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T. E. Lawrence at Clouds Hill

Compiled from Lawrence's correspondence by Jeremy Wilson

During my research for Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography I gathered several thousand transcripts of letters to and from Lawrence. These make it possible to build up an account of his involvement with particular activities over a long period.

What follows is a narrative of his association with Clouds Hill, starting when he first rented the cottage in 1923, and ending eleven and a half years later when he died. During that period Lawrence transformed the cottage from something close to a ruin into the home he wished to live in when he retired. References to the cottage in the correspondence fill about eighty typed pages, so the account here is much abridged.

The cottage was built in 1808 to house a farm labourer or forester working on the Moreton Estate. It was used for that purpose for over a hundred years, until the early days of the First World War. After that, however, it was unoccupied. By 1922 it had fallen into a dilapidated state.

As far as I can ascertain, it was during that summer that Sergeant Arthur Knowles of the Tank Corps rented the cottage and an adjoining piece of land on which he set about building a small bungalow for his family. The terms of his lease required him to make the original cottage habitable.

1923-5: a place for writing and music

When Lawrence first discovered Clouds Hill, which is about a mile north of Bovington Camp where he was serving in the Tank Corps, restoration work had already begun. Sergeant Knowles had retained only the outside walls and the central chimney, since the roof and floors were rotten. However, the new roof was well advanced.

Lawrence was immediately attracted to the cottage. It would provide a quiet place where he could revise Seven Pillars of Wisdom for the subscription edition that was now planned. It would also be a haven from barrack-room life.

In the late summer of 1923 a new lease was agreed, under which Lawrence took over the cottage for ten shillings a month. He undertook to finish the restoration.

The first reference to the cottage I have found in his letters is on 17 September 1923, when he wrote to the American publisher F.N. Doubleday asking if it was possible to obtain in the United States a patent fire-lighter he had seen: 'a thing like a black cow's egg, on a wire handle. Perhaps asbestos or fire-clay in substance. In use it sat in a pint pot of paraffin oil ... You picked it from its pot, put a match to it, and set it under the logs which incontinently burst into flame ...

'I've a hut in a wood near camp', he explained, 'wherein I spend my spare evenings. They are very few, and very spare, and I want a fire quickly when I get there, to save what little I can of my time. The hut is very damp, and often cold.'1

At the time, Lawrence was short of money. His bank account was overdrawn, yet the essential repairs to Clouds Hill would be quite expensive. The following month he decided to sell his gold Arabian dagger and spend the proceeds on the cottage. The dagger was valued by Spink's in London, and bought by his friend Lionel Curtis. Lawrence told him: 'I'm burying my past, and the less of its truck that tags about me the better ...'2

By mid-October the cottage roof was rain-tight. Lawrence turned the main upstairs room into a place he could work.

A month after this he was writing of his scheme for the forthcoming subscribers' edition of Seven Pillars: 'I can revise my text, in about a twelve-month, allowing say two hrs average per day. More than this is too much ... The pictures will take about a year to do, I expect. So that the whole project may be complete within 18 months.'3

By the beginning of December 1923 the cottage was fairly habitable. Lawrence began using it as his postal address. Later that month, when plans for the Seven Pillars edition were finalised, it was agreed that intending subscribers should write to him there.

When he first rented the cottage it did not have a name. For a century or more, 'Clouds Hill' had been the name of the hill on which it stands. According to Lawrence's letters, men in the Tank Corps nicknamed the cottage 'Fool's Paradise' but that, he told Bernard Shaw, 'sounds too rich for a postal address'.4

Instead he named it after the hill. To begin with, he usually wrote 'Cloud's' with an apostrophe. Manning Pike, who was to print Seven Pillars, ran off a letterhead with the name printed that way. Later, Lawrence began writing 'Clouds' without the apostrophe, which is now the accepted spelling.

He spent Christmas day 1923 alone at the cottage, writing that it had been 'a quiet time of simple thinking. It seems to me that I've climbed down very far, from two years ago...'5 Two years earlier, he had been working for Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.

On Boxing Day, Bernard and Charlotte Shaw came to see him. They were the first of many famous visitors. In the early years, the larger downstairs room (now the book room) was used to store firewood and lumber. Lawrence entertained guests in the main room upstairs, which had a table and chair and a small collection of books. As the cottage was not secure he kept his valuable books with a friend in London.

In January 1924 Mrs Thomas Hardy called at Clouds Hill for the first time, but Lawrence was out. Later, both she and her husband visited him there. Occasionally there were visits from friends he had made during his first enlistment in the RAF, notably Jock Chambers. The most frequent visitors, however, were Lawrence's Tank Corps friends, notably Privates Russell and Palmer and Corporal Dixon. They would come out in the afternoons to listen to classical music and read.

On February 27 1924 the Daily Express published a short article about his Tank Corps enlistment, and mentioned the cottage: 'It is believed that he is writing a book. He has a bungalow which he rents to the north of the camp.'6 Perhaps the newspaper hoped to re-start the scandal that had erupted a year earlier when it revealed that Lawrence was serving in the ranks of the RAF. On this occasion, however, the story attracted little attention. It seems, nevertheless, to be the first reference to the cottage in the national press.

Lawrence spent most of his leisure time at Clouds Hill, working on the revision of Seven Pillars and correcting proofs of the subscribers' printing. Between January 1924 and August 1925 he completed the entire revision - an enormous task. In late March 1924, E.M. Forster, who had offered valuable criticisms of the earlier text, made the first of several visits to discuss the revisions. There was no bed in the cottage, so Forster stayed at the Black Bear in Wool.

