Exploring the buildings at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Visit the Tower, South Cottage and Long Library, some of the few remaining buildings at Sissinghurst Castle Garden that Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson lived and worked in. Explore their writing retreats, entertaining spaces and viewpoints from which they designed and renovated the garden surrounding them.
The Re-opening of Vita Sackville-West’s Writing Room
As of February 2023, we are proud to announce that the complex conservation work on Vita's Writing Room is complete and visitors can once again view the magnificent space from the Tower stairwell.
Vita’s Writing Room offers a glimpse of her internal intellectual life. Almost 4,000 books line the walls, arranged by theme from astronomy to Renaissance poetry to 1930s gender theory and on to practical gardening advice.
Vita worked at her heavy oak desk, which has remained almost unchanged since she left it in 1962, complete with a large Mexican bowl full of soil samples, ballpoint pens, a chewed cigarette holder and a pocket calendar with photographs of Alsatian dogs.
The Writing Room is a fragile time capsule of a life with even the carpet original to Vita’s time.
Climbing the 78 steps to the top of the Tower is a remarkable way to start a visit. From the parapets the structure of Vita and Harold’s garden, with its distinctive rooms, is visible and there is a hint of the full scale of Sissinghurst’s Elizabethan manor house.
Must-sees in the Tower, from Regional Curator Dr Jerzy J Kierkuc-Bielinski:
A hidden treasure The mysterious case of the Gladstone bag. All good castles should have a story about a hidden treasure, locked away in a tower out of sight until one day it is discovered by chance. One of the most fascinating objects is a rather old and battered leather case. It was found locked in a corner of the turret room in the Tower. It contained something of value – but what?
Naked Boy on a Tiger In 2019 we undertook conservation on this painting – a work showing a naked child seated on the back of a tiger and found out that this painting was something rather special. It was, in fact, a very early copy based on a detail of one of the most important works of art ever painted in Britain – Sir Peter Paul Rubens' 1636 ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London.
Sir John Lavery’s Portrait of Violet Keppel, Mrs Denys Trefusis The liveliness of this portrait is captivating and made me want to know more about the life of the woman in the painting. The portrait did not belong to Vita – yet why is it now displayed in Vita’s Writing Room? What linked Vita and Violet and what impact did they have on each others’ lives and writing?
The Long Library
Completed in spring 1935, the library had once been a stables and saddle room, and Vita and Harold nicknamed it ‘The Big Room’. It was used to house almost 4,000 books and as a drawing room for entertaining guests, including the writer Virginia Woolf, politician Sir Winston Churchill and artist Rex Whistler.
Vita and Harold transformed the room by adding a large window, building a stone fireplace using fragments of the Elizabethan ruin found in the garden, and panelling the walls in dark oak. You can see echoes of Vita’s grand childhood home at Knole everywhere.
Highlights to look out for in the library:
Regional curator’s must-see: Philip de László’s portrait of Vita in 1910 This image of Vita is especially stylish. It was painted when she was aged 18 to mark her ‘coming out’ into society as a young woman. Vita’s mother specifically chose de László as he was the society painter at the time.
French prisoners of war at Sissinghurst Castle During the global conflict of the Seven Years War (1756–1763) as many as 3,000 French men were imprisoned in appalling conditions at what they nicknamed ‘Sissinghurst Castle’. An ink and dye painting reveals how the buildings looked in about 1760, and the brutal treatment of the prisoners.
The painted cupboard Vita and Harold married in 1913. Their wedding presents reflected their wealthy social circle and this painted cupboard, thought to be made in Italy around 1750, was a gift from Sir Louis Mallet who Harold worked with as a diplomat in Istanbul.
Portrait of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset This imposing painting shows Vita’s ancestor who married Cecily Baker of Sissinghurst in the 16th century. In April 1930 Harold wrote to Vita after seeing Sissinghurst for the first time and he was convinced they should buy it as there was a family connection for her. The oil painting was bought by Vita and Harold’s art historian son, Benedict, to be displayed at Sissinghurst.
The South Cottage
The South Cottage is a peaceful, intimate space converted in the early 1930s from the ruins of Sissinghurst’s Elizabethan manor house. This atmospheric house sits in the middle of the garden as a retreat away from the world.
A seeming island amid a sea of flowers, the cottage is in fact part of a wider, ‘village-house’, and Vita, Harold and their sons Nigel and Benedict lived between the cottage, the Priest’s House and the front range, with the garden knitting these buildings together.
The cottage was the place where Harold worked, writing in his book room overlooking the sunset colours of the Cottage Garden, and where Vita tended sick plants in the flower room, before crossing the garden to her own writing room in the Tower.
Harold’s bedroom has views of his beloved garden and of the Tower where Vita spent much of her day. It was originally covered in Chinese wallpaper which has sadly been lost over time. Fortunately, one piece remains in the South Cottage.
Vita’s bedroom is one of the oldest parts of the house. The room is filled with gifts from friends and lovers, souvenirs from travels and items from her grand childhood home at Knole, including the bedframe.
Visiting the South Cottage
Daily tours are available in South Cottage, led by our wonderful and knowledgeable volunteer stewards. Here you can dive into the living quarters of Vita and Harold, stand where they stood, and learn about how they lived their lives.
Please note that the Cottage is open subject to volunteer availability on the day. While we strive for all our areas on site to be open for our visitors, this unfortunately is not always the case. We thank our visitors and supporters for their understanding during these times.
Please enquire at Visitor Reception as to the opening times of the Cottage on the day of your visit, our team will be more than happy to help with any questions.
A Persian Paradise: a new immersive exhibition exploring the artistic significance of Vita and Harold's trips to 1920s Iran.
From castle to prison, working farm to world-renowned garden, Sissinghurst's past is nothing but varied and each of its incarnations have added to its story.
Historic buildings are a treasure trove of stories, art and collections. Learn more about what makes these places so special and plan your visit.