Midsomer Murders….. and deserted villages

Why Midsomer Murders? – All will be revealed in a moment…..

Over the summer of 2016 a trip to Dorset allowed a number of sites to be visited on the ground. One of the sites did not make it into the original Gazetteer of deserted sites from 1968. It was not that this site was unknown at this point – but would seemingly be a result of a decision not to include this and other similar sites – this will be a topic of the next post.

The site in question is Tyneham. Requisitioned by the army in 1943 for the preparations for D-Day it has remained abandoned since, but is now open to the public when the army range is not in use. Today, particularly during the summer months, it is a popular tourist hot spot.

This is not the only similar settlement to suffer such a fate – more below….. and a similar village formed the focus of a recent Midsomer Murders episode (The Village that Rose from the Dead), as local families compete for the recently returned settlement. Redevelopment opportunities create rivals of executive holiday apartments, an eco-village and heritage centre, competing for bids to take over the village. Needless to say, soon the village has seen death by: running over by a tank, cyanide poising and death by positioned snake bites (deserted settlements are apparently an excellent base for illegal tropical snake breading!). The title of the episode ‘The Village that Rose from the Dead’ gives an insight into the nature of the tale to be told, but the name of the village – Little Auburn – harks back to Goldsmith’s 1770 poem ‘The Deserted Village’ with the opening line ‘Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain’.

Tyneham in Dorset first appears on the Medieval Village Research Groups lists of deserted villages on the lists produced in 1988. It was not that sites such as these – modern abandonments of medieval villages, had not be known or considered earlier – it was just that they had not fitted into the traditional idea of a deserted medieval village, perhaps as many of these types of sites had been deserted less than 10 years before the founding of the Deserted Medieval Villages Research Group. Perhaps they thought that they would be returned to use in the near future…..

At Tyneham many of the houses are still standing, although some in better repair than others. The church and school are well maintained as information centres for the village.

The two most well-known of these recently abandoned villages are those of Tyneham in Dorset and Imber in Wiltshire, but other settlements suffered a similar fate. The Stanford training area in Norfolk saw at least six settlements vacated across a wide area to allow live ammunition practice from 1942. This is still a live practice range and therefore has limited public access although a number of churches do survive from the earlier settlements. The settlements include Buckenham Tofts (appears on 1968 list), Langford (appears on 1968 list), Stanford, Sturston (appears on 1968 list), Tottington and West Tofts.

All these sites are still contained within MOD land and so access is controlled – but visits are possible – Tyneham is the easiest and most accessible. For information about visiting these sites see:

Tyneham – https://www.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/389942

Imber – http://www.imberchurch.org.uk/index.html

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