On the evening of his first visit Forster described the cottage in a letter as: 'A charming place in a hollow of the "Egdon Heath" described by Hardy at the opening of The Return of the Native. It's all among rhododendrons which have gone wild. We worked for a couple of hours at his book, then had lunch on our knees - cold chicken and ham, stewed pears and cream, very nice and queer; a fine log fire. I like Lawrence though he is of course odd and alarming.'7

While Lawrence himself - as a serving soldier - had to sleep at Bovington Camp, he decided to provide a bed for visitors: 'an ordinary camp sort of iron bed: not at all luxurious'.8

By August Lawrence was telling friends that, when writing to Clouds Hill, they could use any of his previous names: Lawrence, Ross, or Shaw: 'This address is my safest one: it may be any name ... "Hippoclides doesn't care".'9 He later carved this tag, in the original Greek, over the cottage door.

A letter to someone planning a visit, written about a year after he took over Clouds Hill, gives an idea of its state at that time: 'the cottage is alone in a dip in the moor, very quiet, very lonely, very bare . . . Furnished with a bed, a bicycle, three chairs, 100 books, a gramophone of parts, a table. Many windows, oak trees, an ilex, birch, firs, rhododendron, laurels, heather. Dorsetshire to look at. No food, except what a grocer and the camp shops and canteens provide. Milk. Wood fuel for the picking up. I don't sleep here, but come out at 4.30 p.m. till 9 p.m. nearly every evening, and dream, or write or read by the fire, or play Beethoven or Mozart to myself on the box. Sometimes one or two Tank-Corps-slaves arrive and listen with me... but few of them care for abstract things. If you came you would be very much alone all day.' . . . 'Entry is made through the bathroom window on the ground floor at the back'. The cottage 'has no kitchen. You can boil tea and boil eggs, if you collect fuel . . . Food is bread: butter: jam: honey: reinforced by potted things: and things in tins. Beastly I call it.' The accommodation was basic: 'a bed with blankets and a mattress and sheets... Cottage consists of a sitting room and a bedroom (very small): and builders' men are whitewashing an adjoining kitchen [now the bunk room], making it smell and reek and splash awfully.' Finally, the 'Weather is Dorset weather: wind and rain: rain and wind: wind: rain: and so on.'10

Although Lawrence was spending money on the cottage, he had no long-term plan to stay there. He wrote: 'I'll try to keep it so long as I'm in camp: which will probably be till this time next year, when I'll be due for draft.'11 At the end of 1924 he spent a second Christmas alone at Clouds Hill, avoiding the barrack-room revelry and its aftermath.

1925-7: absentee landlord

Lawrence's first enlistment in 1922 had been in the RAF, which he greatly preferred to the Tank Corps. He set his heart on getting a transfer back to the Air Force, and in the summer of 1925 he succeeded. 

Clouds Hill seemed to have outlived its purpose. However, he did not give up the lease. His younger brother A.W. Lawrence, an archaeologist, was frequently abroad working on excavations. The cottage would provide him with a base in England. Lawrence moved to the RAF Cadet College at Cranwell, and A.W. Lawrence with his wife moved to Clouds Hill. They planned to use the cottage for a number of years, and began negotiations with the Moreton Estate to buy it. In the event, however, they lived there for only a few months, leaving in mid-January 1926. During their stay they planted many trees around the hilltop.

After they had left, Lawrence decided that he himself would keep the cottage. He took over the negotiations to buy it: 'Clouds Hill is very beautiful and suits me', he wrote, 'though I will not live there till I have been as long in the Air Force as pleases me.'12

It was difficult to get to Bovington from Cranwell, but he managed to spend two nights there at Easter 1926, his first visit for many months.

While he was away, Private Palmer from Bovington Camp looked after it. Other service friends occasionally used it for holidays. Lawrence seems not to have returned in 1926 except very briefly in November, shortly before he left for India. It was during this visit to Dorset that he saw Thomas Hardy for the last time.

When Private Palmer left Bovington Camp, early in 1927, Sergeant Knowles took over responsibility for Clouds Hill. Lawrence decided to let it, using the proceeds to pay for further improvements. Knowles therefore converted the main ground-floor room into a kitchen. Thus in March 1927 Lawrence wrote to Palmer that, 'Knowles ... is now engaged in converting Clouds Hill to a Christian way of living, with a view to letting it. Alas! However, or if ever, things change, and I'm able to get back and free... I'll enlist your help, and we will go down some weekend with axes, and re-paganise the place. It will be noble to feel it getting straight.' He went on to list some of the people who had visited the cottage: the artists Augustus John, William Roberts and Gilbert Spencer; writers, including E. M. Forster, Edward Garnett, Robert Graves, Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw, Siegfried Sassoon and H.M. Tomlinson, and wartime friends such as Lord Lloyd and the Salmond brothers: 'What a lot of excellencies have eaten toast upstairs there! You and I will eat toast there again, Inshallah.'13 In due course, the cottage was let to a family called the La Mares, for 7/6d a week.

