In the library at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The Long Library at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

This April saw the return of the Chinese lacquer cabinet to our library. Since September the cabinet has undergone extensive conservation work which was all funded by the raffle tickets that we sold here last year. The work was undertaken by Tankerdale Ltd. who are expert furniture conservators.

The return of the lacquer cabinet

The cabinet dates back to around 1700 and is made from a very rare wood which is similar to ebony called coromandel, natively from India and Sri Lanka. Conservation work was needed, as the surface lacquer had become very fragile and the varnish discoloured. The decoration around the cabinet shows a palace, flowers, birds and a rolling horse, with brass handles to aid with carrying.  

The painstaking work carried out at Tankerdale included removing varnish, fixing loose lacquer and filling in tiny hairline cracks. A Shimbari frame and long dowels of fibre glass or wood applied localised pressure over the piece of Perspex which is flattening out the flake of loose veneer.

Conservation work taking place on our lacquer cabinet
Conservation work taking place on our lacquer cabinet

We do not know exactly when the cabinet originally arrived at Sissinghurst, however, there are photographs of one very similar to this, at Vita Sackville-West’s childhood home of Knole in Sevenoaks. There are other pieces of the collection which came originally from Knole, such as the ebony wigstands and the pair of mirrors, both on display in the Library.

Raffle ticket sales have been used to fund other conservation on site, including the refurbishment of the Minerva platen printing press, which is on the second floor of the Tower. Affectionately known as the Hogarth Press, it is thought to have been a housewarming present to Vita and Harold from Virginia Woolf, and her husband Leonard, who ran the Hogarth Press publishing house, for which Vita was a best selling author.