We recently visited Clouds Hill, the tiny woodland cottage in Dorset once owned by T E Lawrence and now owned by the National Trust. He acquired it from relatives as a bolt-hole to escape the pressures his fame had brought. The material that the National Trust has on display, together with standing in the tiny room where he spent so much time with friends such as George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves and Henry Williamson, made me want to find out more about this extraordinary man. It didn’t take me long to realise that a man about whom ninety books have been written (one of which is described as an encyclopaedia) is an impractical subject for a single blog post – but I’ll give it a go anyway.
His fame derived from his exploits during WWI. He wrote about those experiences in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom that formed the basis of the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. I doubt if I can tell you anything about that part of his life that you don’t already know, so I’ll concentrate on his interesting personal life.
His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat with an estate in Ireland had four daughters and employed Sarah Junner as their governess. Chapman had an affair with Sarah. She became pregnant, left the household and gave birth to a son, Robert. So far that’s not an unusual story, but Chapman then left his wife, daughters and estate to run away with Sarah and Robert. They seemed to find it hard to settle, with brief spells in Wales, Scotland, France, Jersey, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire before moving to Oxford in 1896. Continue reading