In the summer of 1927, when Robert Graves was writing Lawrence and the Arabs, Lawrence begged him not to mention Clouds Hill: 'I think of that magically beautiful place as a country home, some day. Small, cheap, retired, colourful.'14 A week later he sent a wistful description to D.G. Hogarth: 'You never saw Clouds Hill, I think? A tiny brick cottage, with old tiled roof, very high pitched. It stands in a thicket of laurel and rhododendron, with oak trees and a huge ilex stretching arms over its roof. Damp? Yes; for the cottage dates from pre-dampcourse days, and the trees drip great raindrops on the roof for hours after each storm . . . Only two rooms, the upstairs, of the cottage, are habitable [Lawrence had not seen the new kitchen]. They have three-foot walls, and nine-foot roofs, all open. A great deal of oak and chestnut on show: but my repairs to the roof had to be in deal, which we creosoted to bring it to an ancient colour . . . I wish I were within reach of that cottage now. This place is dismal...'15

From time to time, Lawrence had news of the cottage from the Knowles family. He was particularly interested to hear about the two hundred Scotch firs planted on the hill: 'if only 100 of them live on the top of the ridge, it will be a bristly and prominent ridge, won't it?'16 It proved more difficult to grow trees than he had expected, and many were lost the following spring. In April he wrote to Dick Knowles: 'Curse the trees. Do you think they were the wrong sort: or was the weather hopeless: or did they put them in wrong: or was it the wrong season? Would you wobble one day . . . up to Hilliers, the nursery-man and ask him? . . . If you find anyone who is friendly, ask him to prescribe for such a need as Clouds Hill . . . I want a row of tall red clean trunks against the skyline, like a cock's comb, on the crest of Clouds Hill, visible from Corfe and from Dorchester.'17

In July 1928 Lawrence wrote to Bernard Shaw that, when he retired from the RAF in 1930 or, at the latest, 1935, 'My notion, if I have then a secured income of a pound a day, is to settle at Clouds Hill, in my cottage, and be quiet.'18 If his income was insufficient, however, Lawrence though of taking a night-watchman's job in a London bank.

In October 1928 he agreed to translate Homer's Odyssey in to English, for a fee of 800. This would be enough to pay off the remaining money owed for Clouds Hill. He was pleased at the prospect.

Improvements to Clouds Hill, 1928-35

Lawrence had expected to remain in India for five years, but at the end of 1928 sensational press rumours linked him with a rebellion in Afghanistan. The rumours grew until, at the beginning of 1929, the RAF brought him back to to England. In mid-March he was able to visit Clouds Hill for the first time in two years. Afterwards he wrote: 'It is as lovely as ever: only chimney-pots on the top, as the sole disfigurement. I have paid for it now: only the conveyance is not ready yet.'19

Almost immediately he began a series of improvements, though he did not expect to live at Clouds Hill before 1935. He arranged for Sergeant Knowles to plaster the bedroom walls and build: 'what he calls a sanitary convenience'.20 However, there was still no water supply in the cottage: 'You walk 60 yards with a bucket.'21 In May he told his mother of plans to plant red and white rhododendrons: 'to mix up the colour: and a lot of magnolias, which carry beautiful great flowers.'22

That October Lawrence finally sold his land in Essex, Pole Hill, to Epping Forest. He would be left with about 3,500 (around 150,000 converted to 2006 values using the Retail Price Index). He hoped by investing this to have sufficient income to live at Clouds Hill when he retired from the RAF.

The money from Pole Hill was not paid until September 1930. Lawrence told Robin Buxton, his bank manager: 'I'm sorry about losing the Hill: but, as a man refused by one angel hurriedly marries the next he meets, I am in love with Clouds Hill, my Dorset cottage, and have a head-full of plans for it.'23 For at least a year he had been planning to build what he described as 'a new wing (two rooms) . . . A new wing will not harm either the smallness or the quietude of Clouds Hill, or its simplicity'.24 The wing was to have a room to house his books, and he planned to build it during 1932. Meanwhile, he arranged for Sergeant Knowles to put up a garage to house his Brough motor cycle and other things. Lack of storage space was a problem with the cottage. There was not even a loft.

During the early 1930s Lawrence served at a series of RAF stations some distance from Clouds Hill. Unable to use the cottage himself, he readily lent it to others. In the autumn of 1930 his mother and elder brother went to live there. They had returned to England from missionary work in China, but seemed unable to settle down anywhere for a long period. Lawrence told Mrs Hardy: 'The little people at Clouds Hill seem queerly contented there. I tried to tell them that it was sad and isolated in the winter, when the rains closed down, for I think they would be better off at Max Gate: but they would not be convinced. My mother is an enraged housewife. She has cleaned all the cottage remorselessly and takes a pride in polishing it. So there we are! I still hope she may realise that it is too summery a place. Of course, too, it is very nice her liking it.'25

That November, Lawrence warned Sergeant Knowles of a 'moving forest of rhododendron trees coming upon you from Derbyshire (rail to Wool, I think) for planting in the neighbourhood of the cottage. Will you find some plant-wise man and make him put them in at the likeliest places? I understand they are the latest Tibetan and Chinese trees of all sorts of shapes and colours!'26 Mrs Lawrence, who loved gardening, was delighted to help with the planting. A further batch of fir trees also arrived, to make up for those that had been lost.

That winter Sergeant Knowles died, leaving a widow and five children. Characteristically, Lawrence helped arrange the education of the younger ones, and did his best to find work for the family. In April he wrote to his mother, who was still at the cottage: 'I am glad you can use Pat a bit. If I get my Odyssey done this year . . . I shall be able to use him in building my new room.'27

He tried to buy the land on the opposite side of the road, where the Knowles's cottage stood, in order to prevent other bungalows being built there. But the Moreton estate would not sell. Instead, they offered him a long lease.

