The only clue to the former inhabitants of Worbarrow Bay in Dorset are the remains of 102 houses, a church and a farm, the inhabitants of which were told to abandon their homes in the nearby village of Tyneham in 1943. Villagers believed all that they would be back. – but they were never allowed to return.
The result is that anyone suddenly finding themselves on this huge stretch of beach might think they are somewhere other than the south of England. The Jurassic coastline is sparse, unspoiled and pristine, just as it might have been centuries ago and unlike any other stretch of English coastline.
During the last years of the Second World War, the army ordered the inhabitants to leave – it gave them 28 days – while it took control of the village and the surrounding 7,500 hectares, to train troops and practice maneuvers. It was considered a necessary part of the war effort.
There was a note attached to the door of the 13th century church saying to visitors or passersby: ‘Please treat the church and houses with care; we have abandoned our houses where many of us have lived for generations to help win the war to keep the men free. We will be back one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.”
This was not to be the case. The army placed a compulsory order form on the ground in 1947, which meant that no one could return, despite several attempts by locals to persuade the army otherwise. Since then, the land and the coastline have been in the hands of the Ministry of Defense and used for training.
Since 1975, only soldiers from the artillery school have been allowed to use the village road from Monday to Friday. During weekdays there is a metal barrier warning people of nearby shooting practices and that no one should enter.
From Saturday morning to Sunday evening, however, visitors can step back in time, through forgotten lanes surrounded by thousands of brambles which, in season, bristle with wild blackberries. After driving into the car park and leaving the requested £2 ($2.2) in an honesty box, visitors can stroll through relics of old homes, including the foundations of a 14th-century mansion, which was looted, demolished and burned. over the years – some parts are now cordoned off for security reasons.
The old school in Tyneham, built in 1856, has been preserved, as has St Mary’s Church, which the army agreed to leave standing, and visitors can explore the cottages which detail the families who lived in the village at the time. In other villages there may have been tourist shops and tea rooms, busy open top buses and overflowing pubs selling cream teas. Instead, there’s just bustling vegetation and peace and quiet.
For more details on how to visit and the various weekends when the army closes access to the village, see the army website, as well as reading the local website, which further explains the history of the village.