Speak Its Name! In partnership with the National Portrait Gallery at Sissinghurst

Radclyffe Hall by Howard Coster, 1932

To mark 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England, we are commemorating this significant step on the road to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. As part of the National Trust’s ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme, a new display, Speak its Name!, has been created in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London, drawing on portraits in their collection.

The display focuses on the lives of husband and wife, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, and their contemporaries. The couple had a happy and loving marriage while also engaging in same sex, extra marital affairs, both before and after they moved to Sissinghurst in 1930.

Their relationships challenged societal norms which influenced them both creatively, and Vita's relationship with Virginia Woolf inspired much of her writing. 

Speak its Name! includes portraits of Vita’s female lovers, Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf, alongside others of the couple’s artistic and literary contemporaries, including Duncan Grant and Lytton Strachey. Accompanying these photographs and drawings are quotations by some of the sitters, relating an aspect of their own personal experiences, in their own words.

The display highlights a number of prominent creative thinkers from the past and present, whose modern attitudes towards freedom of expression and sexuality exerted an important influence on literature and the arts.

Items from Sissinghurst’s own collection also feature in the display, including a copy of ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall, a book with a lesbian protagonist that was deemed ‘obscene’ by a British judge when it was released in 1928, and pictures of Nicolson and Woolf which once belonged to Vita.

A view of Vita's writing room
A view of Vita's writing room
A view of Vita's writing room

Speak its Name! can be seen in the oast house at from 9 September until 29 October, entry to the exhibition is free, normal admission applies.