The fate of lost villages, towns and even islands has always fascinated me. Cleared for airport expansion, reservoirs, or left for reasons of pollution, nature or resettlement, they remain as ghostly remnants of a lost past.
Imber, on the Salisbury Plains, was depopulated in 1943 to give American soldiers somewhere to train during the Second World War. Resudents of this sleepy, close-knit village were promised they could return after six months, but their exile was permanent.
With the village remaining under military control, this film from Wiltshire Creative gives a rare chance to look around Imber as it is now, and to visualise the past of some of the buildings: the church tower with its etchings of hundreds of years ago, the schoolhouse, the large house which once held fetes and parties, the farm outbuilding.
Written and performed by Francesca Millican-Slater and directed by Jo Newman, this is best experienced wearing headphones. As you are invited to walk and stand on the deserted streets and in fields (avoiding warning signs for mines), you hear the wind, the whispers, the wistful creaks and sighs of buildings who remember family lunches, furtive courting, births and deaths.
A few days each year buses visit Imber for the church to echo with carols and services, for families to tend the graves of their forebears. At other times the village is now in military use, with smoke, noise and guns firing blanks. Houses built for peace have been amended for a form of conflict which boosts adrenaline.
The sound was composed and designed by Helen Skiera, the film designed by Rachel Bunce, and the 3D visualisations by Chris Bayly.
Imber: You Walk Through was commissioned for the Salisbury International Arts Festival in 2019. It is now available on ZooTV until 28 August. Donate here.