Exploring the rich history of Sinai Park House
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 October 2019
Hauntings, healing waters and a fascinating history – Lynne Dixon visits Sinai Park House at Burton upon Trent and talks to its owner Kate Murphy.
Burton upon Trent a popular spa town with healing waters? Well not exactly. But it could have been. As a matter of fact the healing waters are still there - in the form of an underground spring in Kate Murphy's garden.
And Kate fervently hopes that one day, maybe in the not too distant future, those healing waters, once highly prized by a religious order of monks, will be offering up their health-giving properties to visitors once more.
For Kate, 54, is chatelaine of historic Sinai Park House, a magnificent timber-framed property tucked away in the heart of Burton, resplendent on a hilltop site with a commanding view of the Trent Valley.
And one of the most fascinating features of this centuries-old somewhat hidden treasure, one-time sumptuous 'holiday home' of the aristocratic Paget family, is its sacred spring known as the Lord's Well.
Explains Derby-born Kate, who runs her own marketing business specialising in homes and gardens: 'There is iron in the water, which makes it a healing spring, which is why the Pagets built a plunge pool over it in the Georgian era. Sinai Park House wasn't their main home, it was their hunting lodge and deer park. They came here for recreation and to take the waters, so you could say it was a kind of spa.'
The fact that the healing spring still exists is an exciting prospect for Kate, who recently launched a crowd funding campaign on the internet to raise money to restore the plunge pool and underground spring. 'I would love people to be able to use it again and have submitted a planning application to that end, as well as seeking permission to create seven B&B en-suite rooms here.'
Her idea is not only to attract tourists but also to involve a charity in the project so that people with health problems can go there for respite care and take the waters of the sacred spring.
Sinai Park House, a Grade II* listed building dating back to the 1300s and surrounded by an ancient moat, has been Kate's home for the past 19 years. It is one wing of a much more extensive building comprising a second timber frame wing at the other end of the house. A central section, built by the Paget family in 1605, joins the two wings together.
Kate first acquired the then empty derelict property back in 1994 with her late husband David Murphy, and together they spent several years restoring the wing, moving in to live there in 2000.
The restoration of the remainder of the property is ongoing through a charitable Trust set up to fund the work through donations and grants. If approved by the local authority and Historic England, the upmarket B&B accommodation Kate wants to provide will be situated mainly in the wing that's currently being restored.
'My aim is to bring the whole building back to life and allow the public to use it. At the moment the habitable part of the property where I live is drawing visits from history and archaeology groups, WIs, Rotary Clubs and so on. People can come simply to have a tour of the house or they can combine it with a cream tea, which is very popular,' Kate smiles. 'The proceeds from these tours go towards funding the restoration project.'
Spooky visits organised by Burton Ghost Walks are also proving a hit - not too surprisingly as Sinai Park House has long had a reputation for being haunted. And with Hallowe'en on the horizon, Kate shares with me some of the ghostly goings on there.
'The building is reputed to have more than 50 different ghost stories attached to it,' she tells me. 'But living here isn't scary.' As we chat in her heavily beamed dining room with its ancient brick and stone fireplace and huge oak refectory table, Kate adds: 'The house has a very spiritual feel to it, the ghosts are friendly. I think it's pleased to be rescued, to be given a new lease of life.'
In her cosy sitting room, she points to a corner where 'sometimes you can smell tobacco smoke quite strongly'. Other times, she says, 'You can definitely hear a party going on and upstairs several people have felt a tap on the shoulder by a gentleman. Some visitors have actually seen him, they say he seems to be Georgian or early Victorian.'
Outside, Kate has seen what are known as 'the black dogs of Sinai'. 'I usually see two or three of them. Before the Paget family took over, monks from Burton Abbey lived here and the dogs are said to be the Abbot's hunting hounds. And my late husband David often told me that a Victorian gentleman would come and watch him in the garden!'
In all, Kate's home has 11 rooms and one of the most charming is her lovely sitting room where she can relax in front of the TV or work on her laptop. The timbered room features two fascinating wall paintings of birds and insects dating back to the 1400s. Another focal point is the striking oil painting of Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge and Marquess of Anglesey, the English hero who was second in command to Wellington at Waterloo. Tragically he lost a leg to a cannonball on the battlefield and his ghost is said to patrol the dining room of the house to this day.
Kate tells me that she and David lived in Littleover where they restored a small Victorian terraced house, before they lighted upon the derelict Sinai Park House in 1994. 'We wanted a bigger challenge, but this turned out to be much bigger than we planned,' she laughs.
A former pupil of Ecclesbourne School at Duffield and Repton School, Kate has a degree in English from Oxford University and a passion for history. Which is why she couldn't resist this place with its illustrious career witnessing a procession of Romans, medieval lords, monks, Tudors, Elizabethans, Stuart bigwigs, Georgians and Victorians.
Outlining the history of her home, which is set in two-and-a-half acres and adjoins plantations of the National Forest, she explains that the Sinai site was always of strategic importance. It was an ideal outpost for the Romans, being a day's march via Rykneld Street to Derby or Lichfield. 'In medieval times it was the fortified manor of the de Schobenhale family with its 13th century hilltop moat, now scheduled as an Ancient Monument.'
The monks of Burton Abbey eventually took over the site, establishing two timber houses - the two wings of the present building. After Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, William Paget, one of the King's chief ministers, acquired the property, marked on a 1410 map as Seyne Park.
The Paget family continued to own what became known as Sinai Park for almost 400 years, using it as a hunting lodge with a deer park. In 1732 they built the bridge which stands over the moat today.
The last of the line to own Sinai was the 'Eccentric Earl', Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, who died in 1905. The property was subsequently sold, to begin a new life as a Co-op farm then as a billet for RAF personnel. It was turned into six cottages before being condemned and turned into a shelter for pigs and hens.
Now Kate feels that Sinai Park House's exciting new 21st century phase is just beginning, with plans not only for B&B and history tours, but also for events, meetings and educational activities. She says happily: 'It's recapturing its heritage and getting its mojo back for a modern audience. And bringing this lovely house on the hill back to life gives me a huge sense of purpose.'
If you are interested in booking a tour of Sinai Park House, Shobnall Road, Burton, contributing to its restoration or becoming a Friend, visit sinaiparkhouse.co.uk For information about ghost walks, visitburtonghostandhistorywalk.co.uk