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.