The gazebo at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The unique building perched on the corner of Sissinghurst’s moat was built in 1969 by Nigel Nicolson and his brother Benedict as a memorial to their father, Harold Nicolson. Following recent conservation work to address damp - and other issues - the building has emerged from underneath impressive and creative scaffolding to welcome visitors once more.
The Gazebo was Nigel Nicolson's private summer office – but it was also an office admired by the thousands of visitors to Sissinghurst’s garden. They remember him sitting at his desk with the door open, giving bread to children so that they could feed the birds on the moat. Today visitors stumble upon the Gazebo, discovering the desk at which Nigel wrote his most famous work, Portrait of a Marriage (1973), and taking in the view which inspired him.
This small and quiet building was designed by the architect Francis Pym and Nigel noted during construction that it was exactly the same dimensions as the Apollo 11 lunar module, which had captivated the world in the same year. It is the desk which forms the focal point of the room and images of it cluttered with working papers, books, and a distinctive typewriter have provided inspiration in its presentation. Above the desk unfolds an extraordinary view over the Weald of Kent, which had been Nigel’s favourite since childhood. As a result the Gazebo is private and without windows on the garden side but completely open onto the view across the moat.
The Gazebo contained a working library and its shelves were - and are - overflowing with books. An entire shelf was devoted to Jane Austen, which must have been assembled as Nigel worked on another book, The World of Jane Austen (1991). Books also included works on the history and archaeology of Kent, together with a number on Ordnance Survey maps, in which Nigel was particularly interested. Where possible we have purchased and replaced books in exactly the same edition as those that Nigel owned and visitors are now able to explore these shelves.
The project to conserve and open the Gazebo has captured the imagination of the entire team at Sissinghurst. It is a space which will continue grow and develop over time – in the organic way a writing room does and should. Books will continue to be found and added by the property team and memories will be collected and shared.
One of the most moving of these is captured in a letter from Nigel to a visitor to his Gazebo in 2002 as he notes that “an open door means open to everybody, and I was very happy to welcome you and your family. Come again.”