Letterpress Reimagined

‘Letterpress Reimagined’ is a collaborative project aiming to preserve and promote the literary and craft heritage associated with the Kentish Castle’s famous historic owner: Vita Sackville-West.

One of the first items to arrive at the newly purchased Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, was a Minerva Platen Printing Press, previously owned by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. This was the very press upon which a number of the seminal works of English Literature (including T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, 1922) had been handset and printed by the Woolfs.

Replica of the Hogarth letterpress.

Upon arrival at Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West used the press to print a number of pieces, including the poem ‘Sissinghurst’, which she wrote for Virginia Woolf in 1930.

Vita found fame in the early 20th century not only for her writing and literary connections to the famous Bloomsbury group, but also for designing the famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle.

Through a series of workshops led by letterpress experts from Canterbury Christ Church University, Vicki Adams and Anna Fewster, the project trained National Trust volunteers to produce one hundred copies of Vita’s poem ‘Sissinghurst’, using a replica of the Hogarth letterpress. The original Hogarth press that was used by Virginia Woolf is held at the castle and has recently been restored to enable it to be displayed. A first edition of the poem printed on the Hogarth press is also held at the property but is too fragile to be made available to visitors.

The new limited edition prints will bring the poem back into the public domain, while protecting the original copy and letterpress for future generations.

‘Letterpress printing has largely disappeared since the industry was closed in the 1980s, and subsequent rise of digital media. Surviving presses are often in poor repair and missing vital components, while a diminishing number of owners have the skills to operate them.

Now under-read, Vita Sackville-West was one of the most prolific of the ‘Bloomsbury group’, publishing most of her work with Woolf’s Hogarth Press. The project will raise awareness of her importance as a writer and enable wider access to a poem, that remains out of print, and which focuses on her own response to the historic significance of Sissinghurst.

Training National Trust volunteers in letterpress techniques will enable them to tell visitors about the function and importance of the original Hogarth letterpress displayed at Sissinghurst, and its part in developing and promoting the famous Bloomsbury group, as well as increasing awareness of the important letterpress library collections owned by the National Trust.’

Dr Carolyn Oulton, Director of the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers

The project culminated in a public symposium and exhibition on 29 October 2014. The finished poem – in the form of a booklet, will be available from the National Trust shop at Sissinghurst Castle, from October 2014.


Read more on the project blog where volunteers have written a record of their experience and share the history of workers in the print industry.

‘Letterpress Reimagined: Printing at Sissinghurst’ is a collaborative project between the National Trust, International Centre for Victorian Women Writers and Canterbury Christ Church University awarded funds by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant.

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