Seven Miles from anywhere…

Back in 2009 Mike Roberts posted a picture of Imber Court in his blog which reminded me that I would like to go back, having had my first brief glimpse back in the eighties. Imber is often described as a ‘ghost village’ or more recently, and incorrectly by the BBC as an abandoned village. It wasn’t abandoned, it was commandeered by the war department in 1943 as an area for American soldiers to practise military exercises ready for the war in France. Villagers were given 41 days’  notice to leave. They were given no help to find alternative accommodation and have never received compensation. After the war the villagers expected to return but were never allowed back, until a campaign by one man in the sixties, Austin Underwood, who raised awareness in the press and led a protest walk to the village. Now the MOD opens access to the public for a limited number of days a year.

Today, there is little trace of the original cottages and village, those houses that remain sport corrugated rooves and  are accompanied  by breezeblock additions, evidence of continuing military occupation. The roads that lead to Imber, across the sweeping Salisbury plain are littered with warning signs, the plains are beautiful in their hidden danger. The roads, no more than narrow potholed tracks finally curve down into the fold of a hill giving you a view of St. Giles Church, Imber – such a typically English view. The church on the hill, still standing despite military ordinance and manoeuvres and now partially restored and lovingly nurtured by the Churches Conservation Trust, hints at the history of Imber going back to the mid  12th Century.

The dark spaces where windows once were, the sandbags, the tank posts, are all over powered by a sense of indignation, a place like this belongs to people; belonged to people, the stones in the graveyard that are crumbling and askew deserve better and it is a triumph to the dedication of evicted residents, their family and  those who have helped restore the church, or come to make music  there, restore the bells (sold for scrap in the fifties) , or to serve tea and biscuits on open days, maintain the website, put up signs, print leaflets etc., that it speaks so loudly to those who visit. Some places fall to ruin from lack of care or interest but others are so strongly tied to people, so connected that despite the obvious need for the MOD to be able to operate in areas, secluded and secure from public ingress, you can’t help feeling that  Imber was a mistake, an expedient measure but somehow a wrong one. Still people come, are drawn to this place, seven miles from anywhere.

There is a lovely photo film by David White here which, if you haven’t been to Imber gives you an evocative glimpse and you can also visit the church website here

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