Imber – An English Village Abandoned in World War II


Imber was a village on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England’s best known landmarks.

The area was first settled during the period of Roman rule during the British Iron age. Ancient trackways have been excavated in the area leading to the village. The first mention of the village was in 967 during Saxon times and it was later recorded in the Domesday Book, the manuscript record of the Great Survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 under the orders of King William the Conqueror. The population at that time was recorded as 50.

Boarded up courthouse in Imber

The courthouse in Imber still stands but has been boarded up. It was not used for military exercises.

The church of St Giles was constructed in Imber in the 13th century. The population peaked at 440 in 1851 and had fallen to 150 by 1943 when it was abandoned.

The War Office had begun buying land on Salisbury Plain in the late 19th century to use primarily for training. In the 1920s, farms around Imber were purchased and the land buying continued for a number of years. By the time the Second World War began, they owned everything in the village besides the church, school and Bell Inn.

The Bell Inn on Salisbury Plain

The Bell Inn. The sign on the exterior of the building is not the original!

With the Allied invasion of mainland Europe about to begin, it was decided to utilise the entire area for training and preparation. The residents were called to the school in the village on 1 November 1943 and given 47 days to leave their homes. Many of them were happy to do their bit for the war effort but some put up resistance. One family had to be forcibly removed from their farm.

American troops used Imber as an exercise area for the remainder of the war. The Defence Lands Committee insisted that urban warfare practice never took place in Imber and the villagers had been evicted because of its proximity to shell impact areas but this has been disputed. It was stated that the American’s responsibility was to care for the village until the war had ended and the villagers could return.

Urban warfare training area

These buildings are actually newly built since the abandonment. They were constructed to assist in the training for urban warfare.

After the war, the village was used for urban environment training and new empty buildings were even constructed to that end. It has been used by soldiers preparing to serve in Northern Ireland. There is now a purpose-built urban warfare complex for close quarters battle at Copehill Down, 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) from Imber.

Abandoned farm building in Imber

An original farm building.

The residents have made several attempts to return to the village since the war but to no avail. Many of the buildings are now in such a state of disrepair that a return will never happen plus many of the inhabitants have now passed away. Amazingly, Imber is still counted in the census records for the UK where the population is entered as 0. A number of the buildings such as the post office and school building are still standing. Council homes built in 1938, only 5 years before the abandonment, are also still standing.

The Bell Inn in Imber

The Bell Inn when it was open.

The village is opened to the public at certain times of the year as a tourist attraction and the church even holds services on such occasions. The Imber Range Perimeter Path is a popular hiking trail.

Location: Imber, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿
Abandoned: 1943


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