HISTORY OF EVINGTON PARK HOUSE
This house is said to be built in 1836 by John Burnaby, but it is on the site of an older building. The land is ancient and in pre-historic times would have had the hunter gatherers roaming over it.
BEFORE EVINGTON HOUSE WAS BUILT – THE LAND
In Roman times and on the outskirts the land around Evington Park House could have been a Roman cemetery. This is not improbable in view of the settlements along the nearby Gartree Road and the excavations of the villa at the General Hospital.
Evington is an Anglo Saxon name derived from Aefa’s ton (the enclosure of Aefa.) Ing in the middle of a name is also suggestive of a group of Saxon people. There was a Saxon settlement in the vicinity of St. Denys Church. It appears in the Domesday book as Avintone and finally became Evington.
After the Norman conquest the land was given to the powerful Hugh de Grentesmesnil, a senior commander under William the Conqueror and later castellan of Leicester, who used it as a deer park. After Hugh’s death, the land, often accompanied by the title Earl of Leicester, passed into the hands of various princes and noblemen, including Simon de Montfort, John of Gaunt, the Greys of Codnor, the Earls of Huntingdon and the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1735 Dr. James Sherard, originally of Bushby, bought the estate from the Duke of Devonshire after the latter lost it at the gambling table. Dr. Sherard, a noted botanist and physician, divided his estates among his five nieces and the Evington portion came to his great niece, Anna Edwyn of Baggrave Hall, Hungarton. In 1770 she married the Rev. Andrew Burnaby (1733 – 1812)
REV. ANDREW BURNABY 1732 – 1812
The Rev. Andrew Burnaby led an interesting early life. He was born in Asfordby, Leicestershire, where three generations of Burnabys had held the position of Rector, and was educated at Westminster School and Cambridge. In 1759, he sailed to America, where many of the inhabited regions had become British colonies, and stayed for nearly a year with George Washington and his family at his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. He then journeyed across the colonies of “Middle Settlements” as they were called, sending home reports which he later published as a journal. After his return to Europe, he lived and worked in Italy during the 1760s as a chaplain and eventually as British pro-consul. The Reverend Andrew wrote an account of his impression of Corsica, which he gave to James Boswell, who made good use of it in his own writings, becoming know as ‘Corsica Boswell”.
In 1769, Andrew was presented with the living of Greenwich, London and married the next year. His wife Anna was the heiress to many properties in addition to Evington and Baggrave. Their elder children, including Colonel John Dick would seem to have been born at Greenwich, but later the couple took up residence at Baggrave Hall. Andrew himself inherited the Manor House at Brampton from his father. In the second stage of his career, he was well known as the clergy’s spokesman against slavery.
COLONEL JOHN DICK BURNABY (WHO MADE MANY ALTERATIONS TO EVINGTON HOUSE) 1776 – 1852
Colonel John Dick Burnaby (1776-1852) was the third son of Rev. Andrew Burnaby and Anna Edwyn of Baggrave Hall
In 1789, John Dick joined the 1st Foot Guards (later the Grenadiers) as an Ensign at the age of 16. He saw service in the Netherlands, Ireland, Sicily and in the Peninsular War in Spain. In 1798 he married Miss Henry Anne Fowke of Lowesby Hall, Leics and they had eleven children. Their eldest son, another John, was well known as a barrister and judge in the Leicester area. On his retirement, Colonel John Dick decided to build a retirement home for himself and his unmarried daughters on the Evington estate in 1836. He had inherited the land from his mother. The estate also had a farm (Home Farm) – buildings you can see in the main car park area.
The 1851 census records 11 people living in Evington House, some of whom were, of course, servants. Colonel John Dick Burnaby is reputed to have served as Deputy Lieutenant for the county for thirty years. He died in 1852 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Denys along with his wife, their daughters Miss Henry and Miss Ann and their fourth son Charles with his second wife, Elizabeth.
MISS HENRY AND MISS ANN BURNABY
After their father died in 1852, the surviving daughters of Colonel John Dick Burnaby, Miss Henry and Miss Ann lived on until the 1880s. They took an interest in the life of the village and donated a harmonium to the school, which their father had built in 1841 at his own expense. They were benefactors to St. Denys Church and installed the large memorial window to their parents in the chancel with two smaller windows commemorating their own lives. They also endowed some pews and a lectern and paid for major structural repairs. (Their brother, the Rev. Frederick Burnaby contributed towards the cost of the new chancel floor. )
Every summer Miss Henry and Miss Ann would entertain the children of the village to a ‘tea-drinking’ in the grounds of Evington House. In 1997, a dog’s gravestone was discovered in Evington Park. Unfortunately, the top is chipped but the memorial poem is carefully composed and refers to the owner as ‘she’, so it may well have been that of a Burnaby pet. A previous memorial to a dog, with an inscription saying that it was to a pet of Miss Ann’s, was unearthed in 1985, but this has disappeared.
