News

Putin’s palace in the heart of Sussex: How the Russian government has owned palatial 50-room mansion since 1946… but the property has been targeted by locals since invasion of Ukraine


From the busy A268 there is nothing to indicate the presence of a palatial Russian diplomatic mansion behind the high hedges and trees that line the main road.

The entrance to 50-room Seacox Heath, which was built in 1871 for statesman George Goschen, has a simple, black wrought iron gate with a mirror placed nearby to help traffic exit onto the busy Flimwell to Hawkhurst Road in Sussex.

Only the presence of a security camera on top of the fence would indicate any importance should be attached to the listed premises.

However in the nearby village of Hawkhurst there is genuine concern over the presence of a building that has belonged to the Russian government since 1946.

The war in Ukraine has caused locals to look anew at the large chateau-style diplomatic mansion which sits down a long private track among acres of sprawling grounds.

For decades it has been ignored but when word got out it was an extension of the Russian embassy in London, residents, outraged over the invasion, sprayed pro-Ukrainian graffiti on the entrance.

From the busy A268 there is nothing to indicate the presence of a palatial Russian diplomatic mansion behind the high hedges and trees that line the main road. Above: Seacox Heath in East Sussex

From the busy A268 there is nothing to indicate the presence of a palatial Russian diplomatic mansion behind the high hedges and trees that line the main road. Above: Seacox Heath in East Sussex

The entrance to 50-room Seacox Heath, which was built in 1871 for statesman George Goschen, has a simple, black wrought iron gate that exits onto the busy Flimwell to Hawkhurst Road in Sussex

The entrance to 50-room Seacox Heath, which was built in 1871 for statesman George Goschen, has a simple, black wrought iron gate that exits onto the busy Flimwell to Hawkhurst Road in Sussex

That was followed by the planting of Ukrainian flags outside the entrance and along the embankment by writer and journalist, Rebecca de Saintonge.

She said the building became a focus of the very real ‘opposition’ to the invasion and an outpouring of emotion.

A 1952 report on the house in the Daily Mail

A 1952 report on the house in the Daily Mail

Until recently the existence of a Russian diplomatic ‘dacha’ within their midst was almost unknown to local residents.

But the protests last year trained a spotlight onto the building raising security concerns.

Lindsay Barrow, who runs a florist in the village, said: ‘I have known about it for some time and if you look closely you can see multiple CCTV cameras and barbed wire surrounding the place.

‘I’ve also seen long, black Mercedes cars going in and out of the front gates and then we had the protests.

‘We have seen people from Seacox Heath in Hawkhurst. They used to go to the pub occasionally.

‘I do think it’s rather strange the Russian government has a building here in the heart of Kent.’

It is understood the mansion is a country residence for the Russian ambassador, Andrey Kelin.

When it is not being used for diplomatic functions it is looked after and managed by an elderly Russian couple.

Miss de Saintonge said: ‘After my protest I had a visit from two policemen. I think they were worried for the safety of the elderly Russian couple who looks after the house. We took our flags away to help defuse the situation.

‘Obviously the protest was an emotional response to the invasion but it wasn’t right to put the elderly couple in any danger.’

In 1999, it was reported that Alsatians tasked with guarding the property had attacked local sheep

In 1999, it was reported that Alsatians tasked with guarding the property had attacked local sheep

Last year writer Rebecca de Saintonge - who lives nearby - planted Ukrainian flags outside the entrance to the property

Last year writer Rebecca de Saintonge – who lives nearby – planted Ukrainian flags outside the entrance to the property

Miss de Saintonge said: 'After my protest I had a visit from two policemen. I think they were worried for the safety of the elderly Russian couple who looks after the house. We took our flags away to help defuse the situation

Miss de Saintonge said: ‘After my protest I had a visit from two policemen. I think they were worried for the safety of the elderly Russian couple who looks after the house. We took our flags away to help defuse the situation

