"A valley frozen in time."
July 10, 2008 11:11 AM   Subscribe

In November 1943, the village of Tyneham in Dorset, England, received an unexpected letter from the War Department, informing residents that the area would soon be "cleared of all civilians" to make way for Army weapons training. A month later, the displaced villagers left a note on their church 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. Residents were told they would be allowed to reclaim their homes after the war, but that didn't happen, and Tyneham became a ghost village. Though most of the cottages have been damaged or fallen into disrepair, the church and school have been preserved and restored. Photo galleries 1, 2, 3, 4. Panoramic tour [Java required]. Video: Death of a Village [YouTube, 9 mins.]
posted by amyms (20 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome post, thank you.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:33 AM on July 10, 2008

What, was there a lawyer shortage due to the war?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:34 AM on July 10, 2008

I believe this would fall pretty squarely under eminent domain.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2008

Amyms, this is a really, really great post. Thank you.
posted by anastasiav at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2008

I'll have to remember to visit Tyneham if I'm ever in Dorset. Thanks, amyms, that's a great post.
posted by Kattullus at 11:52 AM on July 10, 2008

I guess what I mean to say is: I doubt that people today would make the same sacrifice without a protracted legal fight, regardless of eminent domain.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:52 AM on July 10, 2008

The US did pretty much the same thing to the ranchers who "temporarily" left their land to form what is now the White Sands test range in New Mexico, and which includes the Trinity test site. They patriotically evacuated their homes with the understanding that they'd return after the war, and then after the war were told sorry, we still need it, too bad on ya.
posted by localroger at 12:21 PM on July 10, 2008

Fantastic post, and you couldn't be more right, kuujjuarapik -- and one could argue that it's things like this that have made us the kind of jaded, take-care-of-ourselves-first people that people generally are.

The Big G: You must leave, so that we can train our soldiers to fight a war to save lives.

The Peeps: Good on you, have at it, just please don't destroy our stuff while you're using the town.


The Big G: War's over, we won!

The Peeps: Hooray!

The Big G: Your buildings are intact!

The Peeps: Hooray!

The Big G: But you can't have them back, and you can't go back.

The Peeps: ...well, I'm certainly going to teach my kids not to make the mistake I did in the future.
posted by davejay at 12:23 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

All over northern Syria and (though disappearing) southern Turkey are hundreds of formerly bustling Roman olive oil producing cities. All were abandoned by the 6th or 7th century AD as the olive oil industry became less and less lucrative in the retraction of the Roman empire to the barbarians. Though they are technically protected under Syrian antiquities laws, the Syrians are so grateful to have tourists that you can feel free to wander all over them unimpeded.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:35 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great post.
posted by WPW at 12:54 PM on July 10, 2008

The US did pretty much the same thing to the ranchers who "temporarily" left their land to form what is now the White Sands test range in New Mexico, and which includes the Trinity test site.

Here in New Mexico, we are doing this again with the Spaceport that'll be going in near Las Cruces, though at least this time there will be some compensation. Initially, it was not easy to get all of the local ranchers to agree to the deal, and there is still some question as to whether they'll be able to "co-exist" with the spaceport. If not, the deal includes relocation compensation, but I got the impression that they would much rather stay.
posted by vorfeed at 1:07 PM on July 10, 2008

Fascinating and more than a little sad. I wonder what happened to the church bell.
posted by quin at 2:41 PM on July 10, 2008

For anyone interested in the story of Tyneham, I recommend Patrick Wright's marvellous book The Village that Died for England.

Wright describes how the Army tried to justify its continuing occupation of Tyneham by claiming it was 'protecting the environment'. (He even gets a guided tour of the village in the company of Colonel Baker, who points out all the features of special scientific interest: 'Look -- natterjack toads! Charming little chaps.') The funny thing is that the Army has a point. As the area was requisitioned in 1943 it was never subjected to modern intensive farming or pesticides, and is now a haven for wildlife.
posted by verstegan at 2:54 PM on July 10, 2008

I wonder what happened to the church bell.

A couple of the links say that the bells, the organ, and some other artifacts were moved to the Steeple Church (the Church of St. Michael and All Angels). Some pictures of the Steeple Church.
posted by amyms at 3:29 PM on July 10, 2008

Good post, amyms. The note on the church door was poignant enough to resonate across the years, but taking a minute to fully consider the mind set of those who left it in hopes of better days, in that dark time, made it more so.
posted by paulsc at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2008

Something like this happened in New Zealand, where land was taken by or ceeded to the government by Maori, dor millitary purposes, and then not returned. Bastion Point was one site, and became a rallying point for kicking off land return and settlement processes.
posted by rodgerd at 9:48 PM on July 10, 2008

Yeah, stuff like this makes me angry.
posted by JHarris at 10:24 PM on July 10, 2008

Fantastic post. I grew up near there, and still live about 20 miles away. I went there a lot when I was young - there are some great coastal walks and it was always fascinating to explore the village remains afterwards. I'll be camping not too far away in August. Must head over there for another look.

There are a lot of Army firing ranges in this area and despite what anyone may feel about them, verstegan's point is right. Inadvertently, the Army has preserved quite a lot of rare Dorset heathland, and some rare species within them. Most of the time you're able to walk on them, on public footpaths. I used to enjoy collecting shrapnel each time we walked one as a family. There are big red flags to tell you when you can/can't walk and the signs make it pretty clear that wandering off the paths might not be the brightest thing to do. My mother used to keep all the family crockery in a glass cabinet. Everything used to shake if the Army were on a firing exercise, and sometimes you could see the hills lit up at night. (This was the 80's, by the way! Still a very active training area.)
posted by dowcrag at 12:05 AM on July 11, 2008

A first hand account of leaving Tyneham
posted by Mellon Udrigle at 10:28 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Pickens Plan   |   Bible gets sued Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments