From a distance, Nicholas van Hoogstraten’s enormous English mansion looks like the pinnacle of luxury. But get closer, and you’ll quickly realize that things aren’t quite as they should be. The earth underfoot is covered in trash, while weeds grow out of control all around. And the mansion itself? It’s decrepit, decaying and frankly rather eerie. No wonder locals refer to the property as the “ghost house of Sussex.”
Work on van Hoogstraten’s house got underway in the mid-1980s, yet the project was never actually completed. To this day, the enormous structure stands empty – devoid of any inhabitants. And the building stands as a blemish on the otherwise scenic Sussex landscape.
In the English language, we might use the word “folly” to describe something which is ostentatious or over-the-top. But it also has a more specific meaning in architectural circles – referring to a design that’s overly elaborate and entirely pointless. Bearing this in mind, we can confidently call van Hoogstraten’s house a complete and utter folly.
According to reports, van Hoogstraten has poured over $50 million into his vainglorious project over the years. That’s a huge sum of money, of course, but looking at the unfinished house you wouldn’t necessarily be surprised. It is, after all, larger than the Queen’s own primary residence of Buckingham Palace.
Van Hoogstraten clearly had extravagant notions of what his residence would be like when it was finally completed. But the thing is, even after all these years, the project hasn’t even made it that far. The whole site is still a mess, while the house itself represents little more than a hollow shell.
A glance at the preposterous property is surely enough to tell you that its owner is an eccentric individual. But as it turns out, Nicholas van Hoogstraten’s story isn’t just outlandish, it’s also downright dark. He appears to be a callous individual at any rate, but his record suggests that he’s also dangerous.
The man calls himself Nicholas von Hessen nowadays – perhaps indicating a desire to disassociate himself from his own shady past. But regardless of whatever name he prefers today, there’s no confusion as to van Hoogstraten’s status as a wealthy individual. In fact, some estimates have even suggested that he’s actually a billionaire.
Regional news website Sussex Live quoted van Hoogstraten discussing his business interests in the English seaside resort of Hove. Speaking in March 2020, the mogul said, “I own nearly everything around here. And by own it, I mean own it – there’s no mortgage on anything. It’s one of the reasons why nobody can tell me what to do. I don’t have to be nice to anybody.”
But despite van Hoogstraten’s ill manners, it seems that he’s had little trouble developing a vast portfolio of assets. As well as his audacious unfinished mansion, he’s also said to have owned a huge number of other premises. Yep, according to Sussex Live, we’re talking about thousands of places – the bulk of which are in that county.
Van Hoogstraten has established something of an infamous reputation for himself in the U.K. for several decades. And there’s absolutely no indication that this negative image bothers him in any way. If anything, he seems to enjoy and cultivate it. But how did he end up this way?
Van Hoogstraten was born in the town of Shoreham in West Sussex in 1945. In school, the young boy made some money by trading stamps. He would then go on to become the country’s youngest millionaire at the tender age of 22. Sussex Live notes that he acquired over 2,000 properties during the property boom of the 1980s. And he had sold around 90 percent of them by the following decade – netting huge profits in the process.
Beyond his business dealings, van Hoogstraten also spent his time building up an image of himself as a pretty terrible person. In the ’60s he was taken to court over accusations that he’d organized for a grenade to be thrown at one of his enemies. According to Sussex Live, the judge overseeing the case described van Hoogstraten as “a sort of self-imagined devil who thinks he is an emissary of Beelzebub.”
And that dark episode was by no means van Hoogstraten’s only brush with the law. No, the man was once again embroiled in a serious legal battle around the turn of the millennium. One of his business competitors was killed by two men on his doorstep in the town of Sutton.
It was an undeniably gruesome episode, and van Hoogstraten was implicated in the crime. As a result, he was jailed for manslaughter in 2000. But he successfully appealed against the verdict three years later and was freed from prison.
The victim’s family weren’t happy with the decision to let van Hoogstraten walk free, though. They took another case to court, and the U.K.’s High Court eventually conceded that the magnate had likely played a part in the crime. The family were reportedly given nearly $8 million in compensation, but, crucially, van Hoogstraten stayed out of jail.
During the court case, van Hoogstraten was subjected to psychological analysis. And according to reports, the psychiatrist responsible for this evaluation was seemingly taken aback by the man’s mental condition. According to Sussex Live, the expert said that it would “take years to understand him.”
Another questionable aspect of van Hoogstraten’s life relates to his friendship with the late Robert Mugabe. The latter ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades until his death in 2017. As many of us know, Mugabe’s leadership was marked by years of violence, economic decline and state-sanctioned repression.
All in all, then, several aspects of van Hoogstraten’s past are extremely dubious. Yet even so, the man has emerged as a figure of great interest in Britain. And in 2002 the BBC even broadcast a documentary about him. This film offered a glimpse of the tycoon’s eccentricities, as evidenced in one scene where he’s cutting stamps out of old envelopes so that he can use them again.
Speaking to the filmmakers, van Hoogstraten says, “There’s too much waste in the world. I wouldn’t say we [reuse stamps] for ecological reasons. That’s obviously part of it, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. Uppermost in my mind is saving money, of course. That’s the difference between people who have made their money and people [who] have inherited it.”
In another scene, van Hoogstraten lectures his son on the budgetary benefits of purchasing large amounts of condiments at once. You might think it’s odd that such a wealthy man is concerned with these comparatively inexpensive things, but he’s an unusual individual. For instance, he had four separate romantic partners at the time that the documentary was being shot.