The property is seen in 1903, when it was the family home of 1st Viscount Goschen

The property is seen in 1903, when it was the family home of 1st Viscount Goschen

Seacox Heath is seen above in 1969, when the Cold War was still in full swing

Seacox Heath is seen above in 1969, when the Cold War was still in full swing

The property was built for George Groschen. Above: The newly-built mansion and its floor plan are seen in an edition of The Building News in 1872

The property was built for George Groschen. Above: The newly-built mansion and its floor plan are seen in an edition of The Building News in 1872

An illustration of the interior of Seacox Heath just after it had been built in 1872

An illustration of the interior of Seacox Heath just after it had been built in 1872

Bluey Pratt, 93, who lives in Hawkhurst and flew with Bomber Command during his national service with the RAF between 1951-53, said he had no idea the Russians were so close.

‘I’m amazed really,’ he said. ‘I was serving at the very start of the Cold War so we had very real fears about them.

He said he flew on board the American B-29 Superfortress bombers which were based in Britain after the war and would load dummy atomic bombs into the plane as a way of fooling the Russians.

He said: ‘Of course we didn’t have the bomb until 1956 but we were just in a game of bluff with them back then.

‘I can’t believe a peace wasn’t negotiated by Ukraine because, in my mind, no-one will ever beat the Russians. They’re invincible.’

However some villagers seem unaware of the Russian presence in their community.

Elaine Jordan, 79, said: ‘I had no idea. It is a bit worrying. I have never seen anything going on down there.’

A drone photograph taken this month shows the palatial mansion from the air

A drone photograph taken this month shows the palatial mansion from the air

The entrance to the property is seen on Google Maps. Just inside the main entrance is a much smaller gate house

The entrance to the property is seen on Google Maps. Just inside the main entrance is a much smaller gate house

And Max Can, who runs Elite Barbers, said: ‘I have customers come in and tell me there is an embassy building there but I had no idea and I don’t know anything about it whatsoever.’

Paul Beltoe, 66 said: ‘The war is shocking and I don’t like to think Putin and his cronies own a mansion just down the road. 

‘I don’t think the Russians have any business having an embassy building here.’

The First Viscount Goschen enjoyed a long political career which peaked in the 1890s, when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty.

His son George – the 2nd Viscount – gave the family home to the Soviet Union in 1946, allegedly as a gift after Russian sailors saved his son during the Second World War.

It was initially used as a hostel for families of trade delegation staff. In 1952, it was described in the Daily Mail as a ‘Russian country club’.

It was said to be empty in the winter but packed out with the wives and children of diplomats in the summer.

At the weekends, the men would join their families. The walls of the lounge were said to bear portraits of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and other Russian leaders.

In the 1990s, the home was known to be the country retreat of the Russian ambassador.

In 1999, it was reported that Alsatians tasked with guarding the property had attacked local sheep.

Farmer Graham Browne claimed his flock of 55 sheep were savaged by the dogs. Eleven pregnant ewes were killed and a further six died later from their injuries.

Mr Browne and his brother in law claimed to have caught the dogs in the act.

The First Viscount Goschen enjoyed a long political career which peaked in the 1890s, when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty

The First Viscount Goschen enjoyed a long political career which peaked in the 1890s, when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty

The Russian diplomats denied the claim however. Furious Mr Browne said: ‘The police are powerless to do anything because of the diplomatic situation’.

An embassy spokesman said at the time: ‘The estate is our property and everything there is covered by diplomatic immunity according to the international convention so yes, the dogs have immunity, but the dogs are not diplomats.’

During the Cold War, it was the only place outside London where Russians could go without permission.

KGB officers were once seen by BBC foreign correspondent John Miller burning shredded secret files on a fire in the garden.

Miller, who died in 2021, told in his memoir how he snuck into the back garden and ‘kicked over the ashes for a disappointing reward’ that turned out to be a list of items on a BBC broadcast.



Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button