Thursday, 29 September 2016

Sissinghurst in July

I know I've mentioned being in Germany recently, and I will try to blog about that eventually, but first I hope to catch up (chance would be a fine thing) with earlier travel this year.

Almost immediately after Sarah's wedding Bill's sister and brother-in-law went home to Australia and we took off for the South of England. 

One could write forever about the North-South divide in Britain and it is all quite sad to me. 

The main resentment seems to be about economics, but I could cheerfully hate all English Southerners (not really) just because they more often experience summer.

Love the stripey lawns. No idea how they do that.

That weather, and the fact that it had been over a decade since we visited London, was our primary reason for going, I thought. 

I hadn't really appreciated that Bill had a long list of National Trust properties lined up to visit! The first was Sissinghurst.

The famous white garden.

I think I may have heard that name in passing back when I lived in the States, but I'm pretty sure I never heard of Vita Sackville-West. 

Learning about this startling woman was one of my early wonders learning about my new homeland. If you don't know about her already, I'll wait now, while you go read about her here

What the rich and titled get up to, eh? When I try to think of American counterparts, I can't come up with any. Maybe FDR and Eleanor, but strange as their lives were they stood for something altogether opposite so they aren't really the example I'm after.

You could also read about Vita's husband,
Harold Nicholson though his biography isn't littered with nearly as many interesting names as hers. I did recognize one, Sir Percy Loraine, whose family I've written about before.

So, people aside, what about this place? Wikipedia's entries refer to either the village of Sissinghurst or the Sissinghurst castle garden, so clearly the house itself is not the focus. That said, Wikipedia says this about 'Sissinghurst Castle':

The site is ancient; "hurst" is the Saxon term for an enclosed wood. A manor house with a three-armed moat was built here in the Middle Ages. In 1305, King Edward I spent a night here. It was long thought that in 1490 Thomas Baker, a man from Cranbrook, purchased Sissinghurst, although there is no evidence for it. What is certain is that the house was given a new brick gatehouse in the 1530s by Sir John Baker, one of Henry VIII's Privy Councillors, and greatly enlarged in the 1560s by his son Sir Richard Baker, when it became the centre of a 700-acre deer park. In August 1573, Queen Elizabeth I spent three nights at Sissinghurst.

I don't know about you, but the association of the place with three monarchs over nearly three centuries impresses me deeply. (Not that I'm royalist, but this is history!) Whatever it looked like back then, however, the house itself doesn't really look like a castle. There is a tower and a house the size of a Victorian terrace of houses (sorry, I know that won't mean much to American readers). It looks quite long but perhaps only one room deep, with lovely leaded windows. There are smaller buildings dotted around, including an oast house

It  was apparently called a 'ruined Elizabethan manor house' in 1930 when Vita bought it. I can't find a confirmation but I think I remember reading on this visit that it was her money that bought the house and that she paid £25,000 ($32,550) for it. Oh, to be a time traveller...

Of  course Sissinghurst was a substitute for the place Vita really wanted to own, the place where she grew up, Knole House. We also visited there and I very much preferred Sissinghurst, which may be testament to all the care and attention Vita and Harold gave to it.

We  got to tour the tower, but no photos were allowed inside, which was disappointing, particularly the room in which Vita Sackville-West did her writing. I guessed there would be other photos available, and I was right

The top of the tower of course gave a wonderful vantage for seeing the grounds and most of the photos here were taken from there. 

Oast house on the right.

The garden (gardens?) are of course the world famous feature. Bill and I felt that the extensive brick walls might have once been the walls of the castle. The other 'walls' that enclose areas into what feels like rooms are tall hedges. 

...6 full-time, 2 part-time, a student, 2 nursery (?), and lots of volunteers care for the garden...

I'm no gardener, sadly, but walking through Sissinghurst's garden rooms made me want to run back home and get to digging. If only I could have brought Kent's weather back with me...

I'm sure there are hundreds of books written about Sissinghurst and its people, so I'll stop here and go find some photos....I meant to only write one post about this place, but I can see I need another post to share all those details that so grabbed me, much like this one.

1 comment:

Indigo Dragonfly said...

What a beautiful place! I had not heard of Sissinghurst (and oddly I do know what a terrace of houses is - my hotel was situated in one) but am familiar with Vita Sackville-West's writings, and know a bit about her life. I wish I had done more exploring outside London when I had the chance; this is simply stunning! I think I see another trip across the pond in my future!