T.E.Lawrence, dubbed 'Lawrence of Arabia' for his part in leading the Bedouin tribes in a successful revolt against their Turkish oppressors during the First World War, was an archaeologist, soldier and writer who lived in Dorset on and off from 1923 until his death in 1935.
Shortly after joining the Tanks Corps at nearby Bovington Camp, Lawrence fell in love with a derelict cottage called Cloud's Hill. The cottage was and still is in the heart of rural Dorset, on the edge of the Moreton Estate, which was owned by his cousins, the Frampton family. He first rented and then bought the cottage, using it as a bolt-hole and place to write until retiring there permanently in 1935.
T.E.Lawrence was great friends with Thomas Hardy and frequently rode his Brough Superior motorbike to Max Gate, Hardy's home in Dorchester. Two months after he retired, hoping for a 'life of Sundays' Lawrence was tragically killed in a motorbike accident when he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles and hit a tree. It was this accident that prompted the invention and widespread use of motorcycle helmets. The funeral was held at St Nicholas' Church in Moreton. Guests included Winston Churchill, the King of Iraq, George Bernard Shaw and Augustus John. The grave is a little way up the hill from the church. There are numerous tributes and momentoes dedicated to T.E.Lawrence dotted around the area.
In Wareham, a small plaque next to the window seat in the restaurant at Anglebury House states that 'T.E.Lawrence spent many a pleasant hour drinking coffee in this seat.' There is a T.E.Lawrence room in the Wareham town museum, where a collection of exhibits tell the story of his life and death. A life-size effigy of T.E.Lawrence carved by friend and official war artist, Eric Kennington, is on display in Dorset's oldest church, St Martin's in Wareham. Originally intended for St Paul's cathedral, the effigy shows Lawrence lying down with his head on a Camel's saddle, dressed in Arab robes and clutching his famous curved dagger.
T.E.Lawrence was a frequent visitor to Okers Wood House, in the north of the Moreton Estate, which was owned by his cousin Louisa Frampton with whom he corresponded for many years. Some of his letters to Louisa Frampton are on display in Moreton Tea Rooms.
The tree that Lawrence hit that fateful day in 1935 has long-since been cut down. In it's place is another tree, planted in 1983 by Tom Beaumont, who fought alongside T.E.Lawrence in the desert. A little way into the woods is a stone laid by the T.E.Lawrence society to commemorate his death.