After the death of Miss Henry Burnaby in 1888, Evington House was let on a succession of short leases, including ones to a Mr. Langmore and the Misses Redfern.
In 1902, John Dearden of Dorset bought Evington House from the Burnabys.
DURING THE 1ST WORLD WAR
During WW1 this house was lent by John Dearden as a hospital and became a V.A.D. hospital (Voluntary Aided Detachment) called Knighton V.A.D. Hospital of V.A.D. Leicester 4. An article written by the commandant, Miss Alice Henderson, for the Wiggeston Girls Gazette gives us some idea of what the hospital was like. Miss Henderson describes it as ‘a happy place’.
“The day in the kitchen begins at 7am (approximately), when three somewhat sleepy individuals arrive to prepare breakfast of porridge, tea and cocoa, bread and butter, treacle, and on the welcome occasions when gifts have been sent, eggs, ham or tongue. Breakfast is ready in the dining room at 8 o’clock, usually for more than half the men who are in hospital, and at the same time the night nurses and some of the ward nurses take breakfast to those who cannot come down for it. From breakfast all through the morning the kitchen is a very busy place. Soup has to be prepared as an alternative to milk at 10.30, the huge joints of meat have to be put in the oven betimes to be ready for 12.30 dinner, puddings made, potatoes and vegetables cooked, not to speak of gravy, sauces and special diets. Besides, there is the dining-room to be swept and dusted at least thrice daily, the pantry and kitchen to be kept clean and last, but by no means least, there is the inevitable washing up after each meal. Tea at 4 o’clock, preparation of soup and milk for supper at 7.30, and of vegetables, or puddings, or anything that can be made ready for the following day, taken up the attention of the kitchen workers till eight o’clock, or thereabouts. It will have been noticed that early to bed is the order at Knighton House. Last week, however, we celebrated the winning of a Distinguished Conduct Medal by one of the soldiers, with a special entertainment followed by a supper in the dining-room and the men were allowed to stay up till nearly nine o’clock! Most of the men who have been in the Hospital have come from the Front, and include Regulars, some of whom have been for years in India or Africa, Reservists who rejoined in August and Territorials. Amongst the latter was one Scotch boy of 17, who had been no further than Bedford. He came in recovering from rheumatism, and was a great source of amusement. The other men in his ward tied him up in his sheets by night, played pitch and toss with him by day, and finally, on his last evening, presented him with a cigar, which he manfully smoked – with disastrous consequences. Another amusing person was a traveling show-man, who wrote in an autograph book a long list of engagements in which he had taken part – Ypres, Armentieres, La Bassee and so on; in reality he had been driving a traction engine from the coast to Headquarters, or some such comparatively safe route. The readers of the ‘Gazette’ will be glad to hear that there are at least twelve Old Wyggestonians working in the Hospital, some regularly, some when other duties allow them. Several of them are in the wards, two bring the professional element into the cooking department, one is head stoker of the kitchen fire, another chief soup maker, whilst many are quickly becoming experts at potato peeling. The thanks of soldiers and workers are due also to those Wyggestonians – staff, old and present pupils – who have contributed to the evening entertainments at the Hospital.” A. C. Henderson
Evington was a very small village during WW1 and of the names on the War Memorial, only 4 of the 8 soldiers actually came from Evington, although they all had Evington connections
In 1919 the house was sold for £6000 to Frank Pochin, a Leicester manufacturer, Mrs Pochin continued the tradition of interest in the village school, was on the board of governors and presented the annual prizes.
In 1931 Evington House was sold to Tom Trevor Sawday, an architect and son-in-law of Arthur Wakerley, who develop much of North Evington as a model workers’ estate and designed several public buildings in Leicester, including the Singer Building in the High Street. Arthur Wakerley was working in Leicester between 1880 and 1900.
On buying the house, Mr. Sawday altered the layout.
During the Second World War, Evington House was the headquarters of the Evington Home Guard Platoon, with Mr. Sawday, a co-founder of the Leicester Aero Club, as second-in-command. The house had one near miss and one direct hit.
On 20th November 1940, one of a string of bombs fell on what is now one of the park’s cricket pitches and on 10th April 1941 in late morning, the pilot of a twin-engine bomber clipped a house chimney in St. Denys Road and crashed. The bulk of the plane wreckage came down in the drive to Evington House, which is now Cordery Road. (See article about Michael Dally’s memories).
A hole was discovered in Evington House roof and two unexploded bombs lying side by side in the loft were also found. Mrs. Sawday and her maid were evacuated from the house until all these items have been safely removed.
