Far From the Madding Crowd

The Lawrence Trail

This picturesque tour in this secluded corner of Dorset visits some of the sites closely connected to T.E Lawrence otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO was a British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer. renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title used for David Leans epic the 1962 film.

When Lawrence first came to Bovington in 1923, he had three diversions. He could visit the author Thomas Hardy in Dorchester, tear about the countryside on his big motorbike and restore the old cottage at Clouds Hill,, which he hoped to retire. 

The army didn’t suit him and in 1925 he was admitted to the RAF and was posted to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire but In 1935 came back to Bovington now retired from the RAF and planned to settle down in peace and quiet, but was fatally injured on 13th May 1935 and died six days later in the military hospital at Bovington Camp. 

The Ford at Moreton

Picturesque Moreton is most famous as the final resting place of “Lawrence of Arabia” often visited this quiet village for meals and relaxation and for walks through the woodlands and heath

The River Frome
Moreton Heathland, Thomas Hardy’s fictional ‘Egdon Heath’

Moreton Heath is part of what was part Thomas Hardy’s Egdon Heath. Hardy made Egdon the centre of his creative universe and it becomes a metaphor for nature’s indifference to human suffering and despair, a place he considered to be ‘absolutely in keeping with the more thinking among mankind.

This open heath is rich in wildlife with nightjar and Dorset heath (a rare and local plant) in the summer, and Dartford warbler all year round. The various pools here support dragonflies, damselflies and the carnivorous sundew.

Saint Nicholas Moreton

St. Nicholas – Moreton : Described by Pevsner as a ‘gem of a Georgian Gothick building’. Built by James Frampton in 1776, aisle added 1841 and west porch in 1848.

Unusually for such an isolated country parish, it was badly damaged by a bomb in 1940, presumably from the Luftwaffe looking for the RAF station at Warmwell. Rebuilt in 1950 and graced by the exquisite Lawrence Whistler engraved windows.

In 1935, this was where the funeral of Lawrence took place attended by Winston Churchill, Siegfried Sassoon, Mrs Thomas Hardy, Augustus, Eric Kennington, Robert Graves amongst many others, perhaps ironic for a man who came to Dorset to escape the trapping of fame and publicity. The public were asked not to come

Ironically for a man who came to Dorset to escape the trappings of fame and publicity

Lawrence’s grave lies not in the Churchyard itself, but across the village in a small, rectangular cemetery. Here the oft-visited resting place of one of Britain’s greatest modern legends of warfare and literature, nestles incongruously alongside memorials simple and less so of the families of Moreton and the lands surrounding.

His life was probably best summed up by Churchill writing to the The Times: In Colonel Lawrence we have lost one of the great beings of our time. I had the honour of his friendship. I knew him well. I hoped to see him quit his retirement and take a commanding part in facing the dangers which now threaten the country. No such blow has befallen the Empire for many years as his untimely death. The personal sorrow which all who knew him will feel is deepened by the national impoverishment”

Five years after Churchill’s visit to mourn a hero of one World War, the village fell victim to the ravages of the second.

On 8 October 1940 a German bomb, probably intended for nearby RAF Warmwell (now defunct), caused serious damage to the Church of St Nicholas. The 18th Century building was all but destroyed and every piece of glass blown out.

Sad though this was, after the war the Church was repaired and rebuilt and the parishioners commissioned a man called Laurence Whistler to design  and make new windows of engraved glass. The result, especially on a sunny day, is a spectacle worth seeing. As is the rest of Moreton itself.

Laurence Whistler engravings

Bovington Tank Museum

The Tank Museum at Bovington is  the largest collection of tanks and the third largest collection of armoured vehicles in the world, 300 vehicles from 26 countries including the Tiger 131, the only working example of a German Tiger I tank, and a British First World War Mark I, the world’s oldest surviving combat tank as well.  It is the museum of the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Armoured Corps.

Once the site of tank crew training during World War 1, The writer Rudyard Kipling visited Bovington in 1923 and, after viewing the damaged tanks that had been salvaged at the end of the First World War, recommended a museum should be set up.

Clouds Hill

Clouds Hill is the tiny cottage where Lawrence sought to escape from the scrutiny of celebrity and combine the bareness and simplicity of the Bedouin tribesman with the fruits of a classical european civilisation – music, books and art. It is well preserved and looked after by the National Trust and you find the house almost as Lawrence left it, closing the door behind him for the short journey to Bovington Camp on his Brough Superior motorcycle.

‘I have lavished money these last . . . months upon the cottage, adding a water-supply, a bath, a boiler, bookshelves, a bathing pool (a tiny one, but splashable into): all the luxuries of the earth. Also I have thrown out of it the bed, the cooking range: and ignored the lack of drains. Give me the luxuries and I will do without the essentials.’ 

(T E Lawrence in a letter to T B Marson 21.12.1933)

The Saxon Church of St. Martin on the Walls

The Saxon Church of St Martin contains the famous recumbent
effigy of Lawrence by his friend Eric Kennington the great sculptor, artist and illustrator, and an official war artist in both World Wars.

In the inter-war years he worked mostly on portraits and a number of book illustrations. At an exhibition of his war art in London, Kennington met Lawrence who became a great influence on him and spent the first half of 1921 travelling through Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine drawing portraits of Arab subjects. The most notable of his book illustrations were for T. E. Lawrence‘s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Years later, in 1935, Kennington was to serve as one of the six pallbearers at Lawrence’s funeral.

The artist wrote (February 1955): ‘A year before his death he and I talked about the English recumbent effigies of 1200–1600, and, as always, he brought more light and wider understanding to my enthusiasm.

‘A plan to make a great book on these sculptural effigies, combining my photographs and his words, was stopped by his death in 1935, so I carved his memorial from a 3-ton block of Portland stone for the Saxon church near his cottage at Wareham, Dorset.

‘This was an attempt to continue the broken tradition of our early “image makers”: to make a permanent record of his appearance and a wish to place him publicly in the Christian Faith, which he sometimes denied, and so consistently practised.’

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