Tower conservation at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst in Autumn

The iconic Elizabethan tower in the heart of the garden sees approximately 200,000 pairs of feet per year pass up and down its wooden spiral staircase. It’s no wonder then that it has started to get a little creaky. From October 2017, we’ll be closing the tower to embark on a six month conservation project to repair, conserve and protect it for future generations to enjoy.

With its far reaching views across the Wealden landscape, the tower has seen many changes since it was built in the 1570s, sitting proudly in the middle of the garden that Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson created together.

The tower has been a prison for French naval officers during the Seven Years War, used as a look out post during World War Two and the private sanctuary and writing room for Vita, who was drawn to the ruins and tower when purchasing Sissinghurst in 1930.

The view from the tower in 1932
The view from the tower in 1932

Sissinghurst welcomes almost 200,000 visitors a year; this number of feet climbing the 78 steps to the roof can take its toll on the fabric of a building.  Our conservation work will start at the beginning of October and will begin with a team of four who’ll intricately encase the entire building with 39 tonnes of scaffolding.  The schedule of conservation will take approximately five months to complete, some of which has never been carried out before. 

​As part of the works, the entire contents of the first floor will be removed including 2700 books, large paintings, reams of writing paper and small everyday items Vita left in situ on her desk on her death in 1962.
We’ll be taking the opportunity to put some of Vita’s most treasured items on display for the first time in our newly opened gate house from November so that our visitors can take a closer look. 

Once the scaffold reaches the parapet, experts will be able to carry out work all over the tower, both inside and out. On the roof we’ll conserve the masonry and WW2 gun stays and reinstate the flagpole. We’ll also be able to look at the structure itself, the stairs, roof and even investigate what the different layers of paint in the rooms below can tell us.

The weathervanes will be taken down for repair and when they return, they’ll be able to point you in the right wind direction.

We’ll remove windows too for re-leading and investigate our archaeology and the graffiti left by French prisoners of war in the 1760s.

The Tower in Winter at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The Tower in Winter at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

We know that the work may impact your visit, but hope that by sharing this huge project and the important work that the National Trust does in preserving buildings and collections, you will be able to see some of our collection that you wouldn't have seen before and notice the changes to the tower when you return, meaning it can stand proudly for another 500 years.

Volunteers will be on hand throughout the project to answer questions and if buildings are your thing and you would like to be involved in interpreting this project for our visitors, please get in touch.