After the war the Sawday family sold the house and land to Leicester Corporation at a generously low price. He stipulated that the land should never be built on, but was to be enjoyed by local people in perpetuity. In making this condition, Mr. Sawday was showing the concern for public welfare demonstrated by the Sawday and Wakerley families for many years. It was opened as a Park in 1948 and everyone living in the parish were invited. Councillor Hill wore his morning dress and a band entertained the guests. Pat Pickering, daughter of Councillor Hill remembers presenting a bouquet at the Opening.
In the 1960s, much of the original character of Evington was altered by road widening in response to the increasing density of traffic. Hitherto, the village had been a rural community and quite separate from Leicester. Many ancient buildings were destroyed but photographs of them exist in local reference books and collections. The Gothic lodge which can be seen in the photographs in the entrance to Evington House, may have been occupied by the Burnabys’ coachman. It was demolished to make way for the present Cordery Road. The village school disappeared at the same time. The terrace of cottages opposite the library in The Common was known as the Burnaby cottages.
Unfortunately much of the character of Evington House has not been preserved. Upstairs is now used as offices for the City Council. Some rooms downstairs are allocated for community use.
MORE ABOUT THE BURNABYS
The Burnaby family probably originated in Yorkshire and the first mention of them in the Midlands is of a Robert de Burnaby, who founded the Priory at Medbourne around 1200. In the following centuries, branches of the family could be found all over the East Midlands, notably at Ashfordby, in Leicestershire, and Boughton Hall, Oxfordshire. They married into other prominent families, such as the Greys, the Ardens, the de Mowbrays and the Beaumonts, sometime Earls of Leicester.
Many Burnabys, especially the younger sons, distinguished themselves in the Church, the law and the Army and Navy.
The Burnaby family were also connected with another Leicester park. In 1885, Mr.. Charles Sherard Burnaby, Colonel John Dick Burnaby’s youngest son, sold the Corporation the land which was to become Spinney Hill Park. His elder brother, the Reverend Frederick, mentioned above, was an early property developer in the Highfields area of Leicester, where there is a Burnaby Street. In 1875, Frederick set aside the astonishingly generous sum of £30,000 for a new church in the district. This was built in 1877 as St. Saviour’s, a distinguished example of High Victorian church architecture designed by George Gilbert Scott.
There were many other Burnabys of interest and distinction in the county. Here are some: A cousin of Colonel John’s, Lt-Gen. Richard Beaumont Burnaby (1793 – 1871) fought at Waterloo in the Royal Artillery. His bust is in the Music Gallery at New Walk Museum, Leicester. Also in the New Walk Museum stock are portraits of Admiral Sir William (1705 – 1777), his brother Ambassador John Burnaby (b. 1701 of the Broughton Hall branch of the family and Major Algernon (1868 – 1938) the last Burnaby to live at Baggrave.
A nephew of Colonel John’s, the Rev. Thomas Burnaby (1761-1830) Vicar of St. Margaret’s attempted to mediate in the Barrow Butchery of 1795, when the Yeomanry fired on a riotous mob. His father and grandfather were also vicars of St. Margaret’s, Leicester and there are memorials to them in that church.
Lt.Col Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842-1885), a great-nephew of Colonel John Dick, was one of the great characters of the Victorian era and it is extraordinary that there is no biography of him. He combined the careers of soldier, journalist, explorer and adventurer. His ‘Ride to Khiva’ was a best-seller in its day and a portrait of him by Tissot is in the National Portrait Gallery. He was killed at the bottle of Abu Klea on his way to relieve General Gordon and there are two memorial windows to him in All Saints Somerby. Colonel Frederick’s journey to Khiva still fires the imagination; in recent years a member of the family and some officers of his regiment have repeated his exploit using modern methods of transport.
On the stairs at Newarke Houses museum, there is a portrait of Hugh de Burnaby of Manton, Rutland (b. 1525). He was Archdeacon Andrew’s great-great-great-grandfather. The portrait is dated 1648, so it was almost certainly painted many years after his death, possibly from an earlier original.
Baggrave Hall is still standing at Hungarton where the Duke of Windsor frequently stayed for hunting. In the parish church of St. John the Baptist, there are many Burnaby tombs and the banner of Major Algernon’s father, Major-General Edward Sherard Burnaby (1830-1883) of the Genadier Guards, who fought in the Crimean War.
There is a connection between the Burnabys and the Royal family. Colonel John Dick’s brother Edwyn Andrew of Baggrave Hall (1771-1825) had granddaughter called Caroline Louisa (1832-1918.) She married Rev. Henry Cavendish Bentinck and their daughter Nina Cecilia married the 14th Earl of Strathmore and their daughter was H.M. The Queen Mother b. 1900.