While the press has been inundated by flooding stories and fears of terrorist attacks by Islamic State in the run up to Christmas , the government slipped out a genuine good news announcement for fans of ” Lawrence of Arabia “.
The heritage minister, Tracey Crouch, announced that Clouds Hill, the tiny home of T E Lawrence , near Wareham in Dorset has been given Grade II * status – an Historic England accolade given to only a few hundred buildings in England. The ruling gives its special protection.
The decision taken 80 years after Lawrence’s death has been given no coverage by the press but is a piece of living history for anyone interested in the complex life of Lawrence – an archaeologist, manic motorcyclist, writer, Arabist, military strategist and a First World War hero.
For the tiny cottage as The National Trust site tells you is just as exactly Lawrence left it when he died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1935. It has no electric light, the rooms are simple and austere.
As Deborah Williams, Listing Team Leader, West at Historic England, said in the press release:
“Clouds Hill deserved to be upgraded to Grade II* in recognition of the importance of Lawrence’s life and the particular place which the cottage held in his heart. In 1923 he rebuilt the once-derelict cottage dating from 1808, making the fittings and furnishings himself, so it is very evocative of his personality and interests.”
The cottage served as Lawrence’s retreat from barrack life where he would entertain his friends and wrote most of his famous books. Famous visitors included Lady Nancy Astor, Siegfried Sassoon and Augustus John.
There is an irony given the timing of the announcement when the Middle East is in flames and Syria a hell hole. For it was Lawrence with the British government’s blessing who stirred up the Arab revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Turks, committing terrorist attacks on their rail line across Arabia. His story was immortalised in David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia.
It was Lawrence who championed the Arab cause only to be betrayed by the French and British in a secret agreement that set up the current artificial boundaries between Iraq and Syria now straddled by Islamic State.
One wonders whether history will repeat itself in 2016 when Russia, the US, Britain, Turkey and no doubt France decide the fate of Syria.
For those interested in Lawrence in the year of the centenary of the Arab Revolt there is a website run by The T E Lawrence Society. Events next year include a symposium at St John’s College, Oxford, looking back at the Great Arab revolt in September. And there is an exhibition on the revolt next October at the National Civil War Centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
The cottage itself is currently closed but re-opens on March 8.