Clouds Hill before Lawrence
When T E Lawrence first saw the cottage at Clouds Hill, it was in a bad way. Abandoned and uncared for, it had been empty for eight or nine years, visited by gypsies and tramps, and bored soldiers on evenings out. Windows fallen in, holes in the roof and not much remaining apart from the walls and chimney stack, the cottage seemed destined to become a ruin. One visionary soldier had other ideas, however.
Pioneer Sergeant Arthur Knowles had recently taken it on, and started repairs with a plan to make it his family home, together with a bungalow he was building across the road. By Summer 1923 Sgt Knowles had made temporary repairs to the roof and was starting to paint the woodwork, when Lawrence (or Private Shaw as he was known) walked past. Over the next week, Lawrence managed to persuade Knowles to sub-let it to him, with Lawrence paying for the rest of the rebuilding and repairs. A new chapter had started for the cottage.
The origin of the name is lost in the mists of time. Arthur Knowles’s son Patrick found mention of a French monk called Claude living in Medieval times next to the spring that, much later, was across the road from the cottage. So the hill would have started as ‘Claude’s Hill’. Less excitingly, the English Place-Name Society derives it from clūd, ‘a rock or rocky hill’ – and the Oxford English Dictionary does give this as an old meaning of the word ‘cloud’.
Early on, the name Clouds Hill applied to the general elevated area between Bovington and Turners Puddle, and it was used as a landmark in some property deeds of the 1730s. The local Lord of the Manor, James Frampton (the elder), of Moreton, was gradually buying up land on Turners Puddle Heath and Bovington Heath.
James Frampton recorded in his diary in 1761: ‘The plantation on Clouds hill on Tonerspiddle heath was made’, and then in 1775, ‘Twenty five thousand very small Scotch Fir and some Larch trees were planted on Clouds hill.’
A 1765 Map of Dorset Shire shows a circular Clouds Plantation next to a hilly area called Clouds Hill. There are no nearby roads on the map, but in 1767 James Frampton had one built from the end of the Wareham Turnpike, past Clouds Hill and westwards towards Dorchester.
Squire Frampton’s son, James Frampton II – who later gained notoriety for sending the Tolpuddle Martyrs to trial at the Assizes – inherited the estates in 1784 when he was only 15. He continued the extensive planting, and by 1801 had 360 acres of woodland.
The very first Ordnance Survey map of the area, surveyed in 1805, shows the circular Clouds Plantation of 1761 and, across the road, a small patch of trees with an identical boundary as still exists around the National Trust property at Clouds Hill today.
An estate diary tells us the cottage was built in 1808 – many years later the elderly farm labourer William Hallett recalled ‘he went to reside in a cottage at Clouds Hill’ from around 1808 ‘for some considerable time’, and that ‘Mr Frampton built the cottage for me.’ William Hallett probably lived there with his wife and two of his children until the early 1820s. Jonathan Chilcott (a brother-in-law of William’s son) then moved in with his family, and stayed for thirty years.
Jonathan Chilcott and all the farm workers living there after him were woodmen. Cash ledgers for Henry Frampton (the next squire) in the 1860s show him having a considerable income from his plantations, selling faggots (bundles of sticks), wheel spokes, pick shafts, hurdles, planks, poles, boards, etc, all of which would have kept his woodmen busy.
Several families lived at Clouds Hill in the 1850s and 60s, and then Edward Pride (woodman) arrived in 1874, and his family remained associated with the cottage for nearly forty years. Edward and his wife Elizabeth lived there until 1906, and then eldest son William Pride (another woodman) until 1912 or 13.
Over the years, family sizes varied from two people (1851 and 1901 censuses), all the way up to eight (1881), while in 1841 two families totalling nine were sharing the cottage.
Some of the children raised at Clouds Hill became woodmen themselves, while others became tailors, railway workers, inn keepers, blacksmiths, police men, and farmers.
Censuses, parish records and newspapers give us the names of about forty people who lived at Clouds Hill over its first century or so, while the annual electoral registers identify when it was vacated – William Pride was there in July 1912, but by July 1913 he had moved to Moreton.
The Framptons had transferred just over a thousand acres to the War Office in 1899, for the creation of a summer training camp. As the First World War approached, Bovington Camp became a battle training ground, and the cottage had to be evacuated. The plantations of fir trees initially remained intact, until they were converted into pit props and timber to make duck boards for the trenches.
Retreat from Fame
This brings us back to T E Lawrence, starting to rent the cottage around September 1923, for ten shillings a month. He had already introduced himself to Thomas Hardy, through their mutual acquaintance Robert Graves, and had started to be a regular visitor at Max Gate. One of Lawrence’s early visitors at Clouds Hill was the novelist E M Forster, who visited in 1924 and found downstairs full of firewood and lumber – they lived and relaxed upstairs. One sunny afternoon, while E M Forster was there, Thomas Hardy and his wife Florence turned up and climbed the stairs to join them.
After a period posted to India with the RAF, Lawrence returned to Clouds Hill in 1929 and finally bought it from the Framptons – £450 for cottage and five acres of hillside. He then started more extensive renovations, in preparation for his retirement in 1935.
After T E Lawrence’s death in May 1935, his younger brother Arnold inherited the property, but, realising its historic importance, started talking with the 40-year-old National Trust. The Trust took on Clouds Hill in 1937, and opened it to the public in June 1938, with the first (1939) guide book written by Lawrence’s friend and biographer Captain Basil Liddell Hart.
The Knowles family continued their association with the cottage, with Patrick’s wife Joyce (Sgt Arthur Knowles’s daughter-in-law) becoming a member of staff for the National Trust, and welcoming visitors there almost single-handedly for fifty years.