Speaking of these four partners, van Hoogstraten remarks in the documentary, “They all know, so I’m not hiding anything. Obviously, they mind, but with me, it’s not much good minding, is it? With me, I’m sure you know, you have to put up with it or f*** off. [It] doesn’t matter who you are.”
Van Hoogstraten continues, “I’m the oasis in the desert of everything I’m dealing with… That’s the way I am, that’s the way I’ve always been and I’m not going to change. But at least I let everyone know that in advance. That’s why I’m known as the letter of last resort. When you come to me, you’re going to deal with me on my terms and I want my money.”
With millions in his bank account, you might expect van Hoogstraten to be grateful for his position. But, of course, he isn’t. The businessman has even actually complained about his affluence and the societal influence it affords him. According to Sussex Live, he’s referred to his vast riches as “a pain” and “a headache.”
This stance demonstrates how utterly unappreciative van Hoogstraten is of the good fortune that’s defined his life. But he does at least appear to grasp the notion that money isn’t everything. Sussex Live notes that van Hoogstraten once said, “I don’t believe money brings happiness. I know a lot of very wealthy people, they’re certainly not happy…”
So, van Hoogstraten resents the supposed hassle that being rich inflicts upon him. And on top of that, he also seems to recognize that wealth does not mean that a person lives a good life. But if these are the views he holds, then why doesn’t he stop doing business? Well, when this question was put to him, Sussex Live notes that he answered plainly, “What else am I supposed to do?”
Van Hoogstraten then went on to elaborate on his thoughts about wealth and his relationship to it. According to the publication, he said, “I’m not interested in spending money – never have been. I can’t understand how people equate spending money with enjoying yourself. I’ve never seen it. I think spending money would be the opposite to enjoying myself.”
The BBC documentary that came out about van Hoogstraten wasn’t the only work that focused on the man, though. Another network called ITV produced a documentary about the enigmatic figure in 1999. In this one, van Hoogstraten can be seen taking the filmmakers around his unfinished mansion in Sussex. At one stage, the man explains that he’s growing trees there as a means of booking a place in heaven.
Van Hoogstraten goes on, “I’m going to assume [God] is going to say to me, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he’s going to list all the crimes – or supposed crimes – I’m supposed to have committed. What you are calling a crime down here, it’s not a crime in reality. Crime to me is if you take advantage of an innocent person, who doesn’t know any better – that is a crime.”
Clearly, van Hoogstraten is a pretty strange individual. After all, you need only look at his questionable past and his previous comments. And you could argue that the tycoon’s unfinished mansion is just another reflection of his character. Just like its owner, the property known as Hamilton Palace is a complicated mess.
So what about the house itself? Well, the property is concealed by trees and is situated near the town of Uckfield. Though the site isn’t exactly welcoming – a gate blocks outsiders from approaching the residence. This barrier reportedly bears a sign that reads “High Cross Estate, Private Property, Keep Out.” Yep, it seems that van Hoogstraten doesn’t want people fishing around his space.
In fact, there are several other signs littered around the property that seem to be there in order to put people off from entering the site. One apparently reads “shooting in progress,” while another says “dogs running free.” And yet another warns that the place is being monitored by a CCTV system.
Perhaps the creepiest aspect of Hamilton Palace is a building that stands separate from the main body of the property. Interestingly, this structure is topped with a golden dome on its roof. And it’s actually a mausoleum – a place that was designed to hold van Hoogstraten’s remains after he passes.
We all have different tastes, but we’re fairly confident that Hamilton Palace wouldn’t appeal to you. It seems to have been modeled on the stately residences of England’s Jacobean and Georgian periods of history. But the desired effect isn’t exactly achieved. In fact, the building is a total wreck.
And things don’t get any better inside the building’s walls. Few people have ever been able to get inside, but a small number have managed it. One journalist who entered the residence back in 2000 was able to provide us with a brief description of the interior. They explained that stone columns could be found inside, along with a massive staircase and some elevators.
A whole level of the house was designed to hold van Hoogstraten’s assortment of artworks, according to Sussex Live. And given the large space that was envisioned for this gallery, we can only imagine how many paintings the man owns. And another plan that never came to fruition was a garden intended for the roof of the property.
It’s fair to call Hamilton Palace a failure – given the fact that it was never completed and serves merely as a blemish on the Sussex countryside. But on top of everything else, it’s also attracted the ire of people living in the area. There was a time when a public walkway snaked through the site, but van Hoogstraten has ensured that nobody gets to travel along it nowadays.
And in a style that’s typical of the tycoon, van Hoogstraten has responded to his neighbors’ concerns with nastiness. According to Sussex Live, he said, “Even the most moronic of peasants would be able to see… that we have been busy landscaping the grounds of the palace so as to prepare for scheduled works.”
There have been rumors that Hamilton Palace is beginning to crumble. This really wouldn’t be a big surprise, after all. The place has been completely unlived in for decades, and it was never even finished. But still, van Hoogstraten has remained adamant that the property is in good shape.
But what does van Hoogstraten have to say about claims that his property is falling to pieces? Well, according to Sussex Live, he retorted, “Hamilton Palace is far from ‘crumbling’ and was built to last for at least 2,000 years. The scaffolding only remains as a part of ongoing routine maintenance such a property would require until completion.”
Who knows if Hamilton Palace will ever actually be completed? Given the state of repair that presently defines the property, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the project never concludes. In any case, van Hoogstraten is in his mid-70s at the time of writing. It’s unlikely, then, that this strange, unpleasant and frankly dangerous man will ever live within its walls.