Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Deserted Village

Polphail: RCAHMS, Dictionary of Scottish Architects and the Buildings of Scotland guide use the alternative name Portavadie (or Pollphail): BoS guide (Argyll & Bute) entry is on page 432: architect was Thomas Smith, Gibb & Pate, built 1975-77

There is a poignancy about abandoned villages, places where communities once thrived, yet, for varying historical reasons, from where the residents have departed never to return. Many of the buildings they left have long since quietly slipped back into the landscape leaving only ghost traces and a mark on OS maps. Some were sunk under grandiose water schemes such as at Kielder (and at very low water the remains of buildings resurfaced once again recently):


Certain others were victims of erosion, as at Dunwich, or people were evicted by the varying needs and greeds of landowners, and even war requisitioning, as at Imber:



where the church of St Giles is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust (and which sadly, through the needs of military training for wars we are still fighting, will not be open Easter 2010):


There's a fascinating new website here:


with a great deal of information and further links; it's worth reading through the


More Places

Still More Places

Even More Places


Readers are invited to get in touch with comments, queries, and suggestions. This website will be revised from time to time, and you may be able to influence the direction in which it goes.

Stephen Fisk

26 January 2010

There are sections on poetry (from where I took this blog title of course, Oliver Goldsmith*) :


and paintings,  inspired by the theme.

Here's WH Davies 

The Forsaken Dead

What tyrant starved the living out, and kept
Their dead in this deserted settlement?
There is no voice at home, no eyes to look
Down from their windows on these gardens wild;
A tyrant hath refused his people work,
Since they had claimed a right to share his spoils,
And they have left their dead forsaken here.
Here will I sit upon this fallen tree,
Beside these ancient ruins, ivy-crowned,
Where Nature makes green mosses ooze and spread
Out of the pores of their decaying walls ―
Here will I sit to mourn that people gone.
Where are they gone that there's no maiden left
To weep the fall of this sweet village lost,
Down where its waters pass the empty mills?
No living thing except one tethered lamb,
That hath been crying full an hour in vain,
And, on that green where children played their games,
Hath browsed his circle bare, and bleats to see
More dewy pastures all beyond his reach.
Where is maid Margaret, whom I saw crowned
Queen of the May before so many eyes?
And scornful Maud, of her rare beauty proud ―
That cruel rose bud, with her close hard heart,
Between whose folds no mercy drop could lodge:
And where the men who threw the hammer's weight,
And leapt this common but three moons ago
When unto heaven they sent a deafening shout
Like wild Pacific, when he leaps and falls
At Raratonga, off a coral reef:
Then, in Life's glorious deep they swam and laughed,
And felt no nameless substance touch their limbs
To make them sick with dread of things unseen.
Some other tyrant, in some other shire,
Will drive his people forth, and they will come
Hither, to be this other tyrant's slaves.
Then back, ye famished strangers, or haste on:
There is no joy here, save in one short change;
Be warned to see these dead forsaken here.
Had they no dreamer here who might remain
To sing for them these desolated scenes?
One who might on a starvèd body take
Strong flights beyond the fiery larks in song,
With awful music, passionate with hate?
Were I that bard, and that poor people mine,
I would make strangers curse that tyrant's day:
Would call on Sleep, compeller of strange dreams,
Who leads the unbeliever to the Heaven he doubts,
And makes a false one fear the Hell he scorns –
Would call on Sleep to bring him ghastly dreams,
And haunt that tyrant's night without repose.

and Anthony Thwaite

At Dunwich

Fifteen churches lie here
Under the North Sea;
Forty-five years ago
The last went down the cliff.
You can see, at low tide,
A mound of masonry
Chewed like a damp bun.

In the village now (if you call
Dunwich a village now,
With a handful of houses, one street,
And a shack for Tizer and tea)
You can ask an old man
To show you the stuff they've found
On the beach when there's been a storm:

Knife-blades, buckles and rings,
Enough coins to fill an old sock,
Badges that men wore
When they'd been on a pilgrimage.
Armfuls of broken pots.
People cut bread, paid cash,
Buttoned up against the cold.

Fifteen churches, and men
In thousands working at looms,
And wives brewing up stews
In great grey cooking pots.
I put out a hand and pull
A sherd from the cliff's jaws.
The sand trickles, then falls.

Nettles grow on the cliffs
In clumps as high as a house.
The houses have gone away.
Stand and look at the sea
Eating the land as it walks
Steadily treading the tops
Of fifteen churches' spires.


Here's an excellent Wiki page on the subject:


Yet what about an entire village which was never actually occupied? For there is such, Polphail in Scotland.

Polphail was built in the 1970s to house construction workers for a nearby oil platform; however, the platform was never built, the buildings never occupied, and they have stood abandoned since. There have been schemes to use the buildings which have come to nought, and I understand that demolition and redevelopment is now planned.

There's an informative short BBC news film here, detailing the history and the new plans for Polphail:


and a comprehensive Secret Scotland wiki page, with links, photographs and information:


Before all vanishes however, and is truly 'lost' forever, an arts project took place at Polphail

In pictures: Graffiti artists transform Scottish ghost town Polphaill

15 October 2009
By Jackie Hunter

IT'S HARD to imagine that six graffiti artists armed with ladders, brushes and gallons of paint would find a warm welcome in the hills of rural Argyll after stating their intent to transform the appearance of a tiny village overlooking Loch Fyne.

But if that village was a Brutalist concrete dump then perhaps you'd see why the presence of Derm, Rough (aka Remi), Timid, Stormy, System and Juice126 invoked a surprisingly positive response among locals and passers-by who saw them decorating the grey walls of Polphaill over the weekend.

Three months ago two of the six well-established artists – known collectively as Agents of Change – saw a BBC news report about Polphaill, known as the Ghost Village. It was built in the 1970s to house oil-rig construction workers but was never inhabited and later abandoned. It became news when its demolition, due to occur in December, was announced. Timid and Remi knew immediately that they wanted to paint it. But how to make it happen?

Read on, see the photos:


Here's the 'teaser' video made by the artists before they set about their work:

and the atmospheric end result:

The Ghostvillage Project was created over 3 days on the west coast of Scotland. 6 artists - Timid, Remi/Rough, System, Stormie Mills, Juice 126, Derm - were given free reign to paint in an abandoned 1970s village. Working together on huge collaborative walls and individually in hidden nooks and crannies all over the site the artists realised long held dreams and were inspired by the bleakness and remoteness of the site. Drawing on the history of the village the artists' stated intent on completion of the project was to populate the ghostvillage with the art and characters that it deserved .

An excellent photoset on Flickr, from where the second pic from top came also:

*Vain transitory splendours! Could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!


Bookmark and Share

PS  see comments. I have been sent these two excellent links:


Chris Matthews said...

Nice subject. At Leicester, we were often taught the merits of 'Deserted Medieval Villages', by Maurice Beresford. It's quite quite fascinating to go to some of these places listed in the book and then stand in a fiel amid the humps and bumps of former streets.

Nemesis said...

It is a fascinating subject I have to say, pleased that a website has begun on the subject. and I've just been sent a couple of links to add:



I'll put those as 'live' links under the post' along with this: