Clouds Hill (Lawrence of Arabia's Cottage)
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1120423
Date first listed: 20-Nov-1959
Date of most recent amendment: 14-Dec-2015
Statutory Address: Clouds Hill Cottage, Clouds Hill, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 7NQ
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Statutory Address: Clouds Hill Cottage, Clouds Hill, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 7NQ
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Purbeck (District Authority)
Parish: Turners Puddle
National Grid Reference: SY8237690910, SY8237890887
A cottage built in 1808, formerly a forester’s or labourer's cottage, largely reconstructed by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, 1888-1935) for himself, 1922-33; together with Lawrence’s garage, built in 1930.
Reasons for Designation
Clouds Hill, a small cottage of 1808, largely reconstructed 1922-34 by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) for himself, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Historic association: the cottage was the only adult home of T E Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most significant and influential leaders and strategists of the First World War and its aftermath, and also an important writer, who worked on his books at Clouds Hill; * Architectural interest: Lawrence reconstructed the cottage, an early C19 building which was largely derelict in 1922, to suit his own purposes and to his precise specifications, designing and in some cases even constructing the fittings and fixed furnishings himself, creating an intimate, restful place redolent of his personality and interests; * Historic interest: the cottage acted as something of a salon in the 1920s and early 1930s, with Lawrence entertaining fellow writers and artists including Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Gilbert Spencer and Augustus John.
The cottage known as Clouds Hill was built in 1808 as a forester’s or labourer’s cottage on the Moreton estate, which had been in the Frampton family since the C14. The cottage, on Cloud’s Hill, had been derelict for some years by 1922, in which year Sgt Arthur Knowles of the Royal Tank Corps, stationed at nearby Bovington Camp, rented a parcel of land which included the cottage. He built a bungalow for his family on the adjacent plot, and under the terms of the lease, was required to make the cottage habitable. Knowles had just begun the job of restoring the cottage, stripping the derelict elements out to leave the walls and central stack, when Private T E Shaw, also stationed at Bovington, came across it whilst walking in the woods, and arranged to rent it from Knowles for 2/6 a week and take on responsibility for its repair, in order to create a space away from the ranks where he could read, write and listen to music. Shaw was one of the pseudonyms of T E Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most significant figures to emerge from the First World War, with an international reputation.
Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) was famed for his role in the Middle East, shaping the region in the period, as well as a soldier, author and intelligence officer. His parents’ circumstances meant that the family lead a peripatetic life in his youth – his father, Thomas Chapman, had left his first wife and four daughters to live with his children’s governess, Sarah Jenner. The couple lived together as Mr and Mrs Lawrence, though they never married, and raised their own family of five sons, including Thomas Edward, known as Ned. After the young Ned discovered the family secret, there were tensions between the boy and his parents. By the time he was 20, and reading modern history at Jesus College in Oxford, where the family lived, their differences were largely resolved by the building of a bungalow at the bottom of their garden in Polstead Road, where Ned could live alone, study, and follow his own daily routine. His interest in archaeology, antiquity and military architecture took him on tours of the continent and as far as the crusader castles of Lebanon and Syria, which became the subject of his dissertation, later published. From 1911-14, Lawrence, having secured a financial award from Magdalen College, Oxford worked on the British Museum’s excavations at Carchemish in Syria; not only did he gain experience in excavation but became involved in the politics of the region for the first time. The time he spent in Syria formed his conviction that the Arabs must be allowed to secure their independence from the Ottoman Empire without the need to sacrifice their traditions and culture.
