Owned by the writer Vita Sackville-West, this fairytale tower at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent continues to inspire those who visit.
The desk in the Writing Room in the Tower at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Having moved to Sissinghurst Castle with her writer-diplomat husband Harold Nicolson and sons in 1930, Vita Sackville-West was already a well established poet and novelist, and chose the Rapunzel-esque Elizabethan Tower in the grounds as her creative space, using the small room at the very top for its wonderful views over the gardens.
This was her sanctuary and it was a rare occurrence to be allowed entry – even for family members. Writing and restoring the dilapidated gardens would become an ongoing and much loved project for the couple until the author’s death, and the results of their labour have seen these informal romantic gardens become world famous, the White Garden and Rose gardens in particular billowing with delicate scented flora through late June and July.
The gardens would occupy Vita’s time during the day, and after dark she would write late into the night, working on gardening features for the Observer and her novels. Her long poem, Sissinghurst (1932) is a love letter to the property. Vita’s work has been less scrutinised than her scandalous affair with writer Virginia Woolf; both authors referenced their indiscretion in print. The author and her husband had an open relationship, though their unconventional lifestyle did not seem to impact on their shared love for the property. Between them, the couple owned a collection of books 11,000 strong. A three-year conservation programme managed by the National Trust is currently underway to save the books, many of which contain handwritten annotations by the couple, from being destroyed by infestations of hungry creepy-crawlies! Visitors will be invited to get involved with the project in the future.