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Vita: Discover a story of love and life at Knole

Logo for Vita: Discover a story of love and life at Knole
Vita: Discover a story of love and life at Knole | © National Trust

This year at Knole, discover the story of Vita Sackville-West’s life at Knole through to her wedding and bittersweet departure in 1913.

Black and white photo of Vita Sackville-West aged two
Photo of Vita Sackville-West aged two | © National Trust

This season Knole is celebrating Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), her loves and life at Knole through objects within the collections of Knole, Sissinghurst Castle and Smallhythe Place, loans from Sevenoaks Museum and through the work of contemporary artists.

Vita Sackville-West was born at Knole and lived here as a child until her marriage to Harold Nicolson. Vita was passionate about Knole; it inspired not only her life but also the themes and style of her writing. Her inability to inherit Knole meant that after her wedding in October 1913 she was forced to leave her family home. This story will be brought to life around you with a new multi-media tour guiding you through key moments in Vita’s life.

In the showrooms

This is an opportunity to see objects from two of Vita’s homes - Knole and Sissinghurst Castle - brought together. Explore the Great Hall, where the table will show a collection of wedding presents that were gifted to Vita and Harold alongside a marriage album assembled by Vita herself. The album contains photographs and newspaper clippings relating to her engagement and marriage to Harold Nicolson, and is annotated with captions in her own hand. A portrait of Vita by Philip de László, usually found in the Long Library at Sissinghurst, will also be on display in the Great Hall.

Black and white photo of marriage of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson at chapel at Knole , Kent
Marriage of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson at chapel at Knole , Kent | © National Trust

This is a rare chance to see the original manuscript of Orlando by Virginia Woolf, which is on show in the Ballroom. The novel is inspired by Vita Sackville-West, who could not inherit Knole because she was a woman. In the novel, Woolf describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex and lives for centuries. This manuscript was presented to Vita by Virginia in 1928. Described by Vita’s son Nigel Nicolson as ‘the longest and most charming love-letter in literature,’ her family chose to give this precious manuscript to Knole, perhaps to bring something of Vita back to the place she loved so much. The Orlando manuscript is one of the most fragile pieces in Knole’s collection. The ink used by Woolf to annotate her work is vulnerable to fading when exposed to light so is rarely on public display.

In the Cartoon Gallery a copy of Chatterton, the first work that Vita Sackville-West published, is displayed. Subtitled ‘A Drama in Three Acts’, in 1909 Vita paid for 100 copies to be printed.

Delicarta, ‘bringing paper to life’

In the showrooms you'll find delicately detailed paper sculpture recreations of the dress worn by Vita at her wedding, as well as the outfits worn by other members of the wedding party. The mannequins are designed and created by artist Denise Watson, of Delicarta, 'bringing paper to life'.

'Ruffles'

Continue Vita’s journey around Knole and see the contemporary art installation in the Orangery by artist Lorna Johnson. 150 hand sewn ruffles will symbolise strong female figures who ruffled feathers to move society forward, just like Vita Sackville-West. The piece is accompanied by a scent inspired by Vita’s gardens, incorporating rose, violet, iris and sweet pea.

Photo of Vita Sackville-West in the Ballroom at Knole in her wedding dress
Vita Sackville-West in the Ballroom at Knole in her wedding dress | © National Trust

Events

Vita at home: Knole and Sissinghurst - A talk with Robert Sackville-West
Sorry, this event has sold out

Robert Sackville-West will give a talk on Vita Sackville-West and 'a sense of place', guiding us through Vita's life at her various homes, including Knole, Long Barn and Sissinghurst. Booking essential.

Exploring patterns - A linocut workshop with Rachel Moore
Mon 13 May | 10.30am-4.30pm | £75

This linocut workshop will be led by Rachel Moore, a professional Kent-based artist and printmaker. It includes an introduction to the linocut process and learning methods for creating repeat patterns, a self-guided visit to Knole's showrooms and Vita installation for ideas and inspiration, turning your sketches into a final composition, transfer techniques, carving, inking and hand-printing. Booking essential.

Floral watercolour workshop with Suzanne Abraham
Tue 11 Jun | 10.30am-3.30pm | £60

Artist Suzanne Abraham will guide you through the basics of watercolour techniques to create vibrant studies of flowers. You'll learn the art of observing and translating the impression of what you see onto paper, resulting in creating your own floral painting using the techniques learnt. Booking essential.

Screen printing workshop with Rachel Moore
Mon 2 Sep | 10.30am-4.30pm | £75

Using the grounds and architecture of Knole as inspiration, in this workshop led by artist Rachel Moore you'll work your design into a stencil to screen print onto fabric then overlay with monotypes using Gelli plates. Booking essential.

In Vita's footsteps: A writing workshop with Charlie Bell
Sat 5 Oct | 10.30am-2.30pm | £65

This workshop aims to inspire you to write a response to Knole in whatever way you wish: prose, poetry, diary entries, blogs, a play - it’s up to you. Using a series of guided exercises and free writing time, you'll generate some original pieces, and share them if you wish. All writers are welcome, either novice or experienced. Booking essential.

Book Club at Knole

To recognise and celebrate the literary history of Knole, we will be hosting a new bi-monthly book club. This year as we celebrate Vita Sackville-West with 'Vita - Discover a story of life and love at Knole', the focus will be on titles relating to the Bloomsbury Group with books by Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf included.

Thu 28 Mar - All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
Thu 16 May - A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson
Thu 11 Jul - The Crichel Boys by Simon Fenwick
Thu 12 Sep - Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Thu 14 Nov - Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Book club members will receive 20% discount if they buy the chosen titles from the Bookshop at Knole. You will receive information on how to redeem this discount once you have booked your space. Please bring your own copy of the book to each meeting.

This is a free event but booking is essential as spaces are limited.

Portrait of Victoria (Vita) Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos
Article
Article

Who was Vita Sackville-West? 

Discover the life of prolific writer and passionate gardener Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst Castle Garden. 

Portrait of Victoria (Vita) Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson by Philip Alexius de László de Lombos
Article
Article

Vita Sackville-West and Knole 

Discover Vita Sackville-West's connection to Knole; her colourful life and her literary legacy as a poet, novelist, gardener, biographer and journalist.

Bust of Virginia Woolf in the garden of Monk's House, East Sussex
Article
Article

Who was Virginia Woolf? 

The author Virginia Woolf was a leading figure of the Bloomsbury movement in the early 20th century. Read about how her life was shaped by her unconventional approach to gender and sexuality.

The Garden Orchard at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in April
Place
Place

Sissinghurst Castle Garden 

Historic, poetic, iconic: a refuge dedicated to beauty. Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson fell in love with Sissinghurst Castle and created a world-renowned garden.

near Cranbrook, Kent

Fully open today
View of the cottage over the garden, full of white and yellow flowers, at Monk's House, East Sussex
Place
Place

Monk's House 

Leonard and Virginia Woolf's 17th-century country retreat

Lewes, East Sussex

Closed now