Lawrence spent his military service during the First World War in the Middle East, firstly as an intelligence officer, gathering and assessing information, but also working on strategy and developing policy. From 1916, he was instrumental in the Arab revolt, an uprising against the Turkish, whose ambitions for the Ottoman Empire would have wiped out the traditional way of life which Lawrence so valued. Support for the revolt suited the British, frustrating as it did French imperial ambitions and growing Indian plans for colonisation in the region, and Lawrence successfully persuaded his commanders of the potential and importance of Arab forces to delivering British regional strategy. The revolt reached its most significant point in Lawrence’s famed action against ‘Aqabah in 1917, which followed his difficult and dangerous trip to meet with and persuade tribal chiefs to join the Allied cause. His war continued in a flurry of astonishing, often dangerous and rash actions with Arab forces, often without the benefit of backing from the Allied military, which nevertheless continued to achieve much in the British and Allied cause. By 1918, Lawrence had earned the DSO, and his action with Arab forces culminated in the race to Damascus, whose possession by the Arabs he saw as an important bargaining point in achieving self-determination after the end of hostilities. The fact that the territory was initially given over to French rule caused him much anguish, as he felt that he had betrayed the trust of the forces with whom he had fought.
Lawrence documented the Arab revolt, and his pivotal part in it, in a memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was an emotional, literary account that is generally accepted as a faithful account of an extraordinary series of events. His fame and reputation began to be made before its publication, though, following a six-month run at The Royal Opera House of a slide and film show by an American journalist of the adventures during the war of “The Uncrowned King of Arabia”. The romantic image of Lawrence in Arab dress in the desert took hold in the public imagination, jaded and traumatised by the decidedly unromantic experience of the war on the western front. Though personally embarrassing to Lawrence, he was happy to use it as publicity to continue to lobby for the Arab cause. Following his demobilisation in 1919, he concentrated on his writing, but the following year, Winston Churchill, as colonial secretary, invited Lawrence to join his Middle East department, where Lawrence was instrumental in brokering a permanent settlement in the area, involving the creation of many of the modern Middle Eastern territories, including Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Palestine; he also supported the creation of Israel. Although initially client territories with British-led armies, Lawrence believed this was the right path towards Arab self-government, the goal he had always worked for.
In 1922, now a well-known figure, Lawrence sought a return to military life, and enlisted, incognito, in the RAF under the pseudonym John Hume Ross, his acceptance having been approved at the highest level in the government. Despite precautions, his true identity was uncovered by the press within months, and he was discharged, but re-enlisted with the tank corps in the following year as T E Shaw. After a failed suicide attempt two years later, he was transferred to the RAF where he stayed until 1935.
It was whilst stationed at Bovington Camp that Lawrence took on Clouds Hill, situated on the Moreton estate of his cousins, the Frampton family. He sought to create a haven he could use as a retreat from barrack life and a place in which he could work on the revision of the subscription edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom; however from early on, it is clear that he was planning to make it his home once he retired from the RAF. The work was deliberately unelaborate but well-made, influenced by the handicrafts and practicality of the Arts and Crafts movement he had admired in the work of William Morris and John Ruskin as a young man. In 1923 he found himself short of funds, and sold the Meccan dagger he had worn with his Arab garb throughout the revolt of 1916-18, to a friend for £125, enabling him to pay for work to the roof. The remaining elements of the historic roof were oak and chestnut, but for the sake of economy, Lawrence’s repairs were in deal, creosoted to match. The skylight was added and a partition wall in the upper room was removed. By 1927, only the first floor was habitable; Lawrence used the larger room as a living, reading and writing room with a camp-bed in the smaller room for his frequent guests, and the larger ground-floor room used for the storage of firewood and timber. When Lawrence was absent from Dorset at the RAF Cadet College in Cranwell, Kent from 1927, he left it in the hands of Sergeant Knowles, who made changes to allow the cottage to be let to raise funds for further improvements. The ground floor room was made into a kitchen/living room, though