Looking for somewhere quirky to visit? Try and get in a visit to St Giles at Imber on the Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. What makes this church unique is its entire flock was moved from the village long ago leaving the church without a congregation and with only the souls of the already departed and memories of the vanquished to watch over.
Entry to the church on open days is FREE and donations are accepted.
The village of 'Imber' had existed as an isolated and peaceful settlement since at least 967AD. Its unseen, but terminal, problems began in 1897 when the British military began using parts of the Salisbury Plain for training purposes. The military continued to acquire more and more of the Plain including nearly all the land on which Imber was situated. Then, in November, 1943, the entire population of Imber was evacuated by the military to provide a training area for American troops in preparation of the D-Day landings.
Since the war, the village, which by then was situated in the middle of the military training area, has remained deserted as none of its residents has been allowed to return.
This resulted in the homes and other structures being left to the ravages of time and urban warfare training. In more recent times the original buildings have been demolished and new, purpose-built training structures put in place.
The only building in the village to survive in reasonable condition is St Giles, once the rest were demolished or became derelict. The church was saved because since the early 1950s the Ministry of Defence agreed to maintain it in 'a modest state of repair'. In 2002 the building returned to the care of the Diocese of Salisbury. In 2005, St Giles, now a Grade I listed building, was vested in The Churches Conservation Trust for preservation and repair. Since then, with assistance from the Ministry of Defence, the Trust has carried out a comprehensive campaign of repair and conservation to St Giles and its 12th and 15th century wall paintings.
Because of its unique position, in the middle of a military training area, public access is limited so when you want to visit you will have to check out the Ministry of Defence's Salisbury Plain Area Training Newsletter for appropriate dates. Next available will be during Easter from 6.00pm Thursday, 13 April until 8.00am Tuesday, 18 April, 2017. There should also be access on the Saturday nearest St Giles' feast day (1 September) which is most likely going to be 2 September, 2017.
So the one constant presence is the village church, St Giles. It still stands and is now being restored and subject to preservation through the untiring work of The Friends of St Giles who's dedicated bunch of volunteers offer everybody a warm welcome on the open days.
Inside, the church is totally fascinating. Unfortunately, the bell tower is out of bounds but the area for the campanologists is open with a view to the trap door into the tower itself. Apparently, a stone spiral staircase, known as a newel, leads from the door below the table of bell-ringing changes which were painted on the wall many, many centuries ago.
Before you plan a trip around the Salisbury Plain check out the Ministry of Defence's Salisbury Plain Area Training Newsletter to see if you have chosen well – St Giles just might be open. Enjoy the history, the unique state of affairs and the beautiful scenery surrounding the church. You can even pick up some wonderful souvenirs and curiosities from the stalls set up inside.
Start your planning for an Easter visit by joining the email list here. For more general information and to keep up-to-date with all the latest news check out the Imber Church website and Facebook page. If you would like some more specific information you can phone 44 7968 242 075 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org