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Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 12:30 GMT
Marriage blessing in 'ghost' village
St Giles
The church of St Giles is the setting for the blessing
A couple are to have a wedding ceremony in the church of a 'ghost village' which was abandoned almost 60 years ago.

John Syme and Sylke Woods are having their marriage blessed in the church of St Giles in Imber at the heart of Salisbury Plain.

The village was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1943 because the countryside around it was being used for crucial war training.


It's a very special place and there was nowhere else we could have the marriage blessed

John Syme
Groom

The villagers were told they could return at the end of the war but 59 years on the village, complete with church and the old Bell Inn pub, is still regularly used for live fire training and exercises.

Expecting to come back, many of the villagers left their homes intact, including tinned food in their larders, giving the whole place a bizarre abandoned feeling.

Some of the old cottages have been taken down or blown up and replaced with modern empty building shells for the Army's urban warfare training.

Repairs

Mr Syme, from Warminster, Wiltshire, has relatives buried in Imber's Baptist graveyard.

The 54-year-old West Wiltshire councillor said: "We are very pleased to be allowed to hold the blessing there.

"It's a very special place and we thought there was nowhere else we could really have the marriage blessed."

Apart from the blessing on 21 December, the 800-year-old church is normally only in use for one service a year.

St Giles
The church is in the middle of Salisbury Plain

The congregation of the parish of Edington, in which St Giles sits, is struggling with the financial burden of looking after the old building which is in need of more than 1 million of repairs.

Mr Syme is campaigning to have the village re-opened and English Heritage and the Church Commission are currently in talks to reinstate St Giles as an active church.

But the number of villagers making a claim on their homes has dwindled year by year and now there are only a handful left.

Mr Syme and Ms Woods, 47, will have their union blessed by Reverend David Belcher after a civil ceremony.


Click here to go to BBC Wiltshire
See also:

31 Oct 02 | England
31 Oct 02 | England
26 Mar 02 | UK
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