Lawrence always intended to, as he put it, “re-paganise” the place when he was able to settle back at Clouds Hill. Oak bookshelves to Lawrence’s specification were fitted in the ground-floor main room in 1929-30, and Lawrence moved his library to the ground floor, adding a large day bed under the window and removing the kitchen range in favour of living largely off tinned food, a legacy from his ascetic life in military service. The large first-floor room became a panelled music room, and a painting of the view from Clouds Hill, painted by Gilbert Spencer for Lawrence, was fitted in the gable end. The room was furnished with the help of Florence, the wife of Thomas Hardy, with whom Lawrence developed a close friendship. In the early 1930s, Lawrence set about completing the two smaller rooms. The ground-floor gained a bathroom, with a bath and hot-water boiler, which was completed in 1933. The walls were clad the following year in cork tiles to insulate the room. The first-floor room which had been used to store food and as an occasional guest bedroom was fitted out with a cabin bed Lawrence made himself: “a slip of a roomlet upstairs in my cottage – too small for any manufactured bed: so I built into it a bunk, of ship-cabin type, with drawers beneath for my clothes. A rough job I made of it but it works.” He wrote this in a letter to a friend in Scotland, asking him to source a ship’s porthole for the room; an example salvaged from the broken-up HMS Tiger was duly installed in the spring of 1935. The walls were covered in aluminium foil to improve the light in the room and to guard against damp. Lawrence loved the cottage and its seclusion, and wrote fondly of it to friends throughout the ten years he spent there. “I must visit my cottage, for that half-ruin and wholly unfinished place must be cleaned up enough, by this winter, to act ‘home’ to me in the spring...it should be a safe feeling, to have a house to live in, without rule, (I have never had any sort of house of my own before).” “My cottage is finished, inside and out, so far as alien hands can finish it – and I feel rooted now, whenever I pass its door. Such a lovely little place, and so plain. It is ingenious, comfortable, bare and restful: and cheap to maintain.” Lawrence also added a garage to the cottage, to house his Brough Superior motorcycles, for which he had a strong enthusiasm.
Lawrence’s little cottage became something of a salon, and visitors to Clouds Hill included the writers EM Forster (1879-1970); Edward Garnett (1868-1937); Robert Graves (1895-1985); Thomas Hardy (1840-1928); George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950); Henry Williamson (1895-1977); and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Amongst the artists who visited were Augustus John (1878-1961); William Roberts (1895-1980); and Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979). Lawrence had close friendships in particular with George Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte (1857-1943), and Thomas Hardy and his wife Florence (1879-1937). In addition to The Seven Pillars, Lawrence wrote his observations on RAF life in 1927, published as The Mint; and published a translation of Homer’s Odyssey in 1932, each of which he spent time working on at Clouds Hill. The profits from The Odyssey enabled him to buy the cottage outright.
Lawrence always intended to live in the cottage after his term in the RAF, and when in early 1935 he eventually retired from a career distinguished not only by his First World War experiences and his role in the creation of the modern Middle Eastern nations, but later for his part in the development of seaplanes and air-sea rescue craft, it was to Clouds Hill. However, his retirement was to be tragically short – riding his beloved Brough motorcycle close to the cottage in May 1935, he swerved to avoid two cyclists, and was thrown from the machine. He died from his injuries five days later at Bovington Camp. He was buried close by, in the churchyard of the church of St Nicholas at Moreton, but a bust by Eric Kennington was placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. There was genuine national grief at his loss, and such was his stature in the public imagination that it was rumoured that, like King Arthur, he had not died but was sleeping, awaiting a time when his nation needed him again.
Clouds Hill was gifted to The National Trust in 1936 by Arnold, Lawrence’s brother, and is preserved largely as Lawrence left it, unaltered apart from the addition of cast-iron rainwater goods in the mid-C20, and some conservative repairs. It is now open to the public.
A cottage built in 1808, formerly a forester’s or labourer’s cottage, largely reconstructed by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, 1888-1935) for himself, 1922-34; and Lawrence’s garage, built in 1930.
MATERIALS The cottage is constructed from red brick painted white, with clay tile roof, brick stack and cast-iron rainwater goods.
PLAN A single-depth, two-room plan with one larger and one smaller room to either side of an off-centre stair.
