13 August 2016

Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst Castle, Sissinghurst, Kent

In 1930 Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962) and her husband Harold Nicolson (1886–1968) bought Sissinghurst Castle and its extensive surrounding property for £12,375. It was a wreck, with no electricity, tap water, heating or drains. But the couple restored the site remarkably quickly, and as early as 1932 they had achieved a great deal. This was to be their homes for the rest of their lives, and although Vita hated the idea of the castle going to 'Nat Trust or any other foreign body', it was indeed given to The National Trust in 1967, the year before Harold's death, by her younger son Nigel, who had inherited the property and had no option but to get rid of it – and preserve it at the same time – in order to avoid heavy death duties.

The sixteenth century entrance arch, seen here from the top of the Tower, was probably built by Sir Richard Baker.

The Library at the north end of the front range also served as a sitting room, and Vita called it the Big Room. It is redolent of Knole, Vita's birthplace which she didn't inherit, but appears to reflect a sense of continuity.

The painting of a very young Vita, now above the fireplace in the Library, was never there in her lifetime because she hated it. Philip de Laszlo is the painter.

Richard Baker, who was Sir John's wildly ostentatious son, urged Queen Elizabeth I to come to Sissinghurst, which she did for a few days, and knighted him a few days later. All a world away from Vita and Harold's lives, of course.

'Here lived
V. SACKVILLE-WEST
who made this garden
Born at Knole 9 March 1892
Died at Sissinghurst 2 June 1962'

Harold Nicolson of course also played no small part in the gardens. Photography (very oddly now that the NT seems to have relented on many (off-flash) photos) is not allowed within the tower, where there is the famous painting of Vita's great lover Violet Trefusis, and a reproduction of the poem 'Sissinghurst', which Harold thought was her best, and which Vita dedicated to her former lover Virginia Woolf.

One of the two tower peaks.

A partial view of the gardens as seen from the tower.

The Priest's House.

South Cottage, with the Tower in the background.

The Gazebo, used by Nigel Nicolson to write in and as a memorial.

'This
pavilion was
built in 1969 by
his sons in memory of
HAROLD NICOLSON
author, diplomatist and
Member of Parliament:
Sissinghurst was his
home from 1930
until his death
in 1968.'

The boathouse was also an idea Nigle Nicolson's, and was built in 2002.

The oast houses within the grounds, just outside the main centre of interest.

My other Nicolson-related post

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Nicolsons in Sissinghurst Cemetery

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