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 started to get a little creaky. Over the winter in 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. We hope you'll come to see all of our work when the tower re-opens on the 17 March.

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
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 started at the beginning of October with a team of four who carefully encased the entire building with 39 tonnes of scaffolding.  The schedule of conservation has taken approximately five months to complete and we'll be re-opening the tower to visitors in March 2018. 

​As part of the works, the entire contents of the first floor have been 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.
Whilst the tower is closed, you can see some of Vita’s most treasured items on display for the first time in our newly opened gate house.

Once the scaffold reached the parapet, experts were able to carry out work all over the tower, both inside and out. On the roof we conserved the masonry and WW2 gun stays and we'll shortly be reinstating the flagpole. We’ve also been 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 have been taken down for repair and now that they are back, they’ll be able to point you in the right wind direction.

We’ve been removing windows too for re-leading and investigating 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
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.