The Ghost Village.
The old school at Tyneham. Photo by Adrian Purkiss/flickr.
Today, we will visit a little village on the south coast of England. Its name is Tyneham, and it is a “ghost village”. What does ‘ghost village’ mean? It means that the village is deserted, there is no-one there. Many of the houses, the church and the school are still standing, but no-one lives in Tyneham any more. If you believe in ghosts, perhaps you feel that the ghosts of the people who used to live there still haunt the village. It is a “ghost village”. Tyneham is a very ancient place. People lived there in Roman times, and probably long before. For centuries, the people farmed the land and caught fish in the sea. In the 13th century, a stone church – St Mary’s church – was built, and in the middle of the 19th century the village got its own school. Tyneham lies in a very attractive part of England. Many of the other villages nearby have cafes, and souvenir shops and car-parks. They are crowded with visitors in the summer, and well-off people from London buy the pretty houses as weekend cottages. Why is Tyneham not like that? During the Second World War, shortly before Christmas 1943, the people in Tyneham all received letters from the government. The army needed the land in Tyneham as a place to train soldiers. All the inhabitants had to leave the village in less than a month’s time. Of course, this would only be temporary. When the War was over, the people could return home. But they never returned. After the War, the army decided that it still needed the land for training. They erected targets on the hillsides, and soldiers in tanks practised firing shells at them. Sometimes they missed the targets, and hit houses in Tyneham by mistake. The whole area around Tyneham was closed to the public. It was not safe to walk on the roads or the footpaths because of unexploded shells from the guns. The people of Tyneham complained and pressed the government to let them return home. Tourists complained that they could not visit this beautiful area of England. The army took no notice, and in the 1960s even demolished the ancient manor house in Tyneham. Eventually, in 1975, the army – with great reluctance – agreed that people could visit Tyneham and the area around it at weekends and during the month of August. So today, on days when the area is open, you can park your car at the car park at the top of the hill, and walk down to the old village. You can see the ruined houses, and visit a museum in the old church. You can walk down to the sea, to where the fishing boats used to be. You can see the village telephone box, which was erected only months before the villagers left – unfortunately, the telephone in it does not work! You can visit the old school. Inside, it is almost exactly as it was in the 1930s. The children’s books are still on the desks, and their names are on the pegs where they hung their coats. It is almost as if the children had just gone outside to play. A “ghost school”! I do not know how many of the 252 people who left Tyneham in 1943 are still alive – probably not many. It is now very unlikely that they will ever return home – indeed, probably they no longer think of Tyneham as home. So Tyneham will be left as a place where the army can shoot its guns, where the wildlife can flourish, safe from people and modern agriculture, and where tourists can come for a glimpse of what life in rural England used to be like. The last person to leave Tyneham left a note pinned to the door of the church. 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.
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