Lawrence of Arabia and the Brough Superior

I know a few of you are Lawrence of Arabia fans, and I am sure most of you know of my obsession with the man and the legend.

I receive automatic emails from various auction houses whenever any Lawrence related tat comes up for sale (yes, I am that sad) and received the latest one only yesterday. A sale of autographs in Hayes, Middlesex is offering a cheque made out by Lawrence to Martins Bank Limited and made payable to Mr. George Brough for the sum of £11-3-0., and caught my eye.

First, the bad news. It’s valued at between £600 – £800, placing it firmly out of my league, and it is only a piece of paper. You can bid on the auction here.

However, interestingly the cheque is signed ‘ J H Ross.’ Lawrence was a total recluse; he flirted with notoriety and fame, but found it painful and shameful. In order to rid himself from the American journalist Lowell Thomas’s colourful and romantic depictions of ‘Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraft man in August 1922 under the name John Hume Ross, at RAF Uxbridge. He was soon exposed and, in February 1923, was forced out of the RAF. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925.

Throughout his life Lawrence was a keen motorcyclist, and, at different times, owned eight Brough Superior motorcycles. These beasts (and look them up… they are beautiful monsters) were either provided to Lawrence by George Brough, or he purchased them at a reduced price in a sort of early celebrity endorsement. (It is possible that the cheque carries a red ink bank cancellation through the signature as it was rejected by Brough.)

The date on the cheque is 11th June 1929, and as any TEL fan will tell you, this was the year that he purchased the bike that he called George VI (UL 656), it was his seventh Brough. A Brough typically cost about £150 new (more than an average sized house in those days) so this was either a part payment, or a token sum for the machine. Inicidentaly, Brough only produced 139 bikes in that year, but was already flirting with the idea of manufacturing cars as well as bikes. This cheque would have been for the SS100 (Super Sports), powered by the twin-cam KTOR JAP V twin (J. A. Prestwich of Tottenham) These were fast bits of kit; in 1927 George Brough achieved a record 130 mph on the SS100 and in 1928 Brough broke his own record with 130.6 mph. In 1932 Ronald Storey achieved 81,08 for the standing half-mile at Brighton, and in 1939 Noel Pope secured an all time Brooklands track record lap time of 124.51 mph on an SS100.

But it was all to end in tragedy. At the age of 46, two months after leaving the Army, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his eight Brough in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. His final Brough is still preserved in the Imperial War Museum.

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3 Comments

Filed under Oxford: The Perspiring Dream, Technology, Timology

3 responses to “Lawrence of Arabia and the Brough Superior

  1. Richard Knowles

    UL 656 (George VI) was of course the sixth Brough owned by TE. It was purchased for him by well wishers on his return from India in that year. Amongst these was Mrs Charlotte Shaw, and TE eventually, probably paid them back for the machine. This cheque possibly pays for the box panniers and a different stand fitted later at his request. The cheque was paid into the Nottingham branch of the Midland Bank by Brough and the red mark through the signature is the bank clearing mark. George VII was the machine that TE had his fatal accident on and he had an eighth on order at the time of his death.

  2. Richard Knowles

    Tim,
    I have, but have never owned one. I have owned two Scott Flying Squirrels, bikes that I much like. The earlier, 1928 version was a wonderful machine, light and fast.

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