Here looking at the main section of the house, the Long Library is to the left, and the Main House is to the right.
From 1915 to 1930, Vita Sackville-West, poet, and her husband, Harold Nicholson, diplomat, lived at Long Barn in Sevenoaks, after the family had been forced to leave Knole, her family home, when Vita was not able to inherit the family estate because she was a woman.
In 1930 they bought the ruins and the farm around Sissinghurst Castle. The Nicolson’s must have had a good imagination and wanted something that would keep them busy for years, because Sissinghurst had had a long and colorful past, but by 1930 the buildings were all dilapidated and the grounds one massive field of weeds!
This is what I learned about Sissinghurst………
In 1235, the manor belonged to John de Saxingherste, a gentleman farmer. The house was protected by a moat, which provided the family with fish. This moat still exists on two sides of the orchard. By 1530 the manor was sold to John Baker of Cranbrook, a very wealthy man during the reign of King Henry VIII. The house was expanded and a entrance gateway was built. In 1560, son Richard, built a new house on the site around three courtyards with a Prospect Tower at the center. A smaller house to the north, known as the Priest’s House, was originally a banqueting house and later housed their priest.
By 1730 Sir John Baker died, leaving four daughters and as there were no men descendants left, the estate was sold to Horace Mann, who never lived there, but leased the property to the government to be used as a prison, during the Seven Year’s War. French Naval officers were housed in the tower and some of the graffiti of sailing ships, names, and dates still remain there. The three thousand prisoners referred to their prison as Chateau de Sissinghurst, and the name stuck. By the end of the war the sailors had destroyed the property; trashing, burning and looting the fine architectural details from fireplaces, doorways and windows.
In 1796, the parish of Cranbrook took over the lease, creating a poor house here where one hundred men were offered housing, employment and food. A devastating fire in the 1800’s destroyed the manor so badly that even the foundations of the house, that stood in the orchard, were picked up and carted away.
Here is a Map of the property after many years of work by the Nicholson’s. It gives you an idea of what was left on the property and how they mapped out the gardens. They lived in the smaller Priest House and the South Cottage, while re-building the remaining section of the gated wall, and set out to transform it into the beautiful house and garden it is today. In 1967 The National Trust took over Sissinghurst, the gardens, farm and buildings. Today it is one of the most popular manors owned by the National Trust. Tomorrow we’ll take a close up look at the gardens and how they developed over the years at Sissinghurst. Now let’s look at the buildings on the property of Sissinghurst Castle.
The Tower became Vita’s “Room of Her Own”, where she went daily to write for three hours. The rest of the day was spent working in her gardens. Here are some views of her room and the views she had when writing.
The rooftop shown in the picture above is the Priest’s House, now a B&B on the National Trust Property at Sissinghurst. Wouldn’t be great to stay in this garden?
Here is the South Cottage Farmhouse, another B&B on the property at Sissinghurst. It is a much larger property, in case you need more room!
Here are the Oasts, so we know this was a working farm!
Now these buildings make up the restaurant, gift shops and museum at Sissinghurst Castle.
Tomorrow we’ll explore the garden up close and personal and see the remarkable transition that took place and continues to do so in the Sissinghurst’s gardens. Vita and Harold had a definite plan for their new home! See you there!