EXTERIOR The cottage has a single storey and attic, and is of four unequal bays. The roof has one hipped and one half-hipped end, with a central rectangular ridge stack built in brick, with a drip course. The main elevation to the south is blind except for the entrance doorway, to the right of centre. The plank door is set in a timber frame, below a stone lintel with a pedimented stone lintel carved by Lawrence with a Greek motto, translated roughly as “Why Worry” or I don’t care”. There is a three-pane roof light set into the roof slope in the left-hand bay. The eastern end is half-hipped, with a small ship’s porthole brought from the broken-up HMS Tiger to the house by Lawrence, set under the eaves. The rear elevation has three gabled half-dormers spaced irregularly along the roof. The left-hand bay has a tall window under a lintel similar to that over the door; all the windows in this elevation are multi-paned timber casements in pegged frames. The western end has a gabled half-dormer with a wide timber casement window, above a three-light, stone mullioned window with straight chamfers; the metal-framed lights are fixed to right and left, with the central one pivoting.
INTERIOR The entrance door gives way to a lobby with the stair directly ahead and doorways to the rooms to either side. The lobby has light wood panelling. To the left, via a framed leather hanging as a door, is the Reading Room, the larger of the two ground floor rooms, with an exposed, chamfered beam with run-outs and wide floorboards. The inner wall has a high brick fireplace with a segmental-arched opening and steel hood made by Lawrence, and a timber mantel shelf. The wall around the fireplace is panelled in a continuation of the panelling from the lobby. The other walls are taken up with simple oak bookshelves, each with a small cupboard at floor level. The space is dominated by the day-bed, fixed under the window; a simple structure of timber with dovetailed corners, covered in leather. The other ground-floor room is the bathroom, with a four-panelled door, its walls lined in cork tiles. The bath is a large enamelled tub with white panels. A concealed door gives access to the understairs cupboard which houses the boiler.
The stairs give access to a tiny first floor landing with a window to the rear. The rooms either side are each accessed up two steps. To the right, through a plank door, is the bunk room. The external walls are lined in aluminium foil. Built into the alcove under the front slope of the roof is Lawrence’s bunk, a cabin bed in varnished timber designed to fit his proportions, with a sleeping cot above drawers for clothes. A salvaged porthole from the First World War battle cruiser HMS Tiger is set in the gable end. The inner wall is matchboarded and has a two-panelled door to a food-storage cupboard. The larger first-floor room is the music room, where Lawrence entertained friends. The first floor is largely contained within the attic space, and the walls therefore rise only a short distance, but are set with square panelling, which continues from the landing. Above, the roof, which slopes on all sides, has its structure exposed; the main truss is a simple A-frame of paired principal rafters and collar with a yoke and single purlins, dating from the original cottage of 1808; the majority of the rest of the roof structure was replaced in deal during the 1922-33 repairs. The chimney rises through the room and has a small, segmental-arched fireplace opening, above which is a timber mantel shelf, set at the right height to allow Lawrence to lean on it. An Arts and Crafts style candle sconce designed by Lawrence sits over the collar of the truss. Set in the panelling in the gable over the window in the hipped end of the room is a landscape painting of the view from Clouds Hill on board or panel, painted in 1925 by Gilbert Spencer, RA (1892-1979) for Lawrence.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES The cottage is approached via a path of red tile, loosely set on an earthen base.
The GARAGE to the south of the cottage was built in 1930 to house Lawrence’s Brough motorcycle, as a result of an accident on which Lawrence died in 1935. The building is rendered and painted blockwork with a thatched roof, rendered internally with a recently-boarded ceiling.
The National Trust has recently constructed a new admissions building to the north of the cottage, a single-storey structure which is not of interest.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 108706
Legacy System: LBS
Books and journals
Brown, M, The Letters of T E Lawrence, (1988)
Garnett, D, The Letters of T E Lawrence of Arabia, (1938)
Newman, J, Pevsner, n, Buildings of England: Dorset, (2002), 430
The National Trust, , Clouds Hill (guidebook), (2003)
Lawrence James 'Lawrence, Thomas Edward [Lawrence of Arabia] (1888-1935), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, January 2011, accessed 14/10/2015 from www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34440
T E Lawrence at Clouds Hill, accessed 13/11/2014 from www.telstudies.org/discussion/service_years/clouds_hill.shtml
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing