Discover Dorset's Hidden Gem

T. E. Lawrence in Dorset, a centenary

In 1923, in an attempt to escape both his unwanted fame, and his post-war depression, T.E. Lawrence found a refuge in Dorset

by Neill Child, Wareham Town Museum volunteer

A hundred years ago, in 1923, a new recruit at Bovington camp wrote to a friend giving his first impressions. ‘The camp is beautifully put – a wide heath, of flint and sand, with pines and oak trees, and much rhododendron coming slowly into bloom. When the heather flowers in a few weeks there will be enough to please me.’

Escaping to Dorset

7875698 Pte T.E. Shaw was better known, both in  1923 and today, as T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia. He had become famous as a supporter of the Arabs in their struggle against their Ottoman overlords during the first world war, and he wrote about his exploits in best-selling books.

In an attempt to escape both his unwanted fame, and his post-war depression, he had decided to disappear from public view. 

In an attempt to escape both his unwanted fame, and his post-war depression, he had decided to disappear from public view. Firstly, by joining the RAF as an airman under the name Ross, and when that became known, the Tank Corps as Shaw.

Both these choices have a purpose beyond merely leaving behind his former self.  He had experienced the power of aviation in his desert campaign and saw aircraft as the future of warfare. Besides which he had a mechanical bent, and I feel that is what drew him to his second choice, tanks; he had certainly had plenty to do with armoured cars in the war.

He arrived at Bovington on 12th March 1923 and was expected to remain without leave for the first 6 months. However, on 29th March Lawrence made his first of many visits to Max Gate, the home of Thomas Hardy near Dorchester. Meeting the writer had early on been one of his goals on coming to Dorset, and an introduction was effected by Robert Graves , the novelist and poet.

TE Lawrence at Bovington in Dorset
TE Lawrence in Bovington, photo from Wareham Town Museum
Clouds HIll, home of T.E. Lawrence

A home in Dorset

The second great prize fell to him later that year when, walking out from the camp, he came across an uninhabited cottage, in need of some repair, and was elated to find that he could rent it. Cloud’s Hill became his home for the rest of his life. He had become, and would remain, a Dorset celebrity.

T.E. Lawrence died in 1935 following an accident on his motorbike near Bovington.

You can find out more about T.E. Lawrence’s relationship to Wareham on Visit Wareham website’s page ‘Wareham’s History… T.E. Lawrence and his connection to Wareham.

Find out more about T.E. Lawrence in Dorset

Wareham Town Museum also has a devoted a special section about T.E. Lawrence with important documents and other exhibits connect to his life. The museum is open from March – October. Find out more details about the Museum in Wareham. 

You can also watch a special documentary about T.E. Lawrence’s final years in Dorset –  made by museum volunteers. See the video on the Wareham Town Museum website  

You can also visit his former home at Clouds Hill near Bovington, now managed by the National Trust (currently being renovated and re-opens in March 2024). Find out more about Clouds Hill


This article was first published in Love It Local magazine, winter 2023 edition. Read the magazine online at the Love It Local Purbeck website.  

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