Inside UK’s ghost village left empty for 80 years after all residents told to go


The abandoned Imber in Wiltshire was cleared in 1943 to provide an exercise area for US troops preparing for the invasion of Europe during World War 2 and has remained empty ever since

Imber Court is seen through a gap in its metal gates in the village of Imber
Imber Court is seen through a gap in its metal gates in the village of Imber

A ghost village in the UK has remained eerily empty for nearly 80 years – since residents were kicked out during World War 2.

Imber in Wiltshire hasn’t been lived in since 1943 and the isolated area now forms part of the British Army’s training grounds on the Salisbury Plain.

The entire civilian population was evicted to provide an exercise area for US troops during World War 2.

On November 1, 1943, with preparations for the Allied invasion of mainland Europe underway, the people of Imber were called to a meeting in the village schoolroom and given 47 days to leave their homes.

Villagers were told once the war was over they could return back to their homes as normal, but this never happened, and the village remains under the control of the Ministry of Defense to this day.

The village located on Salisbury Plain was evacuated in December 1943

The first documented evidence of Imber’s existence comes from Saxon times, where the village was mentioned in 967.

It is also recorded in the Domesday Book, when it was believed the population was just 50.

By the 14th century the population of the village had risen to around 250, and eventually peaked at 440 as recorded in the census of 185, declining to around 150 by the time of Imber’s abandonment.

Imber was always quite isolated, but not as devoid of people as it is today – when people lived there, most of them worked in agriculture, or work that directly depended on it.

Houses are now used for military training

The church is one of the only buildings which has managed to stand the test of time and remain in a reasonable condition – most have become derelict or have been demolished by the Army.

When speaking to the BBC, The Friends of Imber Church’s John Syme said: “It’s a very important little church and has many memories for local people.”

In 1943, when Imber was evacuated, there was a Baptist chapel, a post office and a pub called the Bell Inn. The pub still stands, as does the manor house, Imber Court.

Amazingly, in the derelict village, a farmhouse, cottages, a schoolroom and four ‘council’ house style blocks which were built in 1938 have survived relatively unscathed too.

Army cadets walk past old council houses in Imber village on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

By the time of the World War 2, almost all of the land in and around Imber belonged to the War Office.

Many of the buildings suffered major shell and explosion damage after the war, and the village was allowed to fall into disrepair.

After the villagers never returned, it simply remained desolate.

Once the war had finished, efforts were made to restore Imber, but the decision was eventually taken to not relinquish control.

A notice to the public to warn them of the dangers of the area

A public inquiry also found in favor of Imber’s continued military use, but it was decided that the church would be maintained and would be open for worship on the Saturday closest to St Giles’s day each year, which is a practice that continues to this day.

After the war, the village was still used extensively for training, particularly preparing soldiers for their duties in the urban environments of Northern Ireland.

Although training continues at Imber, a purpose-built urban warfare complex has now been constructed at Copehill Down but the public are still warned against going in.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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