by Shirley Gott
New Idea (Australia), December 25, 1963
**Thanks to Judy for sharing this article.
by Shirley Gott
New Idea (Australia), December 25, 1963
**Thanks to Judy for sharing this article.
Vivien Leigh’s country estate, Notley Abbey, was sold in 1960 pending her divorce from Laurence Olivier. While on the hunt for a new country retreat, her friend, the actor Dirk Bogarde, told her of a gorgeous Queen Ann-style house in the Sussex downs. It was too small for him, he said, but she might love it. Love it Vivien did, and she moved in with Jack Merivale in 1961.
Although Tickerage was very much a private space, Vivien occasionally allowed photographers into her country life. Thomas Wilkie and George Douglas were two such photographers. I profiled Douglas here last summer when it was announced that his archive had been discovered by Shan Lancaster and Guardian photographer Roger Bamber in Brighton. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to get to know Shan and follow the great work she and Roger are doing to raise George Douglas’ profile.
In a mutually beneficial effort to help spotlight Douglas’ wonderful work, and because everyone likes pretty pictures, here is the full set of Douglas’ shoot of Vivien Leigh as found (thus far) in the George Douglas Archive. (Getty Images are also licensing some of Douglas’ color photos from this shoot via the Popperfoto collection.)
“Good news of Tickerage every week, which I long to see again.” – Vivien Leigh to Radie Harris, February 6, 1962
“Tickerage Mill was just as romantic a setting as Notley, if on a smaller scale. The lake close to the house provided for her the essential ingredient of water always present, and she assured me that she was comforted by the knowledge that it was there, even when obscured by the mist of autumn, the winter fogs. There was also a miniature wood filled with carpets of anemones and bluebells that she had planted, which burgeoning in the spring might have been created for Titania [the character Vivien played in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1937]. Like my mother, Vivien had green fingers, and in an enviously short time, the garden, which had been sadly neglected till the arrival of the new owner, took on a blossoming look of someone who knows that she is cherished.” – Godfrey Winn, 1965
“Another beautiful album of Tickerage for Vivien! It really is stunning and she is delighted with it, as I have no doubt she has told you in the letter which Jason and I have just walked up the lane to post…All is well here I think. We have had our dramas; the Cooks, who have been with Vivien for eleven years as gardener and ‘help’, upped and left and the cottage has been empty for a month. However the replacements arrived yesterday to start work to-morrow and if they are satisfactory we shall at last be able to go to the big city for a few days and catch up on some shows. We have hardly left the place for weeks. Also the poodle ran away last week and got run over for his pains poor chap. Luckily not much damage done except that he was concussed and had amnesia. He came back yesterday from the kennels in Buxted and seems fairly all right. I say ‘fairly’ because we think he still has a touch of amnesia since he forgot himself in the kitchen before lunch in a pretty substantial way.” – Jack Merivale to Arnold Weissberger, October 10, 1965
A view of Tickerage Mill from the farm owned by Vivien Leigh
Last week I posted some rare candid images of Vivien Leigh taken by Jack Merivale that showed the woman behind the star image; photographs her fans would likely never have seen had Merivale not graciously lent them to one of her biographers. Several of them showed Vivien at her recently-purchased home Tickerage Mill. The photos in today’s post highlight the same setting. These, however, were intended for public consumption.
British actor Dirk Bogarde told journalist and biographer Alan Dent how Vivien came to own Tickerage in early 1961:
When Vivien had left Notley she once came down to my house, and felt utterly sad because she no longer had a garden…she adored mine, which was rather marvelous. Suddenly she said: “I want a little house…with a view like this, but by water…on a lake or a stream…and with trees…” and I had seen the exact house three days before. I told her, and she was off in a flash and found it to be the very place of her idea…that’s how she got Tickerage Mill. I had wanted it very much for myself, but it was a bit too far from town, I thought, and too small for me. Viv was instantly at home there.
In the summer of 1962, Vivien invited professional Surrey-based photographer Thomas A. Wilkie to photograph her at Tickerage. She had been away for a year and was only now settling in and making the Queen Anne-style house in Sussex a true home.
The photos are part of a larger set that was intended for a magazine but, to my knowledge and the current owner’s, were never published. I first came across the original prints in a famous theatre ephemera store in London back in 2005. I was a college student at the time and couldn’t afford the asking price. “Vivien isn’t cheap, you know,” the shop owner said to me. I went away believing I’d never see them again, so it was a great surprise when Terence Pepper from the National Portrait Gallery asked me to come in and meet a local collector called John who had some Vivien photos to donate for an upcoming exhibit, and there they were. John inherited the photographs from a friend who recently passed away, and I am so grateful to him for letting me share some of them here at vivandlarry.com.
