The home and refuge of Lawrence of Arabia

TE Lawrence in the National Portrait Gallery, London

We're marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality by exploring the LGBTQ heritage at many of our places. T.E.Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, retreated from the spotlight to Clouds Hill in Dorset.

When T. E. 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 romanticised images of him in Arab dress.

A writer's retreat

When he found the cottage he was working in a tank corps under the pseudonym Private T.E. 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 E.M. Forster.

The tiny woodsman's cottage was the rural retreat of T.E. Lawrence
The tiny woodsman's cottage was the rural retreat of T.E. Lawrence

A romantic figure

Lawrence had an enigmatic public persona. He had worked to support the political cause of Arab self-determination in the First World War and was enchanted by the attractions of young Arab men. Homosexual experiences were hinted at in his writing. He dedicated his most famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) to Dahoum Ahmed, a young man with whom he had had a close and intimate friendship during his pre-war years in Syria.

The upstairs living room at Clouds Hill, Dorset
The upstairs living room at Clouds Hill, Dorset

Prejudice and Pride

This is just one of the stories we’re exploring as part of a programme called Prejudice and Pride. Throughout the year you can discover more with events, exhibitions and installations which tell the stories of the men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the properties in which they lived. We’ll also be taking part in community celebrations including Pride festivals around the country and Heritage Open Days to build an understanding of LGBTQ histories in local communities.

This article is adapted from our new guidebook, ‘Prejudice and Price: Celebrating LGBTQ Heritage’ by Alison Oram & Matt Cook. It is available now at National Trust shops and our online store.