News

  • Society members discover the identity of Lawrence of Arabia’s Rolls-Royce
  • Death of Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence’s authorised biographer and former Society chairman
  • Lawrence’s silver-gilt dagger goes on display at newly reopened National Army Museum
  • Society goes on TV to challenge Historic England’s ‘mistaken’
    decision on 2 Polstead Road
  • Society ‘deeply disappointed’ as Secretary of State rejects Listing of 2 Polstead Road

Society members discover the identity of Lawrence of Arabia’s Rolls-Royce

5 July 2017: A joint US/UK team of historians – including several members of the T. E. Lawrence Society – has uncovered the identity of Lawrence of Arabia’s Rolls-Royce – the car in which he was photographed entering Damascus 100 years ago at the culmination of the Arab Revolt.

The iconic photograph of Lawrence, taken in Marjeh Square in Damascus, Syria, shows two weathered British officers and a worse-for-wear Rolls-Royce. For decades, the identity of that vehicle has been a mystery to historians, Lawrence scholars and car enthusiasts.

Using archival research, newly-uncovered photographs and tech-
nical analysis, the team has identified the Rolls-Royce as chassis number 60985, built in 1909 at Manchester, U.K.

In identifying the car, nicknamed “Blue Mist”, the team not only
confirmed the identity through a paper trail including diplomatic
archives, war diaries, factory build records, family letters and other documents, they tracked down the descendants of the owner of the car when requisitioned by Lawrence in Cairo. The discovery has also unearthed official documents and parts of the car unequivocally proving its identity. Though the vehicle itself has not yet been discovered, it is estimated that, if found, “Blue Mist” would be one of the most valuable cars in the world.

“One of the enduring quotes from T. E. Lawrence was ‘a Rolls in the desert is above Rubies,’ noted James Stejskal, team member and lead author of the paper on the discovery. “Lawrence recognized that due to their reliability, speed and versatility his Rolls-Royce cars were a game-changer in the desert war. This helped him pioneer what we today call special forces and special operations. The famous photograph of Lawrence entering Damascus not only signaled the Arab victory in the region, but captured the truly pivotal moment in history that signaled the new role for the Middle East in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

The team that uncovered the identity of the Blue Mist includes  James Stejskal, principal author of an upcoming article on the discovery; Philip Walker, a noted Lawrence expert whose new book,
Behind the Lawrence Legend: the Forgotten Few Who Shaped the Arab Revolt, is scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press in February 2018; Tom Clarke, a Rolls-Royce historian who has published numerous books and articles on the marque; and R. Pierce Reid, who runs a vintage Rolls-Royce restoration shop. His recent Norwich University master’s thesis, For I Can Raise no Money by Vile Means: T. E. Lawrence and his Relationship with Money, Debt and the Historical Record, was published in The Journal of the T. E. Lawrence Society, Vol. XXIV, No. 2.

For more information, see the press release HERE. Full details of the “rediscovery” will be published in the autumn 2017 edition of the
T. E. Lawrence Society Journal.

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Death of Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence’s authorised
biographer and former Society chairman

2 April 2017: Jeremy Wilson, the authorised biographer of T. E. Lawrence, has died following a period of illness.

Jeremy was widely regarded and respected as the leading scholar and authority on Lawrence. Together with his wife Nicole, he established Castle Hill Press which has published fine-print editions of many of Lawrence’s manuscripts and letters.

Jeremy was a former Chairman of the T. E. Lawrence Society and a major instigator and influence on the Society’s activities, notably the
Journal and the biennial Symposia. He will be greatly missed by all in the Lawrence fellowship worldwide.

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Lawrence’s silver-gilt dagger goes on display at
newly reopened National Army Museum

30 March 2017: Lawrence’s silver-gilt dagger – presented to him by Sherif Nasir after the taking of Akaba in July 1917 – has gone on public display for the first time since it was saved from export last year.

The dagger is one of the exhibits at the newly opened National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, which over the last three years has
undergone a £23.75m redevelopment project.

It is one of three daggers that Lawrence wore during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. In 1921, he left it with Lady Kathleen Scott – widow of Scott of the Antarctic – when she sculpted him wearing his Arabian robes. It remained in the care of her family – making only rare
appearances at major Lawrence exhibitions at the Imperial War
Museum and National Portrait Gallery – until being put up for auction at Christie’s in 2015, when it was sold to an overseas buyer.

After the Department for Culture Media and Sport put an embargo on its export, the dagger was saved for the nation when the National Army Museum stepped in to match the £122,500 auction price with the help of a £78,400 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

The dagger, together with a set of Lawrence’s Arabian robes and a headdress, can be seen in the Army gallery at the newly reopened museum. Entry is free. For more details see the museum’s website HERE.

