This year marks the 130th anniversary of the birthday of T E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.
While he will be always associated with the deserts of the Middle East, Lawrence also spent time in Yorkshire, and was in ‘God’s own county’ a matter of weeks before his early demise in 1935.
Lawrence was born on 16th August 1888 in Tremadoc, Wales. His family later moves to Oxford, and Lawrence attended the city’s university at Jesus College.
He worked as an archaeologist and later volunteered for the British Army during World War One, during which his exploits in the Middle East became world news.
Lawrence then joined the Foreign Office, yet had a restless career which took him round the world, including to Yorkshire on a couple of occasions.
He joined the RAF in 1922. He was posted to the RAF Bridlington Marine Detachment Unit in 1932, and returned to the seaside town between November 1934 and February 1935.
His final stint in Bridlington commenced on 15th November, when he supervised the winter overhaul of ten fast launches, which included five armoured boats and five seaplane tenders. He stayed at the Ozone Hotel (now the somewhat altered Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club premises) located at the convergence of Windsor Crescent and West Street.
While Lawrence wrote prosaically about his time in Arabia, his had mixed feelings about Bridlington. His 1932 visit was during the busy summer season. A letter written on 28th November 1934 described the town as ‘a silent place, where cats and landladies’ husbands walk gently down the middles [sic] of the street. I prefer the bustle of summer …’
Perhaps the quiet atmosphere prompted Lawrence to get away from Bridlington and ride his motorcycle around Yorkshire. He visited York, Skipsea, Hull, Beverley, Goole and No Man’s Land, and it is likely he also paid visits to Whitby and Scarborough.
Yet Bridlington served Lawrence well. His desire to ‘back into the limelight’ meant he dreaded (yet sometimes appeared to relish) the publicity spotlight and for the most part, Lawrence time in the town helped him avoid the press. When word got out about Lawrence’s impending retirement from the RAF (due at the end of February 1935), he decided to say farewell to Bridlington on 26th February, with his trusty bicycle, which he rode all the way to his home, Clouds Hill in Dorset.
On Monday 13th May, Lawrence mounted his Brough Superior for the last time. On his return to Clouds Hill from nearby Bovington Camp, sometime between 11.25am and 11.45am, he encountered two pedal cyclists on a narrow stretch of road. He performed an emergency stop, which resulted in Lawrence being catapulted off his vehicle sustaining fatal injuries. He gradually deteriorated and on Sunday 19th May, he passed away at about 8.30am.
Bridlington today still remembers Lawrence: The Lawrence complex on the harbour side was built in 1993 on the site of the workshops of number 21 Air Sea Rescue Unit, near which there was a cafe Lawrence used to visit frequently; a sundial commemorates Lawrence’s connection with Bridlington. You will find it in the South Cliff Gardens, a fitting tribute perhaps, given ‘El Aurens’ spent many months under a blazing, hot sun.