The story of how in 1943 the villagers of Imber were given 47 days notice to leave their homes, with the promise that they could return after the war, and how that promise was broken, is well known.
Back in the late 70s and 80s, when I lived in Devizes, the village had an almost mythical status.
At that time, the villagers were allowed to return once a year to tend the graves of their ancestors and mourn the loss of their village, but otherwise it was completely inaccessible.
These days things are much better. The roads to the village are usually open at Christmas, Easter, Remembrance Sunday and for part of the school Summer holidays. For up-to-date information, please see the Imber Village web site.
It is something of a journalistic cliché to say that the church is the only original building left in Imber. It may be the only complete and undamaged building but, interspersed among the later Army urban warfare training houses, the much abused shells of a number of other buildings can be seen, such as: the Bell Inn, Imber Court, two bays of Seagram's Farm and the Nag's Head Cottages.
There are also two blocks of four Council Houses that were built in 1938 only to be abandoned five years later.
Perhaps the most evocative place for me was the Baptist Chapel Graveyard. Unlike its Anglican cousin up the road, the chapel was unceremoniously demolished by the Army. Only a few gravestones remain poking up through the long grass. An old couple were there at the time of my visit; I like to think that they were looking for a relative.
These days Imber's role as an urban warfare training ground has largely been replaced by the army's purpose built training village of Copehill Down, which you can see to the south as the buses head across the Plain from Tilshead to Chitterne.
External Links and References
Detailed history of the village with lots of old photographs, along with access details. http://www.imbervillage.co.uk/
St Giles' Church
Apparently St Giles' church has some remains of medieval wall paintings depicting of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Unfortunately, when I visited, the interior was so packed with visitors that I could barely move. After grabbing a quick shot of the west window, I beat a hasty retreat to the top of the churchyard, which I had almost to myself.
The church dates from the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries. The chancel was rebuilt in 1849 when a vestry was added on the north-east side.
Although the Army undertook to carry out minimal repairs to the church until a decision was made on its future, by 2004 the church was in a bad way. Fortunately the following year it was transferred to the Churches Conservation Trust, and in 2008 they undertook a £300,000 restoration
Once a year, usually towards the end of August, a group of retired classic London Routemaster buses, together with a few of their replacement 'Boris Buses', gather in Warminster to run a service to Imber and across the Salisbury Plain. See the Imberbus web site for details of the next run.
When I visited (2016) there were essentially three services, although confusingly they all carried route number 23A. This is believed to be the number of the last commercial service to the village.
All the buses started in Warminster and ran to Imber, were some of them turned round to run a shuttle service.
The rest continued on to Gore Cross on the West Lavington to Salisbury road, where they went round in a loop. Then they either turned south to Tilshead and Chitterne Church, before returning to Warminster via Gore Cross and Imber,
Or went straight across via Brazen Bottom to the top of Lavington Hill. There they joined what was once the turnpike road from the former Bustard Inn near Shrewton, down the hill into Market Lavington. Returning to Gore Cross via the main roads, they then ran up to New Zealand Camp, where there are fine views across the Vale of Pewsey, and from there it was back to Warminster, again via Gore Cross and Imber.
The routes were timed to meet up at Gore Cross, thus bringing a little bit of Oxford Street to the Wiltshire countryside.
As for the buses, like many a townie faced with the countryside, I got the feeling that they were not impressed: the steep hills were a challenge; they couldn't venture on to the pot-holed white roads without a support vehicle, and Market Lavington's village streets were too narrow for the Boris buses. They even had to bring their own bus stops.
At the end of the day, all they were looking forward to was a good bath and getting back to some proper urban streets.
External Links and References
The official web site. https://imberbus.org/