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The Crichel Boys Reviews

The Crichel Boys by Simon Fenwick

The Crichel Boys: Scenes from England's Last Literary Salon

Simon Fenwick

3.56 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Constable
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date: 25 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9781472132475

An elegant biography of Long Crichel, a house in a secluded village in rural Dorset which, during the second half of the twentieth century, became a hub of creativity and social activity for its denizens and their guests.

4 stars out of 5
Alexander Larman
23 Mar 2021

"(an) absorbing new history"

Long Crichel House has never ranked with Charleston in terms of the panoply of literary and artistic salons, but in this absorbing new history, Simon Fenwick makes a convincing case for its importance and relevance. Host to “hyphenated gentleman-aesthetes”, Long Crichel attracted a colourful range of characters including Vita Sackville-West and Patrick Leigh Fermor. Fenwick skilfully brings them to life with a well-judged mixture of gossipy anecdotes and, when called for, a sober look at the legacy of “the buggery house at Crichel”, as Evelyn Waugh sardonically called it.


3 stars out of 5
Suzi Feay
4 Mar 2021

"They left behind merely a memory of charm, kindness and generosity, to which Fenwick pays a tender tribute"

While not in the front rank of literary figures, the group is significant for its vast spread of connections through the worlds of art, books and the aristocracy. James Lees-Milne, a regular Crichel visitor, was the first secretary of the National Trust; Raymond Mortimer, who joined the household, was an incisive critic; Eddy himself was a respected music reviewer. The “Crichel boys” also boasted close links to newspapers, publishers and the BBC. A postwar intellectual milieu starts to come alive through their opinions.

4 stars out of 5
27 Feb 2021

"commemorates a privileged world long since vanished"

By contrast, it seems wholly appropriate that a book focusing on a historical house should contain a good deal of material about the National Trust, where Knollys worked alongside Lees-Milne, his closest friend and confidante. Indeed, 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.

4 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
25 Feb 2021

"Fenwick builds up a portrait of an enchanted world"

As Simon Fenwick reminds us in this highly evocative (if slow to get going — don't give up) account of what became 'England's last literary salon', the 1950s would prove a particularly dangerous time for English homosexuals. This was the decade when John Gielgud was arrested for soliciting in men's lavatories, and when only three witnesses in the whole country were brave enough to come forward and testify to the Wolfenden Committee that gay men lived perfectly normal, well-adjusted lives.

3 stars out of 5
Laura Freeman
20 Feb 2021

"This set are a bit Bloomsbury, a bit Oxford tweedy — with a few too many literary liggers"

Fenwick casts his net wider than Long Crichel to take in the early years of the National Trust, the Crichel Down Affair (a legal wrangle over land management and tenant farming rights that led to ministerial resignation), the trial of Lord Montagu for “gross indecency” with two RAF servicemen, the Wolfenden report (unpleasantly called “the Pansies Charter” by the Sunday Express) and the Aids crisis. While the strands are individually interesting, they don’t tie together and there isn’t enough of Long Crichel itself to sustain a single story.