High Cross Estate, Uckfield
A good friend of mine had both recently read The Book of Trespass and on the back of that attended the Worth Forest Mass Trespass in September 2022. However, we were keen to undertake a trespass of our own. With my friend living not too far from Uckfield, what better place to start with than Hamilton Palace, the lair of the deeply unpleasant Nicholas van Hoogstraten?
It was a chance to trespass, and at the same time immerse ourselves in nature. We were also both keen to see the £40 million palace that Hoogs had started building years ago – and which is still not finished.
You can read all about “Hoogs” – as my friend and I swiftly nicknamed him – and his bullying, intimidating, aggressive acts and criminal record online, in The Book of Trespass or in other works such as Guy Shrubsole’s Who Owns England? In short, his High Cross Estate lies a fifty-minute walk from Uckfield Train Station, and is closer if you take a bus, so is achievable in a day if you are in the East Sussex area.
We walked from Uckfield to Palehouse Common, where moving along the lane we soon saw signs for the High Cross Estate – at the heart of which is Hamilton Palace – telling us in no uncertain terms that we were to keep out.
Given that the abandoned palace lies at the heart of a beautiful estate used for nothing else, we thought it was unjust that people are denied access to an amazing natural setting. The High Cross Estate, like so many estates of its kind, is hidden away from view, although a public footpath runs through it and offers a tantalising glimpse of the old woods, herds of deer and quiet beauty hidden away within. We just wanted to walk, to see wildlife and to be in nature – it is unjust that we are denied this chance by Hoogs and those of his ilk.
We passed through the kissing gate which took us onto the Public Footpath that crosses the estate – and soon glimpsed the eerie golden dome of the palace through the trees.
We cut off the footpath and moved down into some woods – where we saw plenty of signs that read like a bingo card of threats – “Dogs Running Loose”, “Shooting taking place”, CCTV and warnings of 24 security patrols. The absurdity of these signs was made all the more apparent by the calm nature of the place; we stood beneath oak trees stretching skywards and watched herds of deer move past, unfazed by our presence. There were plenty of birdlife about too – we spotted a goldcrest at one point, which was a first.
Although my friend was pretty calm – he is one of the most absurdly relaxed people I have ever met – I was feeling a few nerves by this point. Even the quiet quacking of a duck momentarily sounded, to me, like someone speaking into a walkie-talkie.
Looking back, it seems bizarre that I should feel so unsettled in a space that would usually bring me calm instead. But that’s the power that exclusion can have.
We moved on through the woods, skirted a ditch. All the way, we were watched by deer who seemed to melt from the trees and then back into them at will. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many of them in so short a space of time.
We followed a path down to where we were confronted by Hamilton Palace itself and another, smaller building besides a duck-strewn lake. Both buildings were wrapped up in rusting scaffolding and rotting planks. It was obvious that no building had been done here for a long time. We stood on the lawn and looked at the bizarre building – we both thought some of it looked like a municipal swimming pool – and though it looked so incongruous within its setting. I was still nervy, but felt a kind of thrill too, at the simple act of reclaiming the natural world that by rights was everybody’s anyway.
After a lap of the palace, we retraced our steps back to the footpath and made our way back to Uckfield for some chips and a well-earned drink. It had been a great trespass and we felt a real sense of achievement for accessing such a beautiful natural space and seeing one of Sussex’s strangest buildings, not being put off by Hoog’s attempts to intimidate. It was our first self-organised trespass, but it will by no means be the last.