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Society goes on TV to challenge Historic England’s
‘mistaken’ decision on 2 Polstead Road

31 January 2017: T. E. Lawrence Society vice-chairman Alan Payne and Oxfordshire City Councillor Liz Wade have appeared on That’s Oxfordshire TV to explain why Historic England has been mistaken in its decision not to list 2 Polstead Road as a Building of Special
Architectural or Historic Interest.

The Society will be asking the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to review the decision. Oxford City Council, eminent historians and many residents of Oxford had supported this opportunity to officially recognise Lawrence’s family home as a cultural and historic asset to the City of Oxford.

Yet Historic England rejected our application for Listed status, claiming that the “national historic interest of Lawrence is not
directly manifest in the house”.

In the 13-minute interview, Alan and Liz explain why the house and Lawrence’s garden bungalow are worthy of the special protections that Listed status would bring.

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Society ‘deeply disappointed’ as Secretary of State rejects Listing of 2 Polstead Road

Bemusement at Historic England’s claim that the historic association with Lawrence has been ‘denuded’

13 January 2017: The T. E. Lawrence Society is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to reject our application to List Lawrence’s family home at
2 Polstead Road, Oxford, as a Building of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

The Society applied for listing in 2015 after the occupier’s death led to concerns that the house and garden bungalow – as well as a number of original artefacts, including a cupboard door marked with the heights of the five Lawrence boys as they grew to manhood – should be protected.

The Lawrence family moved to 2 Polstead Road in 1896 when Ned, as he was known to his family, was eight years old. It remained the family home until 1921. Living amid the historic surroundings of
Oxford was hugely influential in developing Lawrence’s interests in archaeology and medieval history, and in 1908 his father built a
bungalow in the back garden where he could carry on his studies.

It was as an undergraduate at Jesus College, Oxford, that Lawrence undertook his studies of Crusader castles that brought him First Class Honours. At the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, he became friends with the archaeologist David Hogarth who was his mentor in his subsequent careers in archaeology and British Intelligence, where his role as adviser to Emir Feisal in the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 led to him becoming known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia. After the First World War he was made a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, to give him time to write his book about the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

In the Society’s application to Historic England – which drew
together submissions from historians and architects in the UK and US, reflecting the international interest in Lawrence – we emphasised how 2 Polstead Road is steeped in historical associations with Lawrence. Indeed, visitors from around the world still come to see the house where Lawrence grew up and was photographed in the garden playing with his brothers.

In 1994, Thomas Ware Griffin, an American who stayed briefly in the house, wrote that it was largely unchanged since the Lawrences’ time, as Mrs Lawrence had left many of the furnishings behind when she sold the house in 1921. “I often sat in the bay window of the bungalow at all hours of the day and night, with the windows propped open. I wondered about Lawrence, and all he stood for, and how much this room meant to him. The glory of his youthful past could still be felt in the hollowness of his room during the empty hours on a moonlit night.” *

We are therefore disappointed – and bemused – to read Historic England’s opinion that “although doubtless of some influence on the young TE Lawrence, the national historic interest of Lawrence is not directly manifest in this house” and that alterations to Lawrence’s bungalow have “denuded” the historic association with him.

We are also concerned by claims in its report that the house contains no fixtures or fittings relating to the Lawrences, despite the
Society having provided photographs of the cupboard door showing the boys’ heights and other artefacts.

We are saddened that Historic England and the Secretary of State have missed an important opportunity to protect the house and bungalow as an asset to the City of Oxford.

We would point out that Lawrence’s birthplace at Tremadog in North Wales, where he lived for one year as a baby, is Grade II listed despite fundamental alterations to convert it into a hostel. Lawrence’s cottage at Clouds Hill, Dorset, had its listing upgraded to Grade II* in December 2015. Lawrence’s grave in the cemetery at Moreton, Dorset, is Grade II listed.

The Society would like to thank Elizabeth Wade, the local City councillor in Oxford, Robert Franklin, a Quondam Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and Society members Alan Payne, Joe Berton, Charles Eilers and Nick Lynch, who all contributed to the submission, as well as all the people of Oxford who supported us.

To read the Secretary of State’s decision in full, click HERE.

The Society now has 28 days from 13 January 2017 to request that the Secretary of State reviews the decision.

We would suggest that anyone who wishes to make a representation should write, giving reference 1434858, to:

The Listing Review Officer
Heritage Protection Branch
Culture Team
Department for Culture Media and Sport
4th Floor
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

* An American Visitor in Polstead Road by Thomas Ware Griffin, T. E. Lawrence Society Newsletter 42, Summer 1997

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Photo of 2 Polstead Road  © Joe Berton