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The Crichel Boys

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781472132475

Price: £25

ON SALE: 25th February 2021

Genre: Humanities / History

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In 1945, Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys – writers for the New Statesman and a National Trust administrator – purchased Long Crichel House, an old rectory with no electricity and an inadequate water supply. In this improbable place, the last English literary salon began.

Quieter and less formal than the famed London literary salons, Long Crichel became an idiosyncratic experiment in communal living. Sackville-West, Shawe-Taylor and Knollys – later joined by the literary critic Raymond Mortimer – became members of one another’s surrogate families and their companionship became a stimulus for writing, for them and their guests. Long Crichel’s visitors’ book reveals a Who’s Who of the arts in post-war Britain – Nancy Mitford, Benjamin Britten, Laurie Lee, Cyril Connolly, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson – who were attracted by the good food, generous quantities of drink and excellent conversation. For Frances Partridge and James Lees-Milne, two of the twentieth century’s finest diarists, Long Crichel became a second home and their lives became bound up with the house.

Yet there was to be more to the story of the house than what critics variously referred to as a group of ‘hyphenated gentlemen-aesthetes’ and a ‘prose factory’. In later years the house and its inhabitants were to weather the aftershocks of the Crichel Down Affair, the Wolfenden Report and the AIDS crisis. The story of Long Crichel is also part of the development of the National Trust and other conservation movements.

Through the lens of Long Crichel, archivist and writer Simon Fenwick tells a wider story of the great upheaval that took place in the second half of the twentieth century. Intimate and revealing, he brings to life Long Crichel’s golden, gossipy years and, in doing so, unveils a missing link in English literary and cultural history.

Reviews

Fascinating
Laura Freeman, The Times
Very entertaining . . . the preservation of old houses, a cause with which many of the leading characters were involved one way or another, is skilfully used as a running theme in a book that, with a fine balance between nostalgia and clear-sightedness, commemorates a privileged world long since vanished.
Peter Parker, Spectator
Highly evocative . . . a portrait of an enchanted world
Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Daily Mail
The Crichel boys . . . left behind merely a memory of charm, kindness and generosity, to which Fenwick pays a tender tribute
Financial Times
A rich, luscious account of a postwar Britain that often gets lost
Mail on Sunday
Fenwick, it must be said, is very much at home in this somewhat rarefied milieu, writes perceptively about the quartet's achievements and is sensitive to some of the problems caused by having four neurotic personalities intermittently at large under a single roof
D. J. Taylor, Literary Review
Absorbing new history
Alexander Larman, Observer
Fenwick gives us some fascinating vignettes of the often downplayed cultural life of post-war Britain
The Lady