When the Odyssey translation was finished, in August 1931, Lawrence decided to use the final payment to bring water to the cottage, and perhaps install a bath and bookshelves, 'which would finish it for constant occupation - in 1935'28

By this time been he had abandoned, or indefinitely postponed, his plan to add a two-room wing. He could not afford the cost. The Great Depression had reduced the value of his investments. In September 1931 he wrote: 'those with much money, usually, have none now: and those with little money always, are hoarding and tightening their belts, expecting to earn none henceforth.

'I am doing that . . . I have held up the improvement process which was slowly civilising my ruined cottage in Dorsetshire . . . I have 300 in the Bank, and can live through the worst money crisis'.29 It was not until the following autumn, after his mother and brother had decided to return to China, that Lawrence began making further improvements. By then there was also maintenance to do, including repairs to the roof and the kitchen wall. Work was to continue from November 1932 well into the following year.

Lawrence went to the cottage as often as he could while the work was going on, though he was rarely stationed close enough to Clouds Hill to stay there for more than a few hours. He took advantage of the upheaval to undo some of his mother's 'improvements'. Thus he wrote to Mrs Knowles on 23 November 1932: 'I hate flowers round a house. I will write to mother, soon, and tell her the house-works are going ahead, and will involve getting rid of her flower-beds... Unreasonable beings, mothers, aren't they? She knows I can't stand any sort of garden or plants... Yet she would cheerfully spoil the place for me!'30

He decided to have bookshelves installed in the large ground-floor room that Knowles had converted into a kitchen: 'By the end of January', Lawrence wrote optimistically, the cottage 'should be again habitable. Slowly the certainty that I shall inhabit it permanently sinks in. Once, it seemed incredible that I should have a real habitation.'31

The scale of works was considerable. Treating the roof-beams against wood beetle caused total disruption upstairs. Then everything moveable on the ground floor had to be shifted so that the new book room walls could be coated with damp-proof cement and shelved. Finally, Lawrence intended to install a bath and hot water boiler.

All these improvements were to be financed by money from the Odyssey translation. Lawrence wrote: 'How tickled old Homer would have been! He used to enjoy his hot baths, anyway.'32 A local carpenter called Parsons, recommended by Mrs Hardy, made the shelving and a gramophone stand for the music room upstairs.

In England, Lawrence's Odyssey was only published in a limited edition in England. In America, however, there was a very successful trade edition. This earned a considerable royalties - which was just as well. The building work soon outgrew the original plans and estimates.

Lawrence wrote to Bruce Rogers, who had commissioned the Odyssey translation, asking him to enquire in America about water heaters: 'Will you ask someone . . . what fuel oil heaters are available and advised for a very small country cottage, without gas or electricity, with a hot-water desire of about 20 gallons a day? I shall label the bath Homer and the boiler B.R., upon inauguration day!'33

Friends gave him presents for the cottage. Among these were two pictures of the Euphrates at Jerablus, painted by Ernest Altounyan's wife. Lawrence wrote in thanks: 'They delighted me: and for the moment I felt suddenly homesick for the Kalaat again. The southward looking one is exactly as I have always remembered it.... These two little panels exactly fit a place in my downstairs room. So there they are. For good. Please thank her very much indeed. I'm rich in them.'34 By 1935 the cottage would contain mementoes from most periods of his life.

Some offers he refused. Mrs Hardy wanted to pay for the bookshelves, and Bruce Rogers offered to give the water heater. But Lawrence was determined to finance the main work at Clouds Hill himself.

He had hoped that his builder, Bill Bugg, would finish in January 1933, but by March little of the work had been done. At this point Lawrence, disappointed by a change in his RAF work, requested discharge. 'My move will be to Clouds Hill, where I shall try to stay till my heart and head settle down again. I have not been into ways and means, and so cannot say how I shall live: but the Odyssey has postponed that question till next year.'35

The Air Force reacted slowly to his request. Meanwhile Lawrence took a car-load of books, records, clothes and tools from Plymouth where he was serving to Clouds Hill 'which is still in the throes of the builders, but looking peaceful despite it. I think it will do, as a harbour . . . All my records are there assembled, yards of them. But only a few books, as yet. The rest in London await the shelving's completion.'36

The Air Force found him a new job and he was moved to Felixstowe, spending the last two years of his enlistment travelling from one place to another supervising the construction of RAF marine craft. The work at Clouds Hill continued. Fitting the bookshelves began at the end of April 1933. Lawrence visited to inspect the work. He found to his disgust that his mother had planted: 'dozens of daffodils and things, garden flowers, near the house, for the whole of my little patch of grass has been full of them. I am afraid I thought them very out of place. They spoiled the picture. However the rabbits seem to like them, and I have offered Mrs Knowles the rest. Clouds Hill is no place for tame flowers.'37

It was as well that the shelves were going in, because in May the friend who had been looking after Lawrence's valuable books died. Luckily an unemployed bookseller, Kenneth Marshall, was staying at the cottage when the books arrived. He arranged them on the new shelves.

