T. E Lawrence – rescue archaeologist


Clouds Hill near Wool, Dorset

Clouds Hill near Wool, Dorset

A few weeks ago I got chance to research and visit Clouds Hill, retreat of Thomas  Edward Lawrence, better known to us all as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

As part of a week-long event to commemorate the death of Lawrence in a motorbike accident in 1935,  we were invited to provide an archaeology display. I knew he had worked in Syria but was not sure how he had developed this interest in archaeology.

Lawrence was born in Tremadoc in Wales in 1888 and by the age of four he was able to read and by six he was learning Latin.The family ended up in Oxford, were his interest in monuments and medieval history developed. At the age of 15, Lawrence and his school friend Cyril Beeson bicycled around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, visiting many parish churches. They were interested in the buildings and the  monuments and made rubbings of the monumental brasses they found. The Ashmolean Museum have some of these rubbings and there are two in Clouds Hill.

Lawrence  and Cyril  Beeson became ‘rescue’ archaeologists when they started  monitoring building sites in Oxford, undertaking small excavations, recording chance finds and  then taking their finds to the Ashmolean Museum.The Ashmolean’s Annual Report for 1906 said the two teenage boys “by incessant watchfulness secured everything of antiquarian value which has been found”.  Lawrence and Beeson toured France by bicycle, in 1906/07 collecting photographs, drawings, and measurements of medieval castles, Lawrence then won a scholarship to Oxford University to study History.  After
gaining his degree in 1910 Lawrence joined an expedition led by D. G.
Howgarth, from the Ashmolean Museum, to Carchemish – Northern

He also worked with Leonard Woolley, and in a letter to his brother said he would contact him about the site his brother was excavating, in the letter he tells his brother ‘Don’t give up at once  if you don’t find anything. Digging is an excellent exercise ‘

A bevy of Brough bikes

A bevy of Brough bikes

As part of the event a bevy of Brough bikes arrived, these are the motorbikes that Lawrence loved. He had a Brough superior, like the one pictured, sadly he was killed in 1935 whilst riding his beloved Brough.

A Brough Superior motorbike

A Brough Superior motorbike

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