Saturday, 18 September 2010

By bus to Imber

Well I might be the first person to get their Imber story on the internet but given the familiar faces in Wiltshire today there will be plenty more very soon.

Imber is a Wiltshire village with a difference: at its height no more than 500 people worked the land and look their goods to the local market town. By 1931 only 152 people were resident in the village.

However in 1943 it was evacuated and commandeered by the Ministry of Defence. As with a number of sites on Salisbury Plain vast swathes of countryside were used for training, target practice etc.

Imber was never given back and remains closed – except for the occasional day when access to the metalled roads and village is allowed. On this day the church is open, people can visit the graves of relatives buried there, and when possible a church service is held.

Today is the only day this year when Imber was opened, so following a precedent sent in 2009, a one day bus service comprising red Routemaster buses was provided. It is only the second time since 1943 that Imber has had a bus service.

The service, pioneered by London's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy and registered by Martin Curtis at Bath Bus Company, ran from Warminster Station, across the wilderness to Imber, then on to Tilshead. For the first time the service was further extended to the Bustard Inn – a pub and a few mobile homes near Shrewton and accessed across the plains rather than the conventional way from the A360.

Several senior transport figures again joined in the day – driving, conducting and supervising – and everyone had an exceptionally good time.

I had the great fortune to drive the first journey beyond Tilshead to the Bustard Inn with RM613 and so popular was it as a destination that additional capacity was needed during the day.

We seem to miss the tanks and unexploded shells so I hope that means we might repeat the whole exercise again next year. Watch for dates as the opening of Imber is determined by the MoD and not always with much notice!

TOP  The absence of traffic allowed to us have an impromptu line-up across the road. A high-powered delegation including Peter Hendy attend to a small coolant problem on his RM1005.

BOTTOM Quite a lot of buses for a village that has no population!



  1. The 23A has obviously established some sort of permanence as Google Earth marks the bus stop for Imber Church. Interestingly Bristol Tramways were still showing a service to Imber on their route maps until at least July 1947. This would have been a Bath Tramways service although the number 23A presumably relates to the Wilts & Dorset 23 service that operated from Amesbury to Warminster via Shrewton and Chitterne.

  2. Thank you, and of course all the other drivers, conductors and organisers, for a very enjoyable day. And also for the use of the open-topped RMC, a great vehicle from which to view the scenery.

  3. What a great day! Only pity was we had to follow the Routemasters in my van as I was "on call" and the phone signal was distinctly lacking around Imber - didn't want to be out of touch too long. We followed all the way to the Bustard, whereupon my son decided he was hungry, so we ordered some grub and had an interesting chat with the landlord about Bustards (naturally!) Who should I bump into but Peter Hendy, whom I haven't seen for 45 ish years since we did bus spotting together at the school gates in King Street Hammersmith! (I don't think he remembered, but who can blames him!) We let the buses go, had our grub and still caught up with them back at Imber. A quick look round Imber church, then back to Warminster where RM 1005 was languishing with a water leak. Offer of help presumably not needed (I hope it got home alright), and then homeward bound. Next year, if there is a next year, we will travel by bus! A big thank you to Peter Hendy, Martin Curtis, Phil Groocock, Leon, et al for a great day.

  4. Another excellent day out. Well done to all for all the hard work in arranging.

  5. Hi Leon, a search for images of routemasters to Imber has brought me to this blogpost. I work for CCT, the charity that owns St Giles and we're working with the Imber Friends to organise a lecture by Peter Hendy about the buses and raising funds for the church. Would you allow us to use the top photo for the publicity for the lecture? It's a fabulous image. Hope this would be OK. More than happy to provide a credit and tickets to the event (in Bristol)! Thanks for considering - Katrina (not Kevin) at CCT

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