Thus Clouds Hill was gradually taking shape. Lawrence now called it 'a proper cottage, with no water and no drain and no kitchen. Just a book-room, sitting room, bed and garage.'38

In addition to the books, Lawrence warned Marshall that 'On the way down from London are also a cow-hide and a mattress. These are to add to the settee thing in the book room and make a proper lying-place of it.'39

The water supply

At first Lawrence had thought that water would have to be hand- pumped from a stream in the Knowles's garden to a small tank in the cottage to provide a water supply. In July, however, he wrote to Marshall that he was planning to visit the cottage 'to look at the spring, for which I am contemplating a ram. Rams are hydraulic engines, worked by the flow. If there is enough flow!'40 He judged that there was, and ordered a ram so that water would reach the cottage without manual pumping.

On 10 August he wrote to Edward Garnett that work on the cottage would be complete by the end of the summer. Garnett had bought Eric Kennington's pastel portrait of Allenby, one of the portraits Lawrence had commissioned for Seven Pillars, and had promised to give it to Lawrence once the cottage was ready. Lawrence, who still owned Augustus John's oil portrait of Feisal, now wrote that he was ready for the picture: 'I shall have my dual mastership preserved in my cottage for all my time. It will be a queer, rich feeling. In the flesh that double allegiance was difficult: but the two quiet heads on the wall will let me do what I please.'41 After Lawrence's death, A.W. Lawrence gave the portrait of Allenby to the National Portrait Gallery, while the Feisal went to the Ashmolean.

Before the Allenby portrait arrived, the water supply was installed. This proved to be a messy business. On 12 August Lawrence wrote: 'Cottage all a ruin now, with the new water-works in progress! Soon I shall have my very own bath! The first I have ever owned in exclusiveness. A milestone in life.'42

Three weeks later he told Charrlotte Shaw about the inauguration of the ram. 'Yesterday was a DAY. At 1.45 p.m. water, driven by the smallest ram ever installed anywhere, began to flow into my cottage at Clouds Hill. The pipes are a hundred yards long: the ram was turned on at 10 a.m. without public ceremony: it worked steadily for hour after hour: and at 1.45, as I have said, the water arrived at its destination. The single, oldest and only inhabitant of Clouds Hill took off his R.A.F. cap with a simple gesture (to avoid knocking it against the roof-beam) and collected the first pint in a pint mug. It arrived in four minutes, and the single oldest and only inhabitant then drank it. The taste was of red lead and galvanised iron: but the quality was wet, indubitably: and they say that in four weeks the taste will be unalloyed water. I hope so: for otherwise my drinking water will come from the spring by bucket!

'If a pint in four minutes seems to you little, reflect that it works all day and all night at that rate. It is copious; excessive. Indeed I have laid down a spill-pipe, which will feed the kitchen of my neighbour, Mrs Knowles, with my surplus. Both of us are henceforward endowed with running water. We feel so rich and happy.'43

The bath was supplied by Raymond Goslett, who had been stores officer at Akaba during the Syrian campaign. By the autumn of 1933 it had still not been fitted. Lawrence wrote on 25 September 'Not much progress in the public works. The ram is not yet satisfactory, but is being improved. The heating apparatus is at last definitely ordered. Upstairs is due for its second anti-woodworm poisoning, and all stripped bare for the operation. The bathroom is not yet cemented round, and the bath waits in the garage for the boiler to be first installed.

'The book room is all finished except for its fender, which I have not yet designed. My books fill one of the two shelved walls: the one on which the dishes used to sit. The opposite wall waits with empty shelves. Only a remnant of my books have survived their ten-year exile: but all the Kelmscotts are present in good order . . . The book-room window has two fixed side-panes, cemented into the stone frame, and a pivoting centre-pane, in a stainless steel frame. That gives enough light and air to suit me. The other furniture is the window-seat, an affair six feet each way, built up of Bob's former bed and a big box-spring mattress: very comfortable and useful . . . the fender will complete it.

'What used to be the bedroom, upstairs, I am turning into a work-room, to hold a table and papers and ink and food and probably the gramophone and my clothes. That will make the upstairs sitting-room big enough to walk about in.

'The staircase has been sheathed in oak three-ply: and the Spenser landscape panelled into the gable, quite successfully. With the finishing of the bathroom, I will have the workmen out of it, and the whole house finished, except for what is reserved for my own hands.'44

Lawrence complained bitterly about the books lost from his collection: 'I had posted off to my deposit all the books - over twelve years - which I had liked and wanted to re-read. There were dozens... of everybody's. But someone has been dishonest or careless with them: the private press luxury books are there, but the exciting works are gone. It is not theft but stupidity, I fear: for instance Vol. 2 of the set of Arabia Deserta inscribed to me by Doughty is missing; not the inscribed volume, but the plain one. The Intelligent Woman and the Too true remain: but the Joan, from public Shaw to private Shaw is gone: also many other inscribed books. I hope they will not think I have been selling them. Of the first seven D.H. Lawrence prose books only two survive. Of the James Stephens, all the prose is gone. Mostly the poems are saved, and the prose lost. I am going round the old bookshops, wherever I visit, and making up the casualties. It is heart-breaking work. My own fault, I suppose, but to lock up books that people may want to read is a selfish sort of sin: only I wish whoever has removed them had had more conscience. I had so enjoyed - in imagination - this little library. It was to have been all the worth-whiles of thirty years of reading. There are good things, still, of course - but the incompleteness shames me.'45

He had hoped the builders would be out by the end of October 1933, but on 5 November wrote: 'The cottage is not finished. The boiler and bath are in course of installation, but will take quite two weeks more. I shall be so glad to have it to myself, after they finish. The works have dragged on all summer.

