Tag Archives: T E Lawrence

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.

cctlawrence-in-jesus

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I slowed to ninety.

The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.

Nightly I’d run up from the hangar, upon the last stroke of work, spurring my tired feet to be nimble. The very movement refreshed them, after the day-long restraint of service. In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage-hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.

Boanerges’ first glad roar at being alive again nightly jarred the huts of Cadet College into life. ‘There he goes, the noisy bugger,’ someone would say enviously in every flight. It is part of an airman’s profession to be knowing with engines: and a thoroughbred engine is our undying satisfaction. The camp wore the virtue of my Brough like a flower in its cap. Tonight Tug and Dusty came to the step of our hut to see me off. ‘Running down to Smoke, perhaps?’ jeered Dusty; hitting at my regular game of London and back for tea on fine Wednesday afternoons.

Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horse-power. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some house-fly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy-eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and up-down up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.

Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slip-stream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare. Quickly we drew abreast, as the impulse of his dive to my level exhausted itself.

The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank till its rubber grips goggled under my thighs. Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed. Then the bicycle wrenched sideways into three long ruts: it swayed dizzily, wagging its tail for thirty awful yards. Out came the clutch, the engine raced freely: Boa checked and straightened his head with a shake, as a Brough should.

The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike. My head was blown out with air so that my ears had failed and we seemed to whirl soundlessly between the sun-gilt stubble fields. I dared, on a rise, to slow imperceptibly and glance sideways into the sky. There the Bif was, two hundred yards and more back. Play with the fellow? Why not? I slowed to ninety: signalled with my hand for him to overtake. Slowed ten more: sat up. Over he rattled. His passenger, a helmeted and goggled grin, hung out of the cock-pit to pass me the ‘Up yer’ Raf randy greeting.

They were hoping I was a flash in the pan, giving them best. Open went my throttle again. Boa crept level, fifty feet below: held them: sailed ahead into the clean and lonely country. An approaching car pulled nearly into its ditch at the sight of our race. The Bif was zooming among the trees and telegraph poles, with my scurrying spot only eighty yards ahead. I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, super-tuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.

We drew near the settlement. A long mile before the first houses I closed down and coasted to the cross-roads by the hospital. Bif caught up, banked, climbed and turned for home, waving to me as long as he was in sight. Fourteen miles from camp, we are, here: and fifteen minutes since I left Tug and Dusty at the hut door.

I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.

Brough

The Road. In, The Mint. T E Lawrence, writing as T.E. Ross. Published posthumously in 1955.

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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.

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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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