A new historical photograph, more than 30 years older than any other yet uncovered, has been found of Lawrence of Arabia's house.

The tiny rural cottage of Clouds Hill, Dorset, was where T. E. Lawrence – ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – retreated for his retirement in 1935, after having gradually transformed it to his taste over the previous twelve years.

Lawrence was a prolific letter-writer, and we have many details of the alterations he made to the cottage, but few photographs. The oldest known photographs of Clouds Hill dated from the early 1930s, after the major modifications had been completed.

That was until the recent surprise discovery of a family photograph dating from the 1890s.

One of the National Trust volunteers at Clouds Hill, Martin Gething, has been researching the families who had previously lived in Clouds Hill in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

During his investigations, Martin has made contact with a number of descendants of the families and recently traced a great-granddaughter of a lady called Bessie Pride, who was born in the cottage in 1874. Bessie’s great-granddaughter found they had a photograph of Bessie with other members of her family standing in front of Clouds Hill.

Martin said: "The photograph dates from the mid to late 1890s and is at least thirty years older than any other known photograph of the cottage. Previously, we were not aware of any photograph of the outside of the cottage dated earlier than the 1930s."

"The cottage looks surprisingly like now, including the roof which looks identical - apart from a skylight window that Lawrence added - and which therefore answers the perennial question of whether the roof was previously thatched. It wasn’t, at least by the 1890s.

"There is, however, a tantalising glimpse of one distinct difference from the cottage of today. The eastern side of the cottage had a sloping addition, whereas today the wall is vertical below the roof line. Unfortunately, apart from being able to see that there was something there, it is not possible to tell from this one photograph what the addition might have been."

Dorset Echo: Clouds Hill nowClouds Hill now (Image: Tony Gill)

Lawrence died in 1935 and the cottage was inherited by his younger brother. Realising its historical importance, the brother began talking to the National Trust and in 1937 the cottage came under the National Trust’s care. It was first opened to the public in May 1938.

The cottage will reopen its doors to visitors on March 20 and will be open every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (10am-4pm) until the end of October.