Tag Archives: Lawrence of Arabia

Crusader Castles and a Folio Folly

Manifold things in life amaze me. Many things in life amuse me. But quite why anyone would want to re-print an hundred year old undergraduate thesis is quite beyond my ken. However, those nice people at the Folio Society have produce a sneaky 240 page edition of T E Lawrence’s lesser known work; Crusader Castles. And it is is a thing of some beauty.

As an undergraduate at Jesus College in 1909,  Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’.

After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence decided to cross Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.

It seem that many of the hallmarks of his later career were already stamped this precocious undergraduate. I have always wanted to go and see the crusader castles of Syria and the Holy Land, but for some reason Becky does not seem as keen. Who knows, she might be more excited by my idea of going on holiday to the salt marshes of Iraq? Maybe?

Oh, and by the way, his painting still hangs in the dining room at Jesus College (see below), and the Bod still has his original thesis and notes (MSS. Eng. c. 6743, e. 3301)… if you can’t afford the Folio Society’s nice reprint.


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Hugh Leach

I was immeasurably saddened to learn recently of the death of Hugh Leach. I knew Hugh through the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, where he was the long standing and much admired historian, however over the years he kept cropping up at all sorts of events, and in the oddest places; Abingdon School reunions, charity dinners, the East India Club, and the like. He was essentially an Arabist, soldier, and diplomat, who endearingly listed his interests as ‘vintage cars, early Christianity, crystal sets, and circuses.’ As an example of the breadth of his scholarship, understanding and experience, in this History Today article Hugh draws on his experiences working with Arab tribes to examine T.E. Lawrence’s strategy in the Arab revolt. He was a warm, affable, intensely well informed, sprightly, mischievous sort of chap, with history in his fingertips and a twinkle in his eye. I liked him enormously, and he seemed genuinely fond of me and my interests in the field.

This is by no means intended as an obituary of Hugh, as I am sure these will follow in official publications and lectures (see here for the Telegraph’s), but the following article in the Peckham Perculier, gives an indication of the man. In the biog Hugh describes himself, his interests, and sadly even portends his own death. I will let him do the explaining:

I’ll be going to the grave in not very long, and I hope I never know the difference between a computer and a commuter, a blog and a frog, an iPod and a tripod, a Blackberry and a gooseberry, and a Kindle and a spindle. I was in the army for many years and spent a lot of my career in the Middle East. I was the first tank ashore at Port Said during the Suez Crisis in 1956, and I rather naughtily took some photographs as we landed. I’ve just presented a huge scrapbook of the pictures to the Tank Museum at Bovington.”

Hugh describes how he decided to stay on in the Middle east after his regiment was to return to Germany, and a fascinating anecdote about his selection to the Arabic school. After the army Hugh transferred to the Diplomatic Service, and in the middle of it all ran away and joined the circus. Obviously. He recalls his days in the circus, return to London to research Islam and the rise of fundamentalism, retirement in which he lead expeditions with Freya Stark and Wilfred Thesiger, and on one occasion put an advert in The Lady magazine that said, “Retired former army officer seeks temporary accommodation”. He got three replies, not offering a house, but asking for his hand in marriage.

You can read the full article here, and also find a link to Hugh’s history of the RSAA, Strolling about on the Roof of the World, here.



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Green Sheds and Goddesses: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust

I have recently been lead down a rabbit hole of research. It involved, as many of my goose-chases do, chasing Lawrence of Arabia around London, and ended up in the archives of the British Museum, starting from a much more unlikely venue; a dark green wooden shed in the middle of a central London road junction.

Some months ago I was visiting a friend, not a million miles from Lords’ Cricket Ground, on Warwick Avenue. I was waiting to meet her in a conspicuous place near the Underground entrance, and chose to shelter from the rain under the awnings of a green wooden shed. On the side of the shed was a brass disc, that claimed that said shed was a “Cabman’s Shelter” and further that it had been restored in 1994 by “The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, the Heritage of London Trust, and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust.” This set my mind wandering off towards an enormous grant from the Trust to wander the Hejaz, looking for the trains destroyed by Lawrence. (I know you can still find some of them, and it has long been my desire to go and locate them… the small matter of a bloody civil war in Syria has thus far thwarted me.) But then my friend arrived, and we dashed off for a pint.

green shed These sheds used to be quite common in London, and you can see what they have been used for more recently in a BBC magazine video here. The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was established in London as long ago as 1875 to run shelters for the drivers of hansom cabs and later hackney carriages. By law, cab drivers at the time could not leave the cab stand while their cab was parked there. This made it very difficult for them to obtain hot meals and could be unpleasant in bad weather. The Earl of Shaftesbury and other worthies therefore took it upon themselves to set up a charity to construct and run shelters at major cab stands, but I somehow can’t imagine he frequented them too often. There are still 13 of these dark green sheds around London (and a couple in Oxford, for you eagle eyed Oxonians) The shelters were originally provided with seats and tables and books and newspapers, most of them donated by the publishers or other benefactors. Most could accommodate ten to thirteen men, but gambling, drinking, and swearing were strictly forbidden! Now these shelters are Grade II listed buildings.

