In 1945, music critics Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Edward Sackville-West, art critic Raymond Mortimer, and Eardley Knollys, a painter and gallery owner, purchased together Long Crichel House, a former early 18th-century rectory in a small Dorset village. The four friends lived communally but they each had their own rooms in the house where they could work and have some privacy. The gentlemen had a live-in butler and cook-housekeeper. All four men were gay, and they shared a circle of friends from worlds of literature, art, and music, who were welcomed to stay on occasion.
This was particularly dangerous time for English gay men. John Gielgud had been arrested for soliciting in men’s lavatories. The four friends lived under the radar, and they succeeded, playing host to some of the great writers of the century, including Nancy Mitford, Graham Green, W. Somerset Maugham and E. M. Forster. Always so candid, Evelyn Waugh called Long Crichel “the buggery house”, and its residents “The Bachelors”, or simply “Long Crichel Boys”.
Knollys (1902-1991) is lumped in with the Bloomsbury Group. He was an art dealer and collector from the 1920s to 1950s. He only began to paint in 1949, and had his first solo exhibition at 58 years old in 1960, by which time he was already a legend in the British art world. His longtime boyfriend was National Trust conservationist James Lees-Milne.
Sackville-West (1901 – 1965) purchased Long Crichel House. He was a cousin of Vita Sackville-West. He served as a reviewer for Gramophone magazine.
Shawe-Taylor (1907 – 1995), was music critic of the New Statesman, The New Yorker and The Sunday Times and a regular, long-standing contributor to The Gramophone. In 1951 he collaborated with Sackville-West to research and write The Record Guide, reference work discussing and grading available classical records. This was followed by a series of updates and enlarged new editions between 1952 and 1956.
Mortimer CBE (1895 – 1980) was a friend of the poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West, and was involved in a longtime affair with her husband, British diplomat Harold Nicolson. Mortimer joined the three original owners of Long Crichel House, after World War II.
Their whole thing was very much like the Bloomsbury Group, who also enjoyed an experiment in communal living; with the big difference in that none of the Crichel gentlemen had sex with each other. Mortimer had a partner, architect Paul Hyslop. Sackville-West converted to Roman Catholicism and his hang-up was unrequited love for (among others) Benjamin Britten and married Conservative MP Paul Latham (who during World War I was jailed for making advances to soldiers). Knollys lost a boyfriend in the war, but later fell in love with Mattei Radev, a handsome framer whom he was to share with Forster. Shawe-Taylor was blithely slutty.
Edward Le Bas (1904-1966) was part of this circle. He was born in London and graduated from Cambridge University in 1924 with a degree in Architecture. He then studied painting at the Royal College of Art.
Le Bas painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes, in oils boldly applied.
As a collector, Le Bas had an extensive collection of works by the gentlemen, painter Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), and his friend Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury Group. He had major collection of 20th century French and English paintings, which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1963.
Le Bas travelled extensively and worked in Majorca, France and Morocco. His first exhibition was with the Lefevre Gallery in 1936. He was elected a member of the London Group in 1942, exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1933. He was awarded the CBE in 1957. Le Bas’s work is in Tate Gallery and major museums around the globe.