On 13 May 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset close to his cottage Clouds Hill, near Wareham, just two months after leaving military service. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935, aged 46. The location of the crash is marked by a small memorial at the roadside. One of the doctors attending him was neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, who consequently began a long study of the loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.
The Moreton estate borders Bovington Camp, and Lawrence bought Clouds Hill from his cousins, the Frampton family. He had been a frequent visitor to their home, Okers Wood House, and had corresponded with Louisa Frampton for years. Lawrence's mother arranged with the Framptons to have his body buried in their family plot in the separate burial ground of St Nicholas' Church, Moreton. The coffin was transported on the Frampton estate's bier. Mourners included Winston Churchill, E. M. Forster, Lady Astor, and Lawrence's youngest brother Arnold. Churchill described him like this: "Lawrence was one of those beings whose pace of life was faster and more intense than what is normal."
The inquest into Lawrence's death was conducted hurriedly and there was conflicting testimony, particularly in the report of a "black car" which may or may not have been present at the scene of the accident, and the behaviour of the bicycling boys. Some have speculated that Lawrence was assassinated yet it is generally accepted that his death was an accident due to a lack of evidence supporting this narrative.
TE Lawrence's retreat
When TE Lawrence first saw the cottage at Clouds Hill in 1923, it was in a state of disrepair. Abandoned and uncared for, it had been empty for almost nine years. The windows had fallen in, there were holes in the roof and not much remained apart from the walls and chimney stack.
The cottage seemed all but a ruin until the man known as Lawrence of Arabia made it his retreat from army life.
Clouds Hill is an isolated cottage near Wareham in the county of Dorset in South West England. It is the former home of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and is owned by the National Trust. The site is in the parish of Turners Puddle in Purbeck District.
The small building has colourwashed brick walls and a tiled roof. It was probably built as a forester's cottage in the early 19th century. The lintel over the door bears a Greek inscription οὐ φροντὶς ("Why Worry"). It is now a Grade II* listed building as "Clouds Hill (Lawrence of Arabia's Cottage)"; it was upgraded from Grade II in 2015.
Lawrence first rented the cottage in 1923 while stationed at nearby Bovington Camp with the Tank Corps. He made it habitable with the help of a friend, then bought it in 1925 and used it as a holiday home. He described it as an earthly paradise and wrote "Nothing in Clouds Hill is to be a care upon the world. While I have it there shall be nothing exquisite or unique in it. Nothing to anchor me."
The cottage had no electric lights and three living rooms, described as an eating room, book room and music room. For heat insulation Lawrence had the eating room lined with asbestos that was covered in aluminium foil, and he kept his food under glass domes. In the book room he installed a large leather divan, and in the music room above it he had his gramophone "with a huge amplifier horn", a leather sofa and chair. In a 1934 letter to Francis Rodd, Lawrence (who had changed his surname to Shaw) described his home thus:
The cottage has two rooms, one, upstairs, for music (a gramophone and records) and one downstairs for books. There is a bath in a demi-cupboard. For food one goes a mile, to Bovington (near the Tank Corps Depot) and at sleep time I take a great sleeping bag... and spread it on what seems the nicest floor... The cottage looks simple outside, and does no hurt to its setting which is twenty miles of broken heath and a river valley filled with rhododendrons run wild. I think everything, inside and outside my place, approaches perfection... Yours ever, T. E. Shaw
In 1935 Lawrence left the Royal Air Force and lived at Clouds Hill. A few weeks later, at the age of 46, he suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident close to the cottage, and died in the Bovington Camp hospital on 19 May 1935. The following year, his heir, his brother A. W. Lawrence, gave Clouds Hill to the National Trust. It is now a museum, dedicated to Lawrence. It is open to visitors from March to the beginning of October, seven days a week, from 11am to 5pm.
The cottage remains largely as Lawrence left it at his death. It features an exhibition detailing Lawrence's life, and most of his original furniture and possessions. The cottage reflects his complex personality and links to the Middle East.