Life before Lawrence at Clouds Hill

TINY Clouds Hill, near Wareham, where TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia – lived in the 1930s, is now open for the 2024 season. A previously undiscovered photograph shows one of the families who previously lived in the remote cottage – and gives an insight into its appearance before Lawrence.

One of the National Trust’s smallest properties, Clouds Hill has been open to the public since 1938 and is preserved as it was when Lawrence retired there in 1935, after 12 years having it transformed to his taste. Lawrence was a prolific letter-writer and there are many details of the alterations he made to the cottage, but few photographs. The oldest known photographs of Clouds Hill dated from the period after the major modifications had been completed.

That was until the recent surprise discovery of a family photograph from the 1890s. One of the Trust’s Clouds Hill volunteers, Martin Gething, has been researching the families who lived in Clouds Hill in the 19th and early 20h centuries. During his investigations he made contact with a number of descendants and recently traced a great-granddaughter of a woman called Bessie Pride, who was born in the cottage in 1874. Bessie’s great-granddaughter found that they had a photograph of Bessie with other members of her family, standing in front of Clouds Hill.

Clouds Hill cottage in the 1890s

Martin says: “The photograph dates from the mid- to late-1890s and is at least 30 years older than any other known photograph of the cottage. Previously, we were not aware of any photograph of the outside earlier than the 1930s. The cottage looks surprisingly like now, including the roof which looks identical (apart from a skylight window that Lawrence added) and therefore answers the perennial question of whether the roof was previously thatched. It wasn’t, at least by the 1890s.”

There is a tantalising glimpse of one distinct difference from the cottage of today. The eastern side had a sloping addition, whereas today the wall is vertical below the roof line. However, it is not possible to tell from this one photograph what the addition might have been.

Lawrence died in 1935 and the cottage was inherited by his younger brother. Realising its historical importance, the brother began talking to the National Trust and in 1937 the cottage came under the Trust’s care. It opened to the public in May 1938.

The Bookroom at Clouds Hill, Dorset. The tiny woodsman’s cottage was the rural retreat of T.E. Lawrence.

If you have any old photos of Clouds Hill, the Trust would love to hear from you. Please email:

Note: Bessie Pride is third from the right in the photograph, next to her husband James Honeybun. This is an extended family group, and they would not all have been living at Clouds Hill at the time.

Photographs: Clouds Hill 1890s, the Pride family, © National Trust, Private Collection, Mark Willcox; Clouds Hill, © National Trust, Tony Gill; The book room at Clouds Hill, © National Trust, James Dobson.