The village of Evington dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and was originally known as Aefa’s Tun; this later became Avintone and finally Evington. It is possible that there was a Roman cemetery on the Evington Park site particularly as there were Roman settlements along the nearby Gartree Road.
The land on which Evington House stands was given to Hugh de Grentesmesnil after the Norman Conquest who used it as a deer park. The land was then owned or leased by various royal privies and noblemen including John of Gaunt, Simon de Montfort and the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1735 Dr James Sherard who came originally from Bushby, bought the estate from the Dukes of Devonshire. He was a famous botanist and physician.
In 1770, Anna Edwyn married Andrew Burnaby. Anna was the heiress to Baggrave Hall at Hungarton in Leicestershire and of other properties including Evington, which she inherited from her great-uncle Dr Sherard through her mother Mary.
Andrew Burnaby was born in Asfordby in Leicestershire and in 1769 he was presented with the living of Greenwich. It would seem that Anna and Andrew lived in Greenwich until they took up residence at Baggrave Hall. It was their third son, Colonel John Burnaby who built Evington House.
In 1789, Colonel John joined the First 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. He married Miss Henry Anne Fowke of Lowesby Hall, Leicestershire in 1798 and they had eleven children. On his retirement Colonel John came into possession, under lease, of the Evington portion of his mother’s dowry. He built Evington House in 1836 as a retirement home for himself, his wife and their unmarried daughters.
Colonel Burnaby died in 1852 was buried in the churchyard of St Denys, Evington. The surviving daughters, Miss Henry and Miss Ann installed the large memorial window in the Chancel of St Denys Church with two small windows commemorating their own lives. They also endowed some pews and a lectern. In the church there is also a memorial to Dr James Sherard.
Miss Henry and Miss Ann lived on until the 1880’s, taking an interest in the life of the village and donating a harmonium to the school, which Colonel John had built in 1841 at his own expense. Every summer they would entertain the children with 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 the gravestone 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.
The Burnaby family also have connections with another Leicester park. In 1885, Mr Charles Sherard Burnaby, (1814-1891) Colonel John’s youngest son and brother to Miss Ann and Miss Henry, sold to the Leicester Corporation the land, which was to become Spinney Hill Park. His elder brother, the Reverend Frederick George (1803-1880) Vicar of Barkestone, was an early property developer in the Highfields area of Leicester, where there is a Burnaby Street. In 1875, the Reverend Frederick set aside the sum of £30,000 for a new church for the area. This was built in the next decade as St Saviour’s, a distinguished example of High Victorian church architecture.
The War Years
After the death of Miss Henry Burnaby in 1888, Evington House was let on a succession of short leases. In 1902, John Dearden of Dorset bought Evington House from the Burnaby’s and during the First World War it was used as an auxiliary hospital. It was sold for £6000 in 1919 to Frank Pochin, a Leicester manufacturer. Mrs Pochin continued the tradition of interest in the village school; she was on the board of governors and presented the annual prizes.
In 1931, Evington House was sold to Tom Trevor Sawday, an architect and the son-in-law of Arthur Wakerly who developed much of North Evington as a model workers’ estate and who designed several public buildings in Leicester, including the Singer Building in the High Street.
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. During this time the house had one ‘near-miss’ and one accidental ‘direct hit’. On 20 November 1940, one of a string of bombs fell on what are now the Park’s cricket pitches. Then on 10 April 1941, in late morning, the pilot of a five-crew bomber clipped the chimney of a house in St Denys’ Road with the bulk of the plane wreckage coming down in what is now Cordery Road. Mrs Harris, the occupant of the house involved was in her garden and was killed by falling chimney bricks. Apparently, the pilot had a girl friend living in St Denys’ Road and was showing off his low flying capabilities hoping to attract her attention when he misjudged his height. In another incident a hole was discovered in the roof of Evington House and two unexploded bombs were found lying side by side in the loft. Mrs Sawday and her maid were evacuated from the house until the bombs had been safely removed.
The Park Today
The Leicester Corporation purchased the estate in June 1947 from the Sawday family and the area was opened as a public park at Whitsun 1948. Today, Evington is one of Leicester’s most popular parks and the House is used as offices. The secluded setting and groupings of the trees still produce the atmosphere of a private estate. The conservatory was introduced by the Sawdays and would have been known as the Loggia. Unfortunately, the porch is not original, the first one having been constructed of delicate wrought iron. There is a fine example of a black mulberry tree at the rear of the house, which is probably an original planting.
In the 1960’s the original character of Evington changed when alterations took place to widen the road in response to the increasing amount of traffic. The Gothic lodge was demolished to make way for the present Cordery Road and the Burnaby village school also disappeared at the same time. However, the terrace of four cottages opposite the library, still remain, and were known as the Burnaby cottages.