What to do on an overcast breezy Saturday? We decided to take a trip into deepest Dorset to learn about two very short men.
Cloud's Hill is the cottage owned by Private TE Shaw, the name chosen by Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence in his attempt at obscurity following his World War I Middle Eastern exploits. Most people's knowledge of Lawrence has been gleaned from David Lean's famous film, Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence was nothing like Peter O'Toole. First of all he was very short, only five foot five. He was also very strange. Believed to be a closet homosexual with sado-masochistic tendencies, he had a great affinity for service life. Before going to University (Jesus College, Oxford) he had run off to join the Boy Soldiers, so that his father had to come along and buy him out. He then joined up on three further occasions, rising to the rank of colonel as an intelligence officer in the war against Turkey, and post-war joining the RAF as Aircraftsman John Hume Ross and latterly the Tank Corps as Shaw.
He was a very clever man. A first in history at Oxford and a fellowship at All Souls are not easily come by. From the age of 12 he supported his own academic tuition by winning scholarships. He was also extremely well read. At Cloud's Hill the walls were lined with over 2000 books.
The cottage is still a primitive place, though it stands in large grounds overrun with rhododendrons and wild foxgloves. Lawrence never slept there - he slept at nearby Bovington Camp (where Prince William sleeps now) but the role of a private in the Tank Corps was hardly arduous and he found plenty of time to nip off on his Brough Superior motor bike to spend time at Cloud's Hill reading and entertaining friends. There was even a tiny guest room there with a bunk bed and a porthole window, that perhaps reminded him of life on board ship. EM Forster, a frequent visitor, used sometimes to sleep there.
There is some evidence that Lawrence was doing it up for his retirement. He was 46 when he died, and his life as an army private must have been close to being time expired. With his own hand he had laid on water to the cottage with a pump from a nearby spring. He had installed a bathroom (though no lavatory - he presumably used the army camp and the rhododendrons) with a modern bath and walls lined with cork. He clearly liked bizarre wallpapers - the walls of the bunk bedroom were lined with aluminium foil. His main living room was upstairs with a fine log fire. The downstairs rooms were the bathroom and a large reading room, which contained a large (unused) leather bed and a reading chair of his own design, with flat arms to hold a cup of tea. His tea set was of black local pottery.
If not ugly he was a very plain man, but also very vain. He kept changing his name to avoid the attention of the public yet he sought attention. There are many portraits of him (including one by Augustus John). The cottage contains an impressive bronze of his head. His biographers were famous friends, Robert Lowell, Robert Graves and Liddell Hart, George Bernard Shaw (a frequent visitor to Cloud's Hill)wrote a play based upon him, Too True to be Good and gave him a copy inscribed 'to private Shaw from public Shaw'. and Terence Rattigan wrote a play about him called Ross, and WH Auden's The Ascent of F6 was based on his character.
We climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the cottage. It is an unusual segment of British history, hard to find in the Dorset countryside, but worth the effort.
The second very short man we sought was George Loveless. A farm laborer, but despite the outside life and the hard work, he was only five foot four. It was not his cottage that we had come to see but the Martyr's Memorial Museum at Tolpuddle, a mere 3 miles from Cloud's Hill. On the main A35 Bournemouth to Dorchester road the Trades Union Congress has erected 6 cottages in memory of the six 'martyrs' and the block also houses an exhibition and a shop. Everything in the shop is incredibly overpriced, but I suppose with Union membership so low now, they need every penny they can get. Despite their being called martyrs, nobody died, and indeed one lived to the age of 90.
The story is well known. Beginning in 1770 the common land began to be enclosed by the gentry. Removal of their grazing rights impoverished the working man. The Enclosures Act appears in Patrick O'Brien's Captain Aubrey novels. Aubrey, a landowner, magistrate and MP as well as a sea-faring captain and scourge of Napoleon's navy, detested the Act and thought it oppressive to agricultural workers. As more and more soldiers were discharged from the Army after Napoleon was defeated labor became plentiful and wages fell. Enclosures meant more land to farm for the rich landowners and more employment, but still the wages offered of 9 shillings a week were insufficient to provide for a family. Men began to form Unions to demand more money, but the landowners, mindful of the French revolution reacted spitefully.
With the connivance of Lord Melbourne the Home Secretary local magistrate Frampton used an arcane Act against giving of oaths to convict Loveless and the others and sentence them to 7 years transportation to Australia. There was a national outcry against this misuse of power and following the suggestion that the King's own brother was guilty under the same Act (He was a member of the Orangemen who swore oaths that were similarly illegal), Lord Russell the prime minister eventually gave the men a pardon.
They returned home after 4 years, but felt unwelcome and 5 of the 6 eventually emigrated to Canada. The only one who stayed was eventually honored by the Trades Union movement in his old age. At this celebration he admitted that he never actually took the oath. He took the rap for his brother who was expecting his first child.
While reading about this I realized why there had been such an outcry recently about a proposal to house surplus prisoners in a ship moored off Portland. The Tolpuddle martyrs had been housed in the Prison ship, York, off Portsmouth before their deportation. History casts a long shadow.