The photos offer an intimate glimpse into Vivien’s home and, like Jack Merivale’s snapshots, show a woman making the best of life after her divorce from Olivier. So many of Vivien’s endearing qualities come through in these pictures: her love for animals, her exquisite taste in interior design, her love of work, and her loyalty. I especially love the photo of her and her dog, Sebastian. It’s not perfect, and she probably wouldn’t have approved it for publication, but the expression on her face is adorable.
I just love this centuries old fireplace. It reminds me of a cozy English pub.
The sitting room
Talking about her upcoming musical, Tovarich
Playing with her poodle, Sebastian – a gift from Jack Merivale
“Gardening – my great love.” Talking to Cook, who was head gardener at Notley Abbey for eight years and left there in order to remain in Vivien’s service.
I simply love this photo
“My wife and I happened to be in England during the month before Vivien died and we visited her at her country house, Tickerage Mill, near the village of Black Boys, Sussex. This is one of the most beautiful small estates in the country and is approached down a winding lane, the last turn of which reveals the compact, weathered brick house and the high wall which encloses the rose garden. It is not until one has passed through the house, and admired its old oak beams and lovely period furniture, that one steps out on the terrace and sees the lake; weeping willows overhand its banks, with here and there clumps of graceful reeds. It was one of those rare and magical days that Englishmen everywhere dream about, radiant, warm and tranquil. An old boat lay moored to a post and a family of moorhens moved across the water, slowly and in single file. Beyond the lake rose a small, soft Sussex down, crowned with a copse of trees. Rooks cawed in the elms. It was a traditional scene, so often described by Victorian novels and poets, yet still so moving in its beauty.” — Brian Aherne
Last Sunday, I went to Tickerage again. This time I joined my lovely friend Shiroma and her daughter Christina on a walk through the Sussex countryside. The weather has been so horrible this month, but we had sun and really high temperatures on Sunday and Monday, rather like Brian Aherne described above. I took the train down from London, and we got stranded at Hever because of a signal failure or something. The conductor allowed us to get off the train for some fresh air, so I did, started chatting with a guy who had been waiting at the station since the previous train came in an hour earlier, and then had to run when the train started leaving without me! Luckily, the conductor saw me and let me back in.
I finally made it to Uckfield, where Shiroma and her family picked me up in the car and we drove out to the Blackboys Inn for lunch and a nice, refreshing Crabbie’s ginger beer (can you tell I’m obsessed?). Apparently ownership of the Inn had changed quite recently, so the current owners could tell us nothing about the days when Vivien Leigh used to frequent the pub for an infamous pink gin. After lunch, we drove to Tickerage Lane, and Shiroma, Christina and I got out and walked. We didn’t have any luck meeting our friend from last time out mowing his lawn, so we snapped a few photos from the drive and continued our hike through the Sussex countryside en route to Buxton, the stop on the line before Uckfield.
I love Sussex so much. The scenery is so tranquil and lovely old houses sit in secluded glens surrounded by trees and pastures, well manicured lawns and winding country lanes. Every house we passed had a name: Beggar’s Barn, Gables, Scantling’s Inn. There is such a contrast between the slow life in the country and the fast pace of London. No wonder people like to have a place to get away for a while.
**Warning: This post is image-heavy
I woke up this morning with every intention of going to the library and studying. Instead, Sammi Steward and I took an impromptu trip to Sussex to snap some photos of Vivien Leigh’s final resting place. The weather was perfect: 65 degrees and sunny. What better thing to do on a sunny spring afternoon than go to the countryside?
We met up at Victoria Station and boarded the next train to Croydon where we changed (and missed the hourly train to Sussex by literally 30 seconds) and headed to Uckfield. Sussex is a beautiful area. I remembered how I’d loved it when I did a summer abroad in Brighton my junior year in college. How time flies! On the train down, Sammi and I were having a discussion about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier something or another when suddenly, the man in the seat across from us said, “I take it you’re going to Tickerage Mill?” How did he know? Apparently our indoor voices aren’t that quiet. He introduced himself as Duncan, the mayor of Uckfield. He said his in-laws very nearly bought the house next door to Tickerage Mill, and was very kind in not only telling us the easiest way to get out there, but arranged a little meeting between us and his friend who runs the Picture House cinema in town–apparently it’s one of the oldest indie theatres in England. Duncan also told us a lovely story about his friend’s claim to fame: Said friend had been up in London for work and had had a few drinks before catching the train back home. As Uckfield is the end of the line, he was roused out of his nap by a shake on the shoulder and a man saying, “I think you’re getting off at Uckfield.” The man was none other than Sir Laurence Olivier on his way to visit Vivien Leigh (conveniently, Uckfield is just between Brighton and London), and he offered Duncan’s friend a ride home in his hired car. We knew Larry went to visit Vivien on occasion!