Vita's private wedding trousseau goes public

Vita's wedding skirt revealed for the first time © National Trust / Tim Stubbings

Vita's wedding skirt revealed for the first time

Latest update 30.04.2013 12:40

On Wednesday 1 May, two new exhibitions open at Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent, revealing part of Vita Sackville-West’s wedding trousseau for the first time and a never-seen-before poem to one of her female lovers.

This year marks two key anniversaries for Sissinghurst Castle:

  • the 100th wedding anniversary of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
  • and 75 years of their world-famous garden at Sissinghurst being open to the public

To celebrate, Sissinghurst has opened two new exhibitions. The larger of the two, in the oast, tells the story of the couple’s wedding and famously unorthodox marriage. The second, in the tower, focuses on the creation of their now world-renowned garden from almost nothing.

The wedding and marriage exhibition displays Vita’s gold silk wedding skirt and a unique honeymoon gown made by Fortuny. It also features a newly discovered poem written by Vita to one of her lovers, Violet Trefusis.

Other items on show include wedding gifts, diary extracts, intimately annotated books, drawings, letters, audio recordings, photographs and press cuttings.

The wedding skirt

The wedding skirt was part of an elaborate outfit made by dressmaker, Reville and Rossiter. It was known at the time as ‘The Golden Wedding Dress’ and thought to be at the height of fashion.

Reville and Rossiter was one of London's leading dressmakers, which made garments for the royal family and a wealthy and aristocratic clientèle.

In 1910 the company was appointed court dressmaker to Queen Mary and the following year it made the Queen's coronation robe.

Ellen Browne, house steward at Sissinghurst, says: 'No one knows what happened to the rest of the wedding outfit – this skirt is literally the last trace of this magnificent gown.'

The honeymoon gown

The other part of Vita’s trousseau on display is a Fortuny gown, bought for her honeymoon and also not exhibited in public before.

Mary Reeves, a volunteer at Sissinghurst Castle who has been carrying out research for the exhibitions says: 'It’s incredibly rare to have a Fortuny garment with its label and a full provenance history. Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was and still is a much-admired designer.

'But what’s most exciting, and intriguing, is that we have been in touch with a range of experts and no one can identify the motif on the gown, suggesting it is very rare and unique indeed.'

The poem

In contrast to the wedding memorabilia, another never-seen-before item will reveal the more unconventional side of the couple’s marriage – a love poem, written by Vita to her lover Violet Trefusis.

The discovery was made in February this year by Harvey James, cataloguer at Sissinghurst Castle. He says: 'It just fell out from between the pages of an old book that was being catalogued as part of our conservation work. It’s a really poignant reminder of the challenges and crises that Vita and Harold’s relationship endured.'

The garden

The more intimate, garden exhibition will be housed in the small tower rooms and you're advised to come early or late in the day to avoid missing it. It will include photographs, plans and drawings of the garden and some of Vita’s tools marked with her initials. It will show how the couple created this now world-famous garden from almost nothing and how it went on to be enjoyed by the public.