From the busy A268 there is no evidence of a palatial Russian diplomatic residence beyond the tall hedges and trees that line the main road.
The entrance to the 50-room Seacox Heath, built in 1871 for statesman George Goschen, features a simple black wrought iron gate with a mirror nearby, easing traffic onto the busy Flimwell to Hawkhurst Road in Sussex.
Only the presence of a surveillance camera on top of the fence would indicate that any significance should be attached to the listed property.
However, in the nearby village of Hawkhurst there is serious concern over the presence of a building that has belonged to the Russian government since 1946.
The war in Ukraine has caused locals to take a fresh look at the large, castle-style diplomatic house, which sits along a long private drive amid extensive grounds.
It was ignored for decades, but when it was revealed that it was an extension of the Russian embassy in London, residents, outraged by the invasion, spray-painted pro-Ukrainian graffiti on the entrance.
From the busy A268 there is no evidence of a palatial Russian diplomatic residence beyond the tall hedges and trees that line the main road. Above: Seacox Heath in East Sussex
The entrance to the 50-room Seacox Heath, built in 1871 for statesman George Goschen, features a simple black wrought iron gate leading onto the busy Flimwell to Hawkhurst Road in Sussex
Afterwards, writer and journalist Rebecca de Saintonge raised Ukrainian flags in front of the entrance and along the embankment.
She said the building had become a focal point of the very real “opposition” to the invasion and an outpouring of emotion.
A 1952 report about the house in the Daily Mail
Until recently, the existence of a Russian diplomatic “dacha” in their midst was almost unknown to locals.
But last year’s protests put a spotlight on the building and raised security concerns.
Lindsay Barrow, who runs a flower shop in the village, said: “I’ve known about this for some time and if you look closely you can see several CCTV cameras and barbed wire surrounding the place.”
“I also saw long black Mercedes cars driving in and out of the gates and then there were the protests.”
“We saw people from Seacox Heath in Hawkhurst. Occasionally they went to the pub.
“I find it quite strange that the Russian government has a building here in the heart of Kent.”
The mansion is believed to be a country residence of Russian Ambassador Andrei Kelin.
When not used for diplomatic purposes, it is cared for and managed by an elderly Russian couple.
Ms de Saintonge said: “After my protest I was visited by two police officers.” I think they were concerned about the safety of the elderly Russian couple who look after the house. We took down our flags to help defuse the situation.
“Of course the protest was an emotional response to the invasion, but it was not right to put the elderly couple in danger.”
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, placed Ukrainian flags outside the property’s entrance
Ms de Saintonge said: “After my protest I was visited by two police officers.” I think they were concerned about the safety of the elderly Russian couple who look after the house. We took down our flags to help defuse the situation
The property dates back to 1903, when it was the family home of the 1st Viscount Goschen
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 can be seen in an 1872 edition of The Building News
An illustration of the interior of Seacox Heath shortly after its construction in 1872
Bluey Pratt, 93, who lives in Hawkhurst and flew with Bomber Command during his national service with the RAF between 1951 and 1953, said he had no idea the Russians were so close.
“I’m really amazed,” he said. “I served right at the start of the Cold War, so we had very real fears of them.”
He said he flew aboard American B-29 Superfortress bombers based in Britain after the war and loaded dummy atomic bombs onto the plane to deceive the Russians.
He said: “Of course we didn’t have the bomb until 1956, but back then we were just in a game of bluffing with them.”
“I can’t believe Ukraine hasn’t negotiated peace because, in my opinion, no one will ever defeat the Russians. ‘They are invincible.’
However, some villagers seem unaware of the Russian presence in their community.
Elaine Jordan, 79, said: “I had no idea. “It’s a bit worrying. I’ve never seen anything down there.’
A drone photo taken this month shows the palatial mansion from the air
The entrance to the property can be seen on Google Maps. There is a much smaller gatehouse just inside the main entrance
And Max Can, who runs Elite Barbers, said: “Customers come in and tell me there’s an embassy building there, but I had no idea and don’t know anything about it.”
Paul Beltoe, 66, said: “The war is shocking and I don’t think Putin and his cronies own a mansion next door.”
“I don’t think the Russians have anything to do with having an embassy building here.”
The First Viscount Goschen enjoyed a long political career, culminating 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, supposedly as a gift after Russian sailors rescued his son during World War II.
It originally served as a hostel for the families of the trade delegation employees. In 1952 it was described in the Daily Mail as a “Russian Country Club”.
It was said to be empty in the winter, but full of the wives and children of diplomats in the summer.
On weekends, the men joined their families. Portraits of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and other Russian leaders reportedly hung on the lounge’s walls.
In the 1990s, the house was considered the country residence 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 ravaged by the dogs. Eleven pregnant ewes were killed and another six later died 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, culminating in the 1890s when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty
However, Russian diplomats denied the claim. Furious, Mr Browne said: “The police are powerless to do anything because of the diplomatic situation.”
An embassy spokesman said at the time: “The property is our property and everything there is subject to diplomatic immunity under 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 that Russians were allowed to enter without permission.
BBC foreign correspondent John Miller once saw KGB officers burning shredded secret files on a garden fire.
Miller, who died in 2021, told in his memoirs how he sneaked into the back garden and “knocked over the ashes to receive a disappointing reward”, which turned out to be a list of items on a BBC programme.