Discover the Long Library at Sissinghurst

Roses climbing the walls at Sissinghurst

The Long Library was completed in spring 1935, five years after Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson bought Sissinghurst. The building had once been a stables and saddle room for the estate, and they nicknamed it ‘The Big Room’. It was used as a library to house almost 4,000 books, and as a drawing room for entertaining guests, including the writer Virginia Woolf, politician Sir Winston Churchill and the artist Rex Whistler.

Visiting the Long Library

The Long Library has reopened after 6 months of the doors being closed and the collection under dust covers. We have made changes to the Long Library to make it safe for your visit:

  • Visitors will be asked to wear a face covering in the Library
  • A maximum of 8 people allowed in the Library 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
  • We will be regularly cleaning
  • We have replaced hand-held room guides with text panels
  • We are following National Trust and Government guidance carefully, but if something isn’t working we will react quickly

 

How the room took shape

Vita and Harold transformed the room by adding a large window, building a stone fireplace using fragments of the Elizabethan ruin found in the garden, and panelling the walls in dark oak. You can see echoes of Vita’s grand childhood home at Knole, near Sevenoaks, everywhere. Vita was the only child of Lord Sackville, and after his death she was unable to inherit her beloved home because the tradition at that time was for the house must pass down the male line of the family.

The Long Library at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The richly wooden panelled library at Sissinghurst
The Long Library at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Despite the best efforts of their architect, Albert Powys, this room was never seen as a great success. Harold and Vita often worked and travelled separately, writing to each other with progress reports on the house and garden at Sissinghurst.

" ...it [The Long Library] will always have the feeling of a hospital ward in some Turkish barracks. "
- Harold writing to Vita, Spring 1930

Highlights to look out for on your visit

French Prisoners of War at Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst has a long and not always happy history. During the global conflict of the Seven Years War (1756- 1763) as many as 3,000 French men were imprisoned at what they nicknamed ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ in appalling conditions. This ink and dye painting reveals how the buildings looked in about 1760 and the brutal treatment of the prisoners.

An ink and dye painting c1760 showing how the buildings at Sissinghurst once looked
An ink and dye painting showing how the buildings at Sissinghurst looked in about 1760
An ink and dye painting c1760 showing how the buildings at Sissinghurst once looked

Philip de László’s portrait of Vita in 1909

Vita was just sixteen when her mother persuaded her to sit for this portrait dressed in feminine Edwardian fashions. She hated the painting and during her lifetime it was never on display. Clothes fascinated Vita and she used them to explore her identity, sometimes wearing things typically thought of a masculine. At Sissinghurst her favourite outfit included practical trousers and knee-high boots.

Portrait of Vita Sackville West by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos
Vita Sackville West in dark, Edwardian costume with a large brimmed hat
Portrait of Vita Sackville West by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos

The Painted Cupboard

Vita and Harold married in 1913. She wore a gold dress and the ceremony was in the small chapel at Vita’s beloved family home at Knole. Their wedding presents reflected their wealthy social circle and this painted cupboard was a gift from Sir Louis Mallet who Harold worked with as a diplomat in Istanbul. The cupboard is thought to have been made in Italy in around 1750.

Painted wooden cupboard in the Long Library at Sissinghurst
Painted wooden cupboard in the Long Library at Sissinghurst
Painted wooden cupboard in the Long Library at Sissinghurst

Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset

This imposing painting shows Vita’s ancestor who married Cecily Baker of Sissinghurst in the sixteenth century. In April 1930 Harold wrote to Vita after seeing Sissinghurst for the first time and he was convinced they should buy it as there was a family connection for her. The oil painting was bought by Vita and Harold’s art historian son, Benedict, to be displayed at Sissinghurst.