Discover South Cottage
The South Cottage is a peaceful, intimate space converted in the early 1930s from the ruins of Sissinghurst’s Elizabethan manor house. The garden was an extension of the house which connected different domestic spaces.
A fragmented home
South Cottage is one piece of the jigsaw of buildings which Vita Sackville-West, Harold Nicolson and their sons Benedict and Nigel made their home. Vita would wake in her bedroom in the South Cottage, share breakfast with her sons over in the Priest House, spend the day in her Tower Writing Room before walking over for dinner with guests in the Long Library.
Opening up our buildings
We are planning to gradually reopen our buildings once we feel it is safe to do so. The Long Library and South Cottage are open with restrictions in place to make them safe for your visit:
- Visitors will be asked to wear a face covering in our buildings
- We will no longer be offering guided tours of the South Cottage
- A maximum of 8 people allowed in the Library or South Cottage at any one time
- On entry, visitors will be asked to apply the hand sanitiser provided
- We will be securely collecting personal details as part of the track & trace scheme
- There will be a strict one-way loop in the Library and South Cottage
- We will be regularly cleaning
- We have replaced hand-held room guides with text panels
The Sitting Room and Harold’s Book Room
This was Harold Nicolson’s sanctuary at Sissinghurst. While Vita preferred to work in her romantic rose-covered Tower Writing Room, Harold had a more comfortable and practical space. Surrounded by around 3000 books he wrote 30 books of his own including novels, biographies and political commentary.
The Flower Room
This room was where the messy garden work happened. It was a place for flowerpots, muddy boots and struggling plants that Vita brought in from the garden to be revived. Some were beyond help and their plant labels were added to the ‘box of the dead’.
Both Vita and Harold were amateur gardeners and their confidence and imagination flourished along with the garden. Achieving their vision meant collaborating with a team of local gardeners, consulting gardening books and taking advice from knowledgeable friends such as the garden writer William Robinson.
Seven years after they bought Sissinghurst in 1930, Harold wrote to Vita about the garden’s success:
" … never has Sissinghurst looked more lovely… Farley [the gardener] has made it look like a gentleman’s garden, and you with your extraordinary taste have made it look like nobody’s garden but your own. I think the secret of your gardening is simply that you have the courage to abolish ugly or unsuccessful flowers."
Along with the Flower Room, Harold’s bedroom was added in 1932. With two windows Harold had views of his beloved garden and of the Tower where Vita spent much of her day. From this window he would check whether the lights were still on in the Tower in the evenings as this meant Vita was still writing. Harold’s bedroom was originally covered in Chinese wallpaper which has sadly been lost over time however fortunately one piece remains in the South Cottage.
This atmospheric space is one of the oldest parts of the house. When Vita and Harold commissioned builders H. C Punnett to make this cold draughty room liveable in the 1930s Vita was delighted that they uncovered a huge Tudor fireplace and she insisted that the bricks, ‘half-pink half-grey’, were left exposed. The room is filled with gifts from friends and lovers, souvenirs from travels and items from her grand childhood home at Knole. The bedframe is from her childhood bedroom at Knole.