'Just now I am employing Pat and young Way and Cooper to dig a great water-tank in the ground below Mrs Knowles's garden, among the chestnut trees. This is being fitted with hydrant connections, for fire use: and when there are no heath fires we can bathe in it: 40 feet by 7 by 5. I hope to roof it with glass, or leaves will choke it.'46 That autumn he finally leased the wooded area of land on the other side of the road, to prevent building there or interference with his water supply. This cost him 15 a year.

Towards the end of 1933 he decided that work on the cottage was dragging on too long: 'I want it finished, to be mine again. These incursions of Bill Bugg are restlessnesses. Fortunately my Bank is covering his bills as they rise - but I have told him the next must be the last. Pat Knowles has taken over the water-works and is doing wonders for a tenth of Bill Bugg's prices!'47

Thus on 17 December Lawrence was able to write that the cottage itself was 'now finished, at last, and looking untidy but well.' His new project, the water-tank in the Knowles's garden, 'to be known as Shaw's Puddle',48 was at a standstill because frost had stopped work with cement. Lawrence reported that it was 'almost finished, however, and will come to little harm, in its present state. Such a relief to have the cottage to myself, at last, after all these months of workmen and upset. If there is ever anything more to do, I shall do it myself.'49

A place to live
Clouds Hill was now altogether to his taste: 'I have lavished money these last . . . months upon the cottage, adding a water-supply, a bath, a boiler, bookshelves, a bathing pool (a tiny one, but splashable into): all the luxuries of the earth. Also I have thrown out of it the bed, the cooking range: and ignored the lack of drains. Give me the luxuries and I will do without the essentials.'50

He spent Christmas 1933 at the cottage, with Jock Chambers. It was the tenth anniversary of his first Christmas there. The only disappointment was the water supply. He told Charlotte Shaw: 'I went . . . on the Friday before Christmas, and inaugurated the hot bath. The heater was a huge success. Burned very little oil, asked for no attention, kept the water as hot as could be. Alas, it was only for one day and night (two baths) for all the springs for five miles about me have run dry with the drought, and every cottage on the heath relies on my spring for their drinking water. So I have perforce stopped my ram, and therefore my baths. Courage: rain promises.

'Late on the Saturday night another airman arrived, saying he'd thought to spend Christmas with me! Lucky I had come! We chopped much firewood and took long walks together, swept the dead leaves from the path into a heap and burned them, tidied the house after the workmen who had put in the heater. So that was a quiet and useful holiday. Quiet for us both, and useful for me!'51

The finishing touches, 1934-5

On 4 January 1934 Lawrence paid out the last cheque for work on the cottage, 130.8s.2d. He wrote to his bank: 'I'll have to take stock and see how hard hit I am, in the matter of income. If necessary I may even have to make a bit more, to straighten up my living. What a bore money is! But the only sensible thing, while I was on the cottage, was to finish it off regardless of expense; and then take stock. It is finished now, except for minor trifles which can be added as money saves. Nothing essential.'52

These 'minor trifles' would be a distraction for his retirement, as he explained to his mother: 'since I grew up I have never been at leisure at all. It will be a radical and not very enjoyable change. Sometimes I think of writing a little picture of the R.A.F. and sometimes of wandering across England and Scotland by Brough and afoot. There will be time for both things, won't there?'53

During 1934 Pat Knowles continued working on the water pool, which held about 70,000 gallons. Lawrence worried about the risk of losing the cottage and its contents in a heath fire. He hoped that the water reservoir would help fire-fighting. Its outlet pipe had a fire-hydrant thread, so that the Tank Corps fire engine could run a hose from it.

By the summer the tank had been covered with a glass roof. The result looked like a large greenhouse. The roof extended beyond the end of the pool, enclosing a space where Lawrence planned to have a work room. He meant to install a small printing press there. In the end-wall opposite the tank he installed two carved wooden doors he had brought back from Jiddah in 1921 (they are now in the Ashmolean Museum).

In early March 1934, when a friend offered to buy something for the cottage, he suggested teaspoons, 'as tea is for visitors there should be four of them, I think. As yet I have no teacups or plates, but I have found a pottery near Poole and a month ago I threw a sample cup and saucer, which is drying. When it dries well, I hope to glaze it with galena, a lustrous brown-black which I used with great success before the war for earthenware -  and then I shall have a decent tea service.'54

The following month he again told his mother about progress at Clouds Hill: 'The cottage is nearly finished. The book room lacks only its fender-cum-log-box. Then it is complete. The bathroom lacks only its bathmat; and the boiler its final lagging of asbestos plaster. The upstairs room is complete, but for its beam-candle-sconce. The food-room alone remains to arrange, I plan to sheath its walls with aluminium foil; to fit an old ship's bunk across the dark end, complete with drawers: to arrange its food-shelf, its table, perhaps a chair. Then Clouds Hill cottage is finished - no, I forgot a cast-iron fireback for the book room, and an air-vent to make the fire draw. But these are all small jobs, and could be finished in two months, if I had the time for them. As it is, I can attend to the place only by fits and starts, and so it drags on interminably.

'Our last doing was to sheath the bathroom walls in sheet cork, laid on in slabs of twelve inches by seven, and a sixteenth of an inch thick. These were glued to the walls and partition and doors and frames . . . The cork cost about 15/-, and has done the job excellently. Its grain and colour are beautiful. I do not know how well age will change it. Today it is as good as any room I've seen.

