There’s been a few reports and exhibitions of work undertaken by photographers who have delved into the lost landscapes of the Stanford Training Area. There are tours, carefully marshalled around the activities that the army undertake in there as they have done since the land was requisitioned in 1942 for exercises that would eventually lead to D-Day, on a promise of a post war return. There are regular visits each summer and a carol service is held at West Tofts Church, some building remain, boarded up, part of the structure of the wargames, others removed. The churches are protected.
The site covers some 30,000 acres or 120 square miles, and contains the now deserted villages of West Tofts, Sturston, Langford, Stanford, Buckenham Tofts and Tottington, deserted in the sense that there is no civilian life, no families making breakfast, playing cricket or taking tea, children do not play on the green. There is human life and the settlements have changed and diversified, Afghan markets and Bosnian villages have been built in here. bridges are built. And still beneath it all is the history of the landscape; from flint mines and floated water-meadows, Roman remains to barrows to bury there ancient dead, There are even two earlier desertions, villages lost in medieval times and strill the holloways cut by the feet and carts of our ancestors mark the transit of our forebears across this largely intact..
Two or three years ago I was fortunate enough to work on a project with Poet Andrea Holland who was producing a piece of work which involved her going into Stanta and recording it. It also involved me producing a ghost image for the cover of the book. Research also uncovered a rather wonderful set of photos that you can see below, which show life in Stanta before the army came. There is something quite unusual in the feel of these photographs. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what, they are all the more haunting than the usual photos of the past. Maybe because they are images of a pattern of living from the 1920s and 1930s that stopped very abruptly for everyone when the war came, but here, in the sands and Scots pine on these dusty roads and village greens, there were no more May Days. The end of a pattern of rituals and daily life that had evolved for thousands of years obliterated.
Mousehall cottages are asleep with bramble,
the pin pricks of a fierce witch riding on the wind.
A wasp knocks at the window, cracked chimneys
whistle in the like of a farmer for his dog.
The bricks shift in their sleep, remembering kitchen
fires and children. The dog at the heels
of an orphan lamb.
hand-stitched into sleep: white bryony, nettles,
fat hen and night shade. We are broadcasting
with them. We are rooted in the sestina of sleep
and seed. The ring of pines which line the fields
watch over thirteen-thousand sheep who ignore
the trees’ summons, come by, come by.
Andrea’s book Broadcasting is available at Gatehouse Press.
Tottington Post Office
Tottington, view North.
Tottington – looking North.
The Street – West Tofts.
Stanford Mayday Maypole.
Stanford Mayday- May Queen.
Eastmere ‘Troshin’ or Threshing. (near the entrance to Stanta)
Buckenham Tofts, shooting party with spaniels
Allington, Bennett & Green.
Tottington Post Office before the war.