Britain's Historic Ghost Towns

 

Ghost Town

The majority of Britain's ghost towns were abandoned after a previous pandemic, the Black Death, wiped out entire villages. The greatest losses occurred in Norfolk and Suffolk, which were frequently used as landing points for plague-infested ships.

Coastal erosion also contributed to the disappearance of settlements in these counties. Dunwich, the most famous, was a thriving port the size of 14th-century London before the sea swallowed it and its eight churches, earning Dunwich the moniker "England's Atlantis." While the majority of British "ghost villages" have all but vanished, a few remain to reward – and warn – the curious.

When World War II broke out, the Ministry of Defence took over several villages for target practice and maneuvering. In Wiltshire, Imber is still used for this purpose. Visitors can wander deserted streets lined with skeletal houses, a Norman church, and a bullet-riddled pub on Open Days (Imber hopes to be open for August bank holiday this year).

Tyneham in Dorset is also haunting (currently closed, but usually open most weekends). Winston Churchill ordered it requisitioned for D-day landings practice six days before Christmas in 1943. Residents pinned a note to the church door on the day they left, saying, "We have given up our homes, where many of us have lived for generations, to help win the war...We will return one day to thank you for your kindness to the village."

Churchill's vow of a return after the war was never fulfilled. The students' nature books from their final session, a study of corvids, the traditional harbingers of doom, stay open in the classroom.

Balsdean, in the South Downs near Brighton, was once a hamlet with a manor house, church, and "lunatic asylum," but it, too, succumbed to the same fate as Imber: only forlorn agricultural buildings remain.

In 2012, the musical duo Grasscut published 1 inch: 12 mile, which included a map and a walk through Balsdean. But be cautious: Balsdean is a strange, frigid place. Shirley Collins, a local folk singer, isn't the only one who has encountered spectral figures here.

Villages that have been abandoned or drowned are certain to attract ghost legends. Dunwich's bells are supposed to resonate below the river at midnight, while children's voices reverberate around the village. Our leaders would do well to pay attention to such warnings: it appears that the spirits of land and water never forget a pledge after a crisis.

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