Fascinating!” I hear you cry, but what of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust?

TE Well, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Fund is now a charity that awards grants for archaeological, environmental, and other academic projects. There were originally two Trusts, both set up in 1936 by A. W. Lawrence, who was the sole beneficiary under the will of T. E. Lawrence, and thus inherited the copyright of all his brother’s works. To the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust’ he assigned the copyright in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was shortly afterwards given its first publication. To the ‘Letters and Symposium Trust’ he assigned the copyright in all his brother’s letters. The two Trusts were amalgamated in 1986.

So, apart from rebuilding Green Sheds in central London what else have they been up to? Well, I might be wrong, but seemingly not a lot… they hardly advertise themselves, but did make a contribution towards the purchase of a stunning 19th Century BC Babylonian relief, called the Queen of the Night, for those luck people at the British Museum. And she is stunning.

The nude female figure is depicted with  tapering feathered wings and talons, standing with her legs together, and sporting a sort of bizarre headdress of four pairs of horns topped by a disc. She is ‘supported’ by a pair of addorsed lions above a scale-pattern representing mountains, and is flanked by a pair of standing owls. Quite what this has to do with Lawrence, or green sheds, I have no idea!

Queen of the Night


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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.


Filed under Oxford: The Perspiring Dream, Technology, Timology

All men dream…

I seem to be on a bit of a theme of digging up old rubbish… sorry about that, but this one appeared in my inbox, and I thought I had better share it with you all (well, the both of you that read this nonsense…) 

A rusty pocket knife that ones belonged to T E Lawrence, AKA ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is going up for sale at auction later this month. The current owner apparently bought the knife in the 1990s from the son of the local man who found it 40 years ago, in the hedge at Lawrence’s bizarre home at Cloud’s Hill near Bovington. The house itself is well worth a look if you are ever passing that way (its on the way to Monkey World!) as it features many of his possessions from the period when he was living as a recluse under a different name and enrolled in the RAF. The National Trust wonderfully describes how “the austere rooms are much as he left them and reflect his complex personality.”

The Victorian-era knife was made by Royal cutlers Underwood and Farrant, and features his initials burnt into the wooden handle. Astonishingly it is valued at only £300, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it will sell for a lot more than that! Especially after the Daily Mail got wind of the story. Shame really, it should be with his rifle and Brough Superior in the Imperial War Museum.

(PS, if you don’t know the quote that starts ‘All men dream…’ look it up. Do it right now. I might then just about forgive you for not having read the Seven Pillars.)

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The First Arab Revolt

Ok, so after an entirely flippant, but amusing, picture of an item of kitchenalia shaped like a willy, something of a different nature. Yesterday I stumbled upon this image, and instantly fell in love with it… Its called ‘On the Aerodrome at Amman.’ It was taken during a series of meetings between British, Arab, and Bedouin officials in Jordan during April 1921.

The nervous looking chap in the serge suit is none other than T.E. Lawrence, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ who looks entirely ill at ease with his attire and company; Sir Herbert Samuel is the moustache under the white pith helmet, and Amir Abdullah is the wily looking chap with the golden dagger. The image is part of  American Colony Jerusalem Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.

However while Samuel dominates the photo, and Lawrence dominates the lore and history of the period, the most interesting part of the photo is in the far left of the image… the lady in the purple hat. I think its Gertrude Bell, but can not be sure.

And if you don’t know who Gertrude Bell was, well shame on you! She was a writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her extensive travels in Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. Her main achievement was that along with Lawrence, she helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq. She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state of Iraq, utilizing her unique perspective from her travels and relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. During her lifetime she was highly esteemed and trusted by British and Arab officials and given an immense amount of power for a woman at the time.

Alike to Lawrence in many ways, she has also been described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection.” (I admit to having lifted some of this bio from Wikipedia.) If you get a chance, her letters and diary, edited by O’Brien, Gertrude Bell: The Arabian Diaries, 1913-1914, is well worth a peek, but there are many other editions and prints of her writings.

While perhaps not as erudite as Lawrence (but then who actually is? I think him one of the best writers of the last century…) she gives a unique account and importantly, feminine, account of the politics and people of the Arab Revolt. Or perhaps given the developments in the region, we should now be calling it the First Arab Revolt?

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