Saturday, August 27, 2011

Notley Abbey

These pics were taken back in May when a group of friends and I took the train out to Buckinghamshire to visit the country estate of Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier (better known to film fans as Scarlett O'Hara herself, Miss Vivien Leigh). Notley Abbey, near Aylesbury, is a 15th century converted Abbey (endowed by Henry V) that was purchased by the Oliviers as a country retreat shortly after WWII. It had been in a long-standing state of disrepair but Larry was determined to fix it up into something livable.

Shortly after moving in, Vivien fell ill with tuberculosis and spent months resting and recuperating here. She grew to love its idyllic secluded setting, surrounded by green pastures and a lazy river that runs out front. Over the years Larry and Vivien created a romantic haven, a place that was steeped in history, and one where some of the most famous parties in England were held. It was sold shortly before the Oliviers divorced in 1960. Larry later wrote, "Of all the houses I’ve lived in over the years, Notley is my favourite. It was absolutely enchanting, and it enchanted me. At Notley I had an affair with the past. For me it had mesmeric power; I could easily drown in its atmosphere." Vivien's letter to her step-son Tarquin touchingly conveys how much the house meant to her:
On top of all this it seems as if Notley is sold. I can hardly write the words. A Canadian couple saw it some weeks ago, made an immediate and perfectly good offer and want to move in at the end of April. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Of course it is looking particularly beautiful. We have had the most glorious crisp and dazzling winter days…I walk from place to precious place and gaze at the beloved views with tears pouring down my face. What memories for all one’s life—such unbelievable rare happiness, sweetness and quietude there has been here. I don’t forget the other times too, but they seem to me outweighed by blissful togetherness. Dear God it is a heartache…the fact that we have known for some time now that it would have to go doesn’t seem to help in the least. It is fifteen years—a great part of one’s life…Oh the hundreds of times my beloved Larry and I have wandered here in wonder and grateful amazement at the beauty all around us—the feeling that we were a little responsible for creating it too made it all so doubly dear. It is hard to imgine life without such an oasis.

Today, Notley is a wedding venue. While the inside is cold and informal--rather like a hotel than a home--the outside retains its air of romanticism.


  1. Such lovely pictures. Definitely on my 'I want to visit'-list.

  2. A truly beautiful place! Is it used as a filming location occasionally? I think I watched a few films in the past that made me go 'Oh, this could be Notley Abbey!'

  3. Kendra, you had me not only admiring your really beautiful photos of this marvelous place, but you had me in tears as well. Nothing lasts forever, does it, at least human beings who are not made of wood and stone, and it's hard to take. The great romance of Oliver and Leigh was a sad story in many ways, and her words hit a little close to home. I couldn't help but remember that after Vivien had died, Olivier came to her bedside and sat by her bed for a while. The people there said that he just kept saying "Poor little Vivie, poor little Vivie"...

  4. @Karen--I hope you can go there some day. It really is lovely, can it's easy to imagine Larry and Viv in their Rolls Royce barreling down the long drive after a night's performance with 20 people in tow!

    @Rina--Good question! I'm not aware of it ever having been used in a film. Prior to the current owners buying it up, it had been a private residence.

    @Becky--Their romance is sad, but it's also wildly romantic, and I think it's the combination of the two that makes them so interesting. It's true Larry went round to her flat when she died and stayed for hours with her in the room. Bless them!


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