The Olivier family in St John's Wood - various connections

Herbert Olivier(1861-1952)

was the first Olivier to live in St John’s Wood.   An artist, his painting Passion Flower  was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883 with his address  at No. 28 Finchley Road on the stretcher.   No 28 was part of Devonshire Villa, once lived in by poet Thomas Hood ,  which was one of the houses built on land  owned by the Metropolitan and St Johns Wood Railway Co. but sold after the Marlborough Road station was built in 1868. By the 1911 Census,  he was living at Marlborough Road with 2 servants.  Later Herbert also owned a villa by the sea at La Mortola,  in Italy where he was visited in January 1923 by his niece Brynhilde, her mother, two children and a baby.

Evelyn Louise Nicholson née Olivier, ( 1867- 1927)

was his sister.  On 1 October 1895, she married Charles Archibald Nicholson, the son of Sir Charles Nicholson, 1st Baronet. Upon the death of Sir Charles in 1903, Charles Archibald succeeded to the baronetcy. The 1st Baronet had been born in England but went to Australia  in 1834, and stayed there until 1865, becoming wealthy and influential. The young couple went on honeymoon to Australia in 1897 and Evelyn kept a diary in which she described the places, the people and the flora and fauna which she encountered along the way. She and her husband made many watercolour sketches of the scenery, and their son John bequeathed them and the diary  to Sydney University, in 1988.

Sir Sydney Olivier (1859 – 1943)1st Baron Olivier , KCMG, CB, PC.

He was the brother of Herbert and Evelyn,  a British civil servant, a Fabian and member of the Labour party. He had been colonial secretary in Jamaica in 1903  and in 1907, following a devastating earthquake there he returned to the colony as Governor.  He quickly re-established order,  and his reforms of the Colony’s government proved to be very popular.  He served in this post until 1913 then returned to England permanently,  eventually living in Marlborough Place in St John’s Wood,  serving as  Permanent Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries for four years, then as assistant comptroller and auditor of the Exchequer from 1917 until 1920, when he retired from the Civil Service to devote himself to philosophical and political study.

He  was the father of 4 beautiful daughters:

Hon. Margery (1886–1974)

Hon. Brynhild (1887–1935)

Hon. Daphne (1889–1950)

Hon. Noel (1893–1969)

They were prominent in the Cambridge and Bloomsbury social circles around the young poet, Rupert Brooke  and in the group  dubbed the Neo-Pagans. They had a carefree childhood living partly in Jamaica, and partly in England.   Margery, after being at University, developed mental problems, and was institutionalised in 1922. Daphne married and ran a Steiner school .

Brynhild married first Hugh Popham and then  Raymond Sherrard. She was unusual at the time as an upper class woman who  tried to bring up her baby without a nurse .

Noel  first met the poet Rupert Brooke at a supper party in May 1907, prior to a meeting of the   Cambridge Fabians  which her father had been invited to address when she was fifteen and Brooke  was twenty. He was captivated by the shy intelligent schoolgirl and began to bombard her with letters, initiating a correspondence that was to last until his death in 1915.  Some of Brooke’s early poems, such as The Hill, were written about and for his first love.


Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, “Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old.…” “And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,” said I,
—“Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!”
“We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!”… Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
—And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.


Noel lived with her parents and sisters and housekeeper at 19 Marlborough Road (now Place) on the corner  of Loudoun Rd.  In a letter to Rupert she wrote:  The family) wanted to go to all sorts of awful places  – even such holes as Hampstead and Bloomsbury were thought of, but I managed to persuade them —how dreary those parts would be to live in – now the choice lies between houses in SJW which I am very keen on and one or two more or less horrid flats in Marylebone.

She felt that living in St  John’s Wood seemed  like  a paradise living in between a garden overhung with apples and grapes and mulberries hung over the wall within picking distance and she told Rupert we three aunts live in the attics and work.  Her romance  with Brooke came to an end and he went on a voyage to the South Seas, coming back to England in June 1914 , and they happened to bump into each other at the theatre in the October. This was their last meeting as Rupert died in the Mediterranean on the way to fight in the Near East.   Noel qualified as a doctor in 1917 and went on to be a paediatrician. She married fellow doctor Arthur Richards and had a successful career as a specialist in Harley Street  as well as being mother to five children between 1924 to 1940 (Benedict, Angela, Virginia, Tazza and Julia}

Gerard Olivier

He was the brother of Sidney and Herbert, a priest and father of  David and actor Laurence .

Laurence Olivier  (1907-1989)Vivien Leigh(1913 – 1967)

Laurence married actress Jill Esmond (  1908 -1990) in 1930  and their son  Tarquin  was born in 1936 .  The marriage was  a disaster from the start and In 1936 Laurence fell in love with actress Vivien Leigh and In 1940 managed to persuade Jill to divorce him.   Vivien had previously married Leigh Holman in  December 1932 and started married life in his bachelor pad  at Eyre Court  near St John’s Wood station. She and Leigh had a daughter Suzanne before she left him in 1936 and later married Laurence.  This marriage later ended in divorce and Laurence married Joan Plowright , Jill and Tarquin lived at 31 Queens Grove  in St Johns Wood and  in 1989 Jill attended the  memorial service  for Laurence in Westminster Abbey, by which time he had received  a peerage and the Order of Merit.


This page was added on 13/02/2021.

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