Nearest train station: Haddenham & Thame Pkwy (catch from Marylebone)
“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. I could not leave it alone, I was a child lost in its history. Perhaps I loved it too much, if that is possible.”–Laurence Olivier in Confessions of an Actor
You probably all guessed what the number one place on this list would be. Notley Abbey was the 12th century abbey purchased and renovated by Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 1945 as a marital country estate. Here the famous couple reigned for fifteen years, throwing lavish parties that were the toast of the town–everyone who was anyone was invited. It was a privilege to be invited to Notley after a performance or for the weekend. Some of the notable names that spent time with the Oliviers at Notley include Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, Judy Garland, David Niven, John Mills, and Robert Helpmann.
Notley was really Larry’s dream house; Vivien wasn’t too sure when they bought it. However, when she was convalescing from TB in 1945 she grew to love it and it became as much her sanctuary as his. Shortly before she and Larry divorced, Vivien wrote to her step-son Tarquin and told him of her memories of Notley:
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. Shall you ever forget our walk on that misty moonlit night?
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 imagine life without such an oasis.
Today, Notley Abbey is used as a wedding venue, but visitors can still go and have a look around. I was lucky enough to be able to do so in 2009. It’s smaller on the outside that I had imagined, but the inside is cavernous and huge. No wonder they always had people over to visit! Though the inside has been remodeled in a modern fashion, the grounds retain an air of Larry and Vivien’s romantic elegance.
Here are some more photos from my trip to Notley:
Top 10 Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Locations:
- The Old Vic
- National Theatre
- Westminster Abbey
- St Martin in the Fields
- 54 Eaton Square
- The Noel Coward (New) Theatre
- The Savoy Grill
- Tickerage Mill
- Durham Cottage
- Notley Abbey