office Row (map): The terraced row of houses that appears to sit at the center of town was home to several families and the post office. Before it served as the town post office, the building was home to a bakery.
During World War I Tyneham’s first phone was installed in the post office, and for decades was the town’s only telephone. A white telephone booth was erected in front of the post office in 1929; this was accidentally destroyed in 1985 during filming for a movie, and was replaced with the red-and-white version that stands today.
Double Cottages (map): Tyneham’s double cottages was an early duplex building and home to multiple families of agricultural workers and laborers. This building had meager but adequate furnishings for the period laborer. Two of its longer tenants were the Davis family (1926–1935) and one of the town’s last residents to move out, the Everett family (1920–1943).
While under control of the Army, the double cottages were used as barracks, then abandoned when the military vacated the town after the war. Like other Tyneham buildings, the double cottages fell into disrepair, and today little more than a shell remains.
Gardener’s Cottage (map): Unsurprisingly, the aptly-named gardener’s cottage was home to Tyneham’s property and grounds manager. Most recently this was the Gould family (1925–1943), who were also instrumental in the later lobbying of the MOD to re-open Tyneham to the public.
Gwyle Cottages (map): The Gwyle cottages was another duplex that served as home to servants and specialized laborers hired by the Bond family. Past residents include the Wellman Family (1912–1936), the Gould family (who in 1924 moved into the gardener’s cottage upon a promotion), and later the Grant Family (1924–1942), one of its final residents.
Harry Grant was hired in 1924 to be Tyneham’s estate woodsman. His son Arthur was two years old when the Grants moved to Tyneham. Arthur was one of the last children to grow up in Tyneham before the village was evacuated; Arthur passed away in 2010.