The United Kingdom is home to a number of abandoned villages that urban explorers definitely do not want to infiltrate. Many of them dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086, the villages were taken over by the British Army during World War Two and have never been returned to their residents. Now used to train soldiers in close quarters combat for Iraq and Afghanistan, each village boasts a centuries-old church that remains intact despite exploding shells and bullets.
The uninhabited village of Imber stands on Britain’s Salisbury Plain – near Stonehenge, but far less touristy. Villagers were evicted in 1943 so American troops could train for the invasion of Europe. Much to the dismay of former residents, Imber remains accessible only to tanks and soldiers after more than 60 years. Since World War Two, this once quiet Wiltshire village has helped train troops for Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Numerous attemps have been made over the years calling for the restoration of Imber. But despite public pressure, the village remains accessible only a few days each year. One of Imber’s most striking buildings is the centuries-old church of St Giles and adjacent graveyard. Dilapidated for years, the church was finally restored in 2008 and is open to worshippers, including former residents, once a year on St Giles’ day.
Evidence of Roman occupation and ancient Iron Age fishing communities attest to the antiquity of Tyneham, a ghost village in Dorset, England. But today Tyneham nestles in the untranquil setting of the Lulworth Military Range. Mentioned in the Domesday Book and situated near the Jurassic Coast, Tyneham is accessible when the firing range is inactive, but intrepid hikers are advised to keep to footpaths due to unexploded ordnance.
Abandoned Villages of Langford, Stanford, Sturston and Tottington (within Stanford Battle Area, Norfolk)
In the English county of Norfolk, the ghost villages of Langford, Stanford, Sturston and Tottington sit within the 30,000 acre Stanford Training Area. Established in 1942, the area required a “Nazi village” and today houses a mock Afghan settlement for modern warfare training. The ghost villages are off-limits except certain days each year when former residents are afforded a retrospective look around.
Entered into the Domesday Book as Langaforde, the landowner was Hugh de Montfort and the village had two mills, two beehives and a fishery. Occupied mainly by tenant farmers in more modern times, the focal point of Langford is the small parish church of St Andrew. Dating to Norman times, the church appears to be in good condition despite nearby shelling.
Another ghost village seized during World War Two and retained by the army thanks to the Cold War, Stanford, curiously, had a population of eight people in four households according to the 2001 census. Like Langford, Stanford is characterised by a reasonably well maintained Norman church which sports are rather unusual cylindrical tower.
The ghost village of Sturston tells the same stories as its other abandoned counterparts. But unlike Stanford, the 2001 census recorded zero occupants – which is a relief in this highly dangerous area of the military firing range. Its location is 10 km north of Thetford and 40 km south-west of Norwich.
Tottington was also mentioned in the Domesday Book under the control of one Ralph FitzHelwin. Despite the lack of public access, the parish church of St Andrew is fenced-off to troops. The roof is clad in blast proof sheeting, while the original pantiles are stored inside ready for the church’s return to the public.
But the wait could be a long one and the British Army’s bullets look set to keep flying. While it may no longer be the most peaceful place, a World War Two veteran born in Tottington was recently buried in the churchyard. Special permission had to be sought for what was the first burial in over 50 years.