HISTORY: A look at Lawrence of Arabia in Epping Forest

T.E. Lawrence - better known as Lawrence of Arabia - who owned visited Pole Hill in Chingford frequently for more than a decade

The obelisk at Pole Hill

The obelisk as it is today

The plaque commemorating Lawrence's links with the area

First published in Redbridge by

THE ROLE that Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence – better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia' – played in the First World War has become an essential part of twentieth century history in the decades since the conflict.

But less well-known is his involvement with one of the most beautiful vantage points in Chingford at Pole Hill, the highest point in Epping Forest.

During World War One, Lawrence volunteered to use his knowledge and expertise of the Middle East for the British war effort in the region, and became famous for fighting alongside bands of irregular soldiers as part of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

But his links to the area pre-date his fame as an adventurer and war hero. Lawrence became close friends with a man named Vyvyan Richards while an undergraduate at Jesus College, Oxford, who went on to teach history at Bancroft's School in Woodford Green.

The pair spent time camping in the forest on Pole Hill with Scouts and cadets, as far as Lawrence's foreign travel would permit, for almost ten years. Lawrence became so fond of the area that he bought several acres of land in the area on the day he left the British Army in September 1919.

Over the next few years, he built a hut and small swimming pool there, and one idea the pair had would be to use the hut to publish editions of Lawrence's books, including his famous 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' – which chronicled his travels through Arabia – but this never happened.

No trace of his structures remain, as they were pulled down in 1930 by the Chingford Urban District Council when it purchased the land (which has now passed into the ownership of the Corporation of London, who look after the whole of Epping Forest).

There are now two obelisks on Pole Hill, one of which bears a plaque commemorating Lawrence's involvement with the area.

Shortly after, Lawrence re-erected the hut in the grounds of The Warren in Loughton, which is now the home of the body in charge of Epping Forest.

The hut still sits there today, but over the last 80 years or so has fallen into disrepair.

Dr Chris Pond, chairman of the Loughton and District Historical Society, said: “It's one of the hidden gems of Essex history.

“Unfortunately the hut is in a terrible location – next to where the Epping Forest conservators fill up their tractors with diesel – and there's no public access, so it's hasn't been maintained.

“It's also rumoured that Lawrence and Richards built it with the help of the Boy Scouts they used to lead and camp with in the forest.”

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