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Clouds Hill - home of Lawrence of Arabia


T E Lawrence - British soldier, writer, historian, leader of men - was a man of contradictions. He became a celebrity in the 1920s when his heroism and charisma in the Arab campaigns of 1914-18 war caught the public imagination, earning him the title of 'Lawrence of Arabia'. His house, Clouds Hill just outside Dorchester in England, was to be his haven and the one place that he could escape the burdens of fame.


Born, out of wedlock, on August 16, 1888,  the British military employed Lawrence in 1914, on an archaeological expedition of the Sinai Peninsula and Negev Desert, a research trip that was actually a cover for a secret military survey of territory possessed by the Ottoman Turks. Once World War I began, Lawrence joined the British military as an intelligence officer in Cairo. He worked a desk job for nearly two years before being sent to Arabia in 1916 where, in spite of his nonexistent military training, he helped to lead battlefield expeditions and dangerous missions behind enemy lines during the two-year Arab Revolt against the Turks.


Lawrence’s exploits were largely unheralded by the end of World War I in 1918. He was such an unknown figure that even the Turks, who had a bounty on his head, did not know what he looked like. However, when the American war correspondent Lowell Thomas launched a 1919 lecture tour recounting his assignment in the Middle East, his photographs and films of “Lawrence of Arabia” transfixed the public and transformed the British colonel into both a war hero and an international celebrity.


While serving in the Tank Corps at nearby Bovington Camp, Lawrence sought a place of his own for writing and reflection. He rented Clouds Hill in September 1923:- "I've taken a little cottage (half ruinous) a mile from camp, and water-tighted it to act as a work-room for myself." He later purchased the cottage for the, then, high price of £400.


This is Clouds Hill, an unusual building as you will see. A small house with windows only on one side of the building. Built with the wall-depth of only one skin of brick, the house suffered  from a significant damp problem.



The only downstairs window is on this side of the house. Evidence of rising damp can be seen in the lower brickwork.


Above the front door of the house is this Greek inscription which, roughly, means "who cares"!


Lawrence loved to soak in a good hot bath (probably because the rest of the house was cold and damp). He lined the walls of his bathroom with cork tiles - another way of hiding the damp in the walls and making them less cold to touch.


Lawrence even lined the upper bedroom in silver-foil to try to exclude the damp. This was his visitor's bedroom.


His study and lounge on the upper floor was relatively comfortable. The damp was presumably kept at bay by the open fireplace and this must have provided a pleasant room in which he did his writing on the preserved typewriter whilst listening to music and warming by the fire.


 Almost dominating the room is the huge loudspeaker 'horn' of his wind-up gramophone. I don't think that I have ever come across one so large!! Clearly he loved his music.



Downstairs, by the front door, is his bedroom, with a large double bed (here with his leather bedspread, RAF mat and his service bedroll). The room is lined with books and has a comfortable armchair and open fireplace.  It would appear that this would have been a warm room for him to read and sleep.


Lawrence was an avid motorcyclist; he owned seven different Brough Superiors (Mac: my father also owned one and, given their current collector's value, I wish he has willed it to me), dubbed the “Rolls-Royces of Motorcycles.” On the morning of May 13, 1935, Lawrence sped through the English countryside on his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike. He suddenly saw two boys on bicycles on the narrow country road and swerved to avoid them. However, he clipped one of the bikes and was thrown forward over the handlebars. Lawrence never recovered from his massive brain injuries and died at the age of 46 on May 19.


This is Lawrence's thatched garage for his Brough Superior motorcycle.









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One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."  Henry Miller

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