A RECORD number of visitors flocked to the abandoned village of Imber on Salisbury Plain last weekend Saturday and Sunday August 17 and 18.

They clambered aboard a fleet of 28 heritage and modern Routemaster Imberbuses to visit the remote village, which is only open to the public for up to 50 days each year.

More than 4,000 people are estimated to have taken advantage of this weekend’s open days to tour the village – which was abandoned in 1943.

Residents were given just 47 days in which to pack up and go to allow American armed forces to train for the D-Day landings in June 1944.

The visitors were transported to Imber on a fleet of 28 heritage and modern Imberbuses loaned for the day by the London Transport Museum, the Bath Bus Company, and other UK bus companies.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Chairman of Network Rail and founding member of the Imberbus organising team, said: “We started out with just five buses in the first year and now in 2019 we are using 28 buses.

"Last year, we had more than 3,000 visitors and donated £13,000 to charity.

“We have even got a special charter train coming in from London today with 200 people aboard and have brought in a temporary bus shelter from the London Transport Museum. It will be here for the weekend and gone by Monday.”

Co-founder Martin Curtis, managing director of the Bath Bus Company, said: "The event has grown again and is clearly becoming more popular.

"The people who come are the general public, and military and transport enthusiasts, who want to see Imber, Salisbury Plain and the buses.”

This year, the buses took visitors to Imber and other points on Salisbury Plain, including the New Zealand Farm Camp, West Lavington, Market Lavington, Brazen Bottom, Tilshead, Chitterne and the Knook Camp.

For the first time, the buses also served the Delaware Road Festival at New Zealand Farm Camp on Saturday and Sunday.

The 16th century St Giles’s Church, looked after by volunteers with the Churches Conservation Trust, was a key focal point for the visitors with people queuing up to go inside.

Among them was 91-year-old Margaret Abraham, from Southampton, who had come to Imber to track down members of the village’s Potter family, from whom she is descended.

With help from James Kirkwood, from Warminster, and the Imber parish registers, she traced her great-grandparents William and Mary Potter, who lived in Imber in 1848, and was confident of tracking the family back to Thomas Potter in the 1670s.

Mrs Abraham said: “I am so pleased that I have found them. I thought that I might find my grandmother but I am delighted to have gone back even further.”

Inside the church, volunteers served visitors with tea, coffee and pieces of cake, while others browsed a display of photographs showing what the village of Imber used to look like.

Roger Green, from the Bratton Silver Band, was selling raffle tickets to visitors to raise funds for their 160th anniversary celebrations. The band gave a concert at St Giles Church on Sunday.

Mr Green said: “We have a very strong connection with Imber and have performed at a Christmas concert with the local choir.

“The composer Christopher Bond is composing a piece of music for our 160th anniversary which will be recorded by the European Champions, the Cory Band from South Wales, on their next CD.

“We will be performing alongside the Cory Band in a joint concert at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon on Sunday, September 22.”

Other displays included The Churches Conservation Trust, a conservation charity that has helped to save 340 churches across the UK, and the Imber: You Walk Through Project, a virtual tour which was first presented at the Salisbury International Arts Festival earlier this year.

Visitors had come from far and wide, including Bristol, London, Southampton, Gloucester and Somerset.

They included John and Jackie Bedford, from nearby Frome, who said: “We have never been to Imber and just wanted to come and see it.”

Mr Bedford, 70, was a former bus driver who had worked for Badgerline and First Bus, as well as local coach firms Beeline and Centurion, and was interested in both the heritage buses and the village. “We’re going to have a look around the village at the houses,” he said.

Aside from St Giles Church there’s not a lot of the village left to see. Most of the old houses have long since disappeared. The empty shells that remain have tin roofs and no windows or doors and are used by the military for training purposes.

But the half-hour trip to the village enables visitors to see sections of Salisbury Plain that are normally closed to the public. Warning signs and tape illustrate the military purposes for which the area is now used.

The Imberbus event was first run in 2009 as a one-off, however it proved so popular the organisers have run it every year since. It continues to attract lots of attention as well as help raise money for charity.

Last year, the event raised £13,000 which was split between the Friends of St Giles’s Church and the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. This year, Sir Peter Hendy and his team are confident they will exceed that total.

This year, any surplus will again be donated to those charities, with £2,000 also going to the Macmillan Cancer Support, the Stagecoach bus company’s charity for 2019.