The home and refuge of Lawrence of Arabia

TE Lawrence in the National Portrait Gallery, London

TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, retreated from the spotlight to Clouds Hill in Dorset.

When TE Lawrence first bought Clouds Hill, it was a rough and ready bolt hole. Lawrence chose the cottage, in part, as a place where he could escape his new-found celebrity. During the First World War he had served as a military and intelligence officer in the Middle East. He had since earned a great deal of attention and accolades for his achievements. The public’s imagination was fuelled by media stories of his heroism and images of him in Middle Eastern dress.

The tiny woodsman's cottage was the rural retreat of TE Lawrence
The tiny woodsman's cottage was the rural retreat of TE Lawrence
The tiny woodsman's cottage was the rural retreat of TE Lawrence

A writer's retreat

When he found the cottage he was working in a tank corps under the pseudonym Private TE Shaw. Lawrence began renovating the cottage, following Arts and Crafts principles, from 1922, to make it his main home.

He found Clouds Hill a secluded and restful home and wrote a number of books here. But he also entertained many friends from the worlds of literature and the visual arts including Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Augustus John, Siegfried Sassoon and EM Forster.

Lawrence's relationships

Lawrence lived during a time when homosexuality was illegal, but his writing on the subject was tolerant. Homosexual experiences were hinted at in his works, though some commentators have since suggested that Lawrence may have been asexual. Nevertheless he has been understood as an important figure for many in the LGBTQ+ community.

He did form close friendships with some young men such as Selim "Dahoum" Ahmed, who was Lawrence's companion during pre-war years as an archaeologist in Syria. It’s believed that the dedication in Lawrence’s most famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) refers to Dahoum, who had passed away in 1916 during a typhus outbreak.