There is a truly fascinating place on a hill overlooking the Staffordshire town of Burton-upon-Trent.
This place has been highly prized for its position and its healing powers for well over a millennium hiding secrets and tales of intrigue dating back to Roman times and most likely long before.
The site is in the process of a long restoration with only one of the original wings being habitable and restored to its former condition.
It has been described as “the most important house in England to be in such a state”
The Sinai site has always been one of strategic importance, with commanding views over the crossing point over the river Trent. For the Romans, it was an ideal outpost – a day’s march via Rykneld Street to Derby or Lichfield.
The Saxons also used the location as a stronghold with trials being held on this site and in Medieval times, it was the ancient fortified manor of the de Schobenhale family with its 13th-century hilltop moat which is now an ancient monument).
The existing moat is all of what is now left of this original ancient house. It is fascinating to think that it has been here for almost 800 years and what it has borne witness to.
The family game Sinai park to the monks of Burton Abbey, which at the time was one of the most famous and major monastic seats in all of England.
The monks were responsible for brining two timber houses to the site (a medieval prefab) which consist of the two wings of the present building. The monks used it as a “seyney house”, a place of convalescence and a site to recuperate from blood-letting sessions. The word “seyney” deriving from the Old French “seyne” meaning blood.
In 1334, Abbot William Bromley “gave five days indulgence from the blood-letting… in that place surrounded by a dyke in the park of Shopenhale with an increased allowance of bread and beer.”
The house became known as the Seyney House sometime between 1410 and 1529. The site was one of only a handful of seyney houses known in England and it retained this use until at least the 1380s. There is also reputedly a tunnel running from the house to Burton Abbey.
It seems the monks also got up to some other activities whilst staying at Sinai including a murder giving rise to over 50 different ghost stories.
Interestingly, there is an overgrown plunge pool in the grounds of the house which sits on top of a Chalybeate natural spring and is one of only a few in England (another famous example is the holy well at Glastonbury).
The pool was built by the Paget family in the Georgian era so they could ‘take the waters’ and use it as a spa.
This is a fascinating area and the ancient worn steps can still be seen underneath the tree roots which have entangled the pool and it’s stones over the passing centuries. The plaque indicating the location of the spring now hiding its message completely weathered away by age.
At the Dissolution in 1539, Sinai was acquired by William Paget, the first Baron of Beaudesert and one of Henry VIII’s chief ministers. The Paget family continued to own Sinai for almost 400 years.
To make Sinai grander as befitted the family’s grand visitors (Elizabeth’s Earl of Essex is recorded as shooting deer in the park), the Pagets had the central section built in 1605. Their hunting lodge was the site of a Civil War skirmish and then in the 1700s, there were more Medieval-style extensions, Tudor-style chimneys, a plunge pool and the 1732 bridge over the moat.
The Pagets’ most famous son was Henry Paget, later Earl of Uxbridge and Marquis of Anglesey, the English hero who was second in command to Wellington at Waterloo lost his leg to a cannonball on the battlefield. “By God sir,” said Wellington, “you have lost your leg!” “By God, sir, so I have!” replied Paget.
Henry is often seen in his smart braided uniform. It is a common occurrence that his spirit is still often felt by female visitors to the house, touching them on the shoulder or arms. He has been described as having a “stormy” energy and makes himself known on the ground floor living and dining rooms. His presence is such a common occurrence, the current occupier of the house referred to him in the same tone as a slightly unruly lodger.
Visitors have also reported a phantom horse-drawn coach, a hanged witch and a hooded man who appears at the foot of the bed in a bedroom.
It has also been said that during ghost tours, visitors have been dragged across the room, electric items have turned erratic and people have heard whispering voices.
They include a white or grey lady, who is said to have been a servant to the monks made pregnant by one of them and subsequently murdered. There have been regular sightings of hooded figures which are undoubtedly the ghosts of former monks. There have even been sightings of of small groups of soldiers of the civil war period by the moat that still surrounds the house.
Other famous stories surround ‘the Black dogs of Sinai’ with the current owner usually spotting two or three of them. The dogs are said to be the monk Abbot’s hunting hounds.
There is also a white lady who appears on the bridge over the moat and disappears into the dew thick morning mist.
As you walk around you get the sense that this place is an ancient place of importance and spirituality. It is fascinating to be looking at a wooden framed building which was first erected on this spot over 700 years ago.
As you walk through the grounds it is impossible not to ponder on all those who have set eyes on this moat, who’s feet have crossed this quaint bridge and who still frequents this place centuries after they have departed this life.