'We have also hung the door-leathers to the book-room and the upstairs room, on hinged door-rods of wrought iron. They are in natural cowhide, and very successful.'55

The water reservoir too was progressing: 'Next week the floors of my little study at its north end and of the entrance-porch at the south end will be laid. Then the Jeddah gates go in, to form the north wall. They are just the right width, though unnecessarily high. However we cannot cut them down, so we have made the study too high, instead.'56 He expected the pool to be complete by mid-May: 'The last act will be to visit my Bank and find out what income I shall have left, to live on, after it all. Of course, at the worst, I can do some sort of editing or translating work, to help me out.

'Meanwhile I have the tanks running back and forward along my hilltop boundary, to tear a bare way through the heather and heath. This will make an efficient fire-guard, against fires sweeping in across the plain. So between this and the water-pool I shall feel safer, this year.'57

In May Lawrence once again predicted that Clouds Hill was about to be finished. Inviting a friend to stay, he gave this account of its inventory: 'There are two sleeping bags, six loose blankets, and a shabby quilt. Many sheets. A large couch in the book-room, downstairs: enough cushions to pad a man's length of the floor, upstairs - and a narrow long floor-cushion in the food-room (ex-bedroom, upstairs). There are no cups or plates yet: but some are on order. I cannot say how long they will take to make them. Six knives, six spoons, six forks. A small kettle: no pots or pans. Enough towels. Not much water, the drought having halved the spring's yield. An axe: brushwood everywhere... one push-bike.'58

At the end of May, with his RAF discharge only nine months off, he wrote: 'I've arranged all my affairs, and find that I have nearly 70 a year, from investments. That should be just enough to keep me at Clouds Hill, and so I've decided not to look for any fresh job after March, but to retire there and try to enjoy complete leisure. I hope it will prove all right.'59

This was last summer before he occupied the cottage. He again lent it to the Marshall and Roberts families for their holidays, telling the latter: 'I hope that Clouds Hill will still seem a good place to you when the month ends - not that it will be so open-house next year: the R.A.F. chases me out in March, and then I'll be able - at last - to find out for myself what my own cottage is like as a home. It's been all arranged to suit what I fancy are my whims - let's hope they prove permanent whims.'60

The water tank, which had cost 120 to build, repaid its effort in July. The summer was extremely dry and there was a succession of heath fires. On one occasion, when the cottage was directly threatened, water from the reservoir helped head-off the fire.

During the winter of 1934-5 Mrs Knowles died. Her son Pat took over the lease on her cottage.

Lawrence was now working out his last months of service, and many of his letters express his uncertainty about the future: 'My plan is to go back to my cottage in Dorsetshire, and to sit there as long as I can bear it. I can't give a guess how long. I've fitted and furnished the place as if England was about to sink under the waves, and leave me en-isled there: Swiss Family Robinson cottage - by which I mean books and gramophone records and tools for ever and ever. No food, no bed, no kitchen, no drains, no light or power. Just a two-roomed cottage and five acres of rhododendron scrub. Perfection, I fancy, of its sort.

'Income - exiguous. I am contemplating the loss of my motor-bike, and with it the power to travel. In fact, it all feels pretty horrid, and may therefore well turn out better than I expect. If time does prove unlimited and valueless, then I shall be forced into a pass-time job. If not, not.'61

At the end of 1934 Lawrence again spent Christmas at Clouds Hill. It was to be his last. Jock Chambers had hoped to join them, but could not come, so Lawrence shared a chicken with Pat Knowles. They talked of the future - Knowles's forthcoming marriage, and the printing press on which Lawrence hoped to produce a private edition of The Mint.

When Lawrence left the Air Force, in February 1935, Clouds Hill was immediately besieged by the press, so he took digs in London for a while hoping they would go away. Eventually he went to see the newspaper proprietors and asked them to call their men off. He then returned to Dorset, planning to stay there, 'finishing off my cottage after my own liking. There is pleasure (and engrossment) in arranging and fixing one's surroundings. I find I spend nearly the whole day, beginning job after job and laying them aside, part-done. The sense of infinite time, all my own, is so new.'62

Before very long these efforts had reduced the cottage to an appalling mess. He wrote: 'I have so many odd jobs to do that I can finish nothing. So the general confusion grows. By midsummer I hope to be tidier and cleaner and more comfortable.'63

His letters show that he had by no means run out of ideas for Clouds Hill. On 6 April he wrote to T.B. Marson, who was living in Scotland: 'My present need is for a porthole and light, and in that perhaps you can help me. Don't they break up ships at Inverkeithing or Rosyth? I'm almost sure they do. It is for 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. Only it is too dark. A window is not desirable, just there: but a ship's porthole would be perfectly in keeping. So I thought of a shipbreaker's yard, and so of you. Will you delight me by asking the firm if they can sell and send me such a thing?

'It should be the gunmetal frame (circular) and hinged glass: size - largish, if possible. A foot across not a bit too big ... I would like it cut out complete with a square of plating . . . three inches or so clear of the frame . . . My notion is to cement the four edges into the brick wall and so have the job complete.

'I hope this eccentric proposal will not lead you into great trouble . . . Only the notion of a real porthole by my imitation bunk in my simili-cabin strikes me as happy in the last degree. Should they be cutting up some ship or other in the harbour, it might be easily obtained.

