photo essay photography the oliviers

An afternoon at Notley Abbey

It’s officially spring, but winter still reigns in England. With freezing temperatures and even snow on occasion, it hasn’t been a very pleasant time to be outside. However, I recently treated myself to a new camera lens and was eager to try it out. As I was going to visit Robbie near Buckinghamshire anyway, I had a spur-of-the-moment idea (as usual) of going out to Notley Abbey for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, they were booked up with bridal viewings on Sunday, so I went this past Monday, instead, and was met by my friend Zara who came up from London.

I’ve been to Notley a few times now in various seasons, but am always struck by the beauty that surrounds it. Walking around the manicured grounds, it’s equally easy to imagine Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in their heyday, and why they loved this place so much. I tried to capture some of the old world charm in my photographs. It really is a stunning house.

All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013

notley_2013_20 From a distance


Entryway/guest area

Former living room, now the wedding room

Zara and I on the upstairs landing


Master bedroom


Looking out on the front courtyard

The back yard


The cottage

Looking toward the drive


Old world

The tower, with windows looking in on the master bedroom

Bridge over the River Thame

Punting on the river

Full glory

 ♠ ♣ ♠ ♣ ♠

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments (18)

  1. The photos look terrific,the sepia tone makes the building more atmospheric.What I Iike about the house is that is looks hugely impressive but very livable,owing to what seems like rooms that are not too large.
    Brave you for braving the cold ..!

    1. Thank you! You’re right, the rooms aren’t too large, with the exception of the master bedroom. The interior on the whole does have a rather cavernous feel to it, though. I think it would be easy to feel lonely if stuck there alone for an extended period of time. It’s easy to see why Vivien had people over all the time, I think.

  2. Beautiful photos, Kendra! I always enjoy seeing the various homes of Vivien and Larry through your lens and your very distinctive perspective. Great work as always!


  3. Beautiful photographs of a very special place, Kendra. Thanks for sharing them. Wouldn’t I love to spend a night there with a Ouija board and a kindred spirit or two, talking to Larry and Vivien through the wee hours!

    I wonder if they perform same sex weddings? Vivien would surely approve, and insist that they do so in future if they don’t currently!

    All best,

    1. I’m sure they do perform same sex weddings there – I don’t see why they wouldn’t. They’re a lot more liberal in England then they are in the US when it comes to gay marriage. And I agree, Vivien would totally approve.

  4. I am an American who loves all things British … Beatles, etc. My recent passion has been the books and films of these two giants of acting … Viv and Larry. I just finished “Love Scene” by Jesse Lasky, Jr. – excellent. So I wanted to write an express thanks for the views of Notley as well as the insights provided. Hope to visit there someday!! Thank you so much!

  5. Thank you for this beautiful site! I just discovered it and am thrilled to see the wealth of information and photos you provide here. I have been a devotee of Miss Leigh’s since I first saw GWTW in 1969. I was 14 and it was the first time I had ever seen her. I was completely captivated and remain so today. How remarkable at this late date to discover something like the Skin of Our Teeth here. I didn’t know any performance of it existed on film.
    One question about Notley, who owns the house today and does anyone actually live there? I gather it is used for weddings. Just curious. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! Welcome!

      Notley is owned by a company called Bijou Weddings and, as you guessed, it is a wedding venue. No one lives there anymore.

  6. Thank you, Kendra for all that you share with us, the public. No words can describe the exuberance I feel in somehow reliving the Oliviers’ history through the wonderful things you’ve done & still do ~ the breathtaking photos, etc. May you continue to be able to share your talents and passion for the longest time. God bless you and all your work.

  7. A fascinating glimpse of the Abbey. I stumbled upon this website by accident, and I love it! Thank you for your dedication.

  8. Hi Kendra,

    Lovely /wonderful photos of Notley, I was offered the chance to look around the house by the last owner in the 1990’s, when I put on an exhibition about the OLIVIERS at Notley Abbey in the village library. Sadly I never did take the owner up on her offer, which is SILLY ME really !!

    I always remember Jean Simmons saying to me on the phone in 2000, that when she went for an interview with ‘Larry’ at Notley, for the role of OPHELIA in Hamlet, she passed Vivien gardening near to the front entrance, a small patch of roses. Vivien said nothing, just carried on, head down, as if she was never there.

    Sad to hear about the death of Vivien’s daughter recently, Suzanne Farrington. Did you ever meet her Kendra ?

  9. On September 26th 2003, the late great English playwright Sir Christopher Fry replied to a letter of mine and wrote this gem of a memory/anecdote :

    “I was interested to see you had put on an exhibition about the Olivier’s at Notley Abbey. When my wife and I drove to stay there in 1949 – to talk about Venus Observed, the play I had written for him, he came out to greet us, opened the car door and said ‘What sort of nose do you think the Duke should have?’. His way of imagining a character first of all from appearance.

    Yours sincerely,

    Christopher Fry”

  10. How were you able to view Notley Abbey? I thought it was only open for weddings. Are there times when it is open to the public?

    1. No, it’s not really open to the public. I arranged visits with the owners before showing up to make sure I didn’t intrude on any scheduled events.

  11. Excellent photos! Thank you for sharing beauty of a land I yearn for and hope to one day embrace! I feel Vivien and Larry’s presence even in the photos. Truly a holy place.

%d bloggers like this: