Evington’s Hidden History; Shady Lane Arboretum
The Arboretum was established by Leicester City Council in 1970. Its site has an interesting history. The moated enclosure to the north-west is commonly known as ‘Piggy’s Hollow’, with earthworks consisting of an island and a series of fishponds. Surviving documents suggest that the island was the site of a medieval manor house built in the 13th century by the Grey family, lords of the manor of Evington. More recently Piggy’s Hollow was popular with local children as a place for sledging.
During and after World War II the site served different military purposes. A camp for troops of the US 82nd Airborne Division was built on Shady Lane in 1942. This housed the 50th Parachute Infantry Regiment which took part in the airborne assault on the Waal bridges in Holland two years later. For several years from 1944 it housed German Prisoners of War, who were employed on local farms or as gardeners, and helped to meet post-war shortages of labour. ‘I can always remember their singing’, one woman recalled of her regular Sunday evening from Oadby to Shady Lane as a child: ‘They were obviously locked in on Sundays… when they weren’t working on the farm, but oh, their singing, it was really lovely’. Despite initial hostility, some POWs became family friends and others married local women and made their homes in Leicestershire. In 1996 three golden ash trees were planted in the Arboretum by one of the former POWs, as a token of friendship between Britain and Germany. From 1948 until the City Council established the Arboretum, the site was used by a riding school.
The Arboretum Today
This attractive open space is a popular place of recreation as well as an important botanical and wildlife site. There are over 500 species of trees in the Arboretum, along with a nature area planted with native trees and shrubs. Its meadows and grassland are of great value as habitats for butterflies and bees, arthropods including spiders and millipedes, and small birds and animals. A Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SuDS) to divert water away from areas that previously flooded has also created a wetland habitat.