'Finishing off, or rather fitting up the cottage is the only pursuit that interests me, at the moment.'64

Marson replied by return that he was sending a porthole from HMS Tiger. While waiting for it to arrive Lawrence planned ingenious ways of making the cottage more resistant to the fire that was his constant worry. He told S. F. Newcombe: 'I have thought out a complex and very acute fashion of fire-proofing ... a wooden door: the matchboard lining of the under stairs cupboards: the stair risers and treads which form its roof, and the parting walls. It is going to be a work of art, involving magnesite, board, and asbestos wood - not to mention felt-nails, barbed nails and Portland (read Shipton) cement. Every day we build better and better.'65

The porthole reached Clouds Hill on 17 April and Lawrence was grateful, when he saw it, that a bigger one had not been available: 'Its efficiency and convenience in the wall will be a continuing pleasure'.66

He was now working 'solidly, dawn to dark, on jobs about my patch of scrub and the cottage. Keeps me quiet and interested, you see!'67

The porthole could not be fitted without help, and Lawrence waited until Jock Chambers arrived for a short holiday. In the meantime he had inscribed Marson's initials on the frame. Its installation at the end of April was the last notable job completed by Lawrence at Clouds Hill. A few days later, he left the cottage and never returned.

Text revised for this online edition. Copyright Jeremy Wilson, 1993, 2006. Previously unpublished letters by T.E. Lawrence Copyright The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust 1998.


Quotations are from letters by T. E. Lawrence unless otherwise stated. Where no published source is indicated, the text has been taken from the T.E. Lawrence Papers.

1. To F.N. Doubleday 17.9.1923.

2. To Lionel Curtis 17.10.1923. This is the dagger now at All Souls College, Oxford.

3. To D.G. Hogarth 14.11.1923, DG p. 440.

4. To G.B. Shaw 13.12.1923.

5. To R.A.M. Guy 25.12.1923, MB p. 253.

6. Daily Express 27.2.1924.

7. E.M. Forster to Alice Clara Forster 23.3.1924, M. Lago and P.N. Furbank, eds., Selected Letters of E.M. Forster, Vol. 2 (London, Collins, 1985) p. 50.

8. To A.E. Chambers 24.8.1924.

9. To A.E. Chambers 3.8.1924.

10. To A.E. Chambers 24.8.1924

11. To E.M. Dowson n.d.

12. To his mother 28.12.1925, HL p. 360.

13. To Pte. Palmer 15.3.1927.

14. To Robert Graves 28.6.1927, B:RG p. 55.

15. To D.G. Hogarth 7.7.1927 DG p. 528.

16. To H.H. Banbury 25.1.1928.

17. To Dick Knowles 19.4.1928.

18. To G.B. Shaw 19.7.1928 DG p. 616.

19. To his mother 19.3.1929, HL p. 376.

20. To Lionel Curtis 28.3.1929.

21. Ibid.

22. To his mother 1.5.1929, HL p. 377.

23. To R.V. Buxton 5.10.1930.

24.To Charlotte Shaw 19.11.1929.

25. To F. E. Hardy 24.10.1930.

26. To Sergeant Knowles 22.11.1930, DG p. 706.

27. To his mother 25.4.1931, HL p. 378.

28. To E. M. Forster 22.8.1931.

29. To F. N. Doubleday 5.9.1931.

30. To Mrs Knowles 23.11.1932.

31. To Charlotte Shaw 24.11.1931.

32. To F. E. Hardy 3.12.1932, MB p. 470.

33. To Bruce Rogers 19.12.1932, More Letters from T. E. Shaw to Bruce Rogers (privately printed, 1936).

34. To Ernest Altounyan 5.1.1933.

35. To Charlotte Shaw 6 March 1933.

36. To Charlotte Shaw 3.4.1933.

37. To F. E. Hardy 25.4.1933, DG p. 768.

38. To L.M.P. Black 21.6.1933.

39. To K.W. Marshall 10.7.1933.

40. Ibid.

41. To Edward Garnett 10.8.1933, DG p. 774.

42. To R.V. Buxton 12.8.1933.

43. To Charlotte Shaw 31.8.1933, MB p. 476.

44. To his mother, 25.9.1933, HL pp. 379-80.

45. To Charlotte Shaw 3.10.1933.

46. To his mother 5.11.1933, HL pp. 383-4.

47. To K.W. Marshall 12.11.1933.

48. To his mother 17.12.1933, HL p. 384.

49. Ibid.

50. To T.B. Marson 21.12.1933.

51. To Charlotte Shaw 31.12.1933.

52. To R.V. Buxton 4.1.1934.

53. To his mother 2.2.1934, HL p. 386.

54. To L.M.P. Black 5.3.1934, DG p. 792.

55. To his mother 6.4.1934, HL pp. 388-9.

56. Ibid., HL p. 389.

57. Ibid., HL pp. 389-90.

58. To K.W. Marshall 18.5.1934, DG p. 803.

59. To R.A.M. Guy 28.5.1934.

60. To William Roberts 3.6.1934.

61. To T.B. Marson 23.11.1934.

62. To Evelyn Wrench 1.4.1935, MB p. 530.

63. To T.E. Willis 5.4.1935. 64. To T.B. Marson 6.4.1935.

65. To S.F. Newcombe 10.4.1935.

66. To T.B. Marson 18.4.1935.

67. Ibid.

Copyright   Jeremy Wilson 1993, revised text 2008