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  • Western Park was a forest called ‘Herewoode’ and belonged to one of William the Conqueror’s most trusted Barons; Hugh de Grandmaisnil
  • For many decades Western Park was well known for its 1930s Open Air School, now Grade II Listed
  • During the First World War, the Wartime Ambulance Station trained on Western Park and it was also the training ground for the Leicester Regiment’s Volunteers

Early occupation and construction

There is evidence at Western Park of possibly Leicester’s earliest occupation. What is believed to be an early Bronze Age henge site and burial mounds have been discovered there along with evidence of Roman occupation as well.

It is thought the Roman road linking Leicester (Ratae Coritanorum) and Manchester (Manduessedum) runs through the park although the exact location remains unknown. Areas of the park have also seen multiple phases of sandstone quarrying which also possibly date as far back as the Roman period. This ‘Dane Hills Sandstone’ (now known as Arden Sandstone) is thought to be the material from which many of Leicester’s earliest churches were built, as well as The Magazine.

Old Major

By the time of the 1089 Domesday Book record, Western Park was a forest called ‘Herewoode’ and belonged to one of William the Conqueror’s most trusted Barons; Hugh de Grandmaisnil. The park was part of the wider Leicester Forest and by the 12th Century had passed into the hands of the Earls of Leicester. ‘Assarting’ or the removal of trees for fuel and grazing saw the forest dwindle in size until the Frith (the approximate area of today’s park) was fenced off –the tree known as ‘Old Major’ is thought to be a surviving remnant of this forest and possibly the oldest tree in any of Leicester’s parks.

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Children playing around the famous ‘Old Major’ tree, circa 1900

A park and school

In 1897 the Leicester Corporation bought the park for £30,000 primarily for the enjoyment by residents of Leicester’s expanding West End. The park was officially opened by the Mayor of Leicester in 1899 and an Oak tree and Californian Fir were planted to commemorate the occasion. Initial complaints by the Parks Committee stated that the park was not frequently used by the public due to its location outside the town and as a result a tram line was constructed in 1904 to bring in visitors to the city.

For many decades Western Park was well know for its 1930s Open Air School, now Grade II Listed. This was constructed for children who were recovering from debilitating illnesses, particularly of a respiratory nature and was characterised by programs of hydrotherapy, exercise and nutrition aimed at improving the health of the most impoverished of Leicester’s children. In the Committee Minutes it was explained that the aim of the school was to ‘so train the children that they would eventually become hardy men and women’. The school was open from 1930 to 2005.

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Pupils playing sports with the school buildings in the background, circa 1930s

The World Wars

During the First World War, the Wartime Ambulance Station trained on Western Park and it was also the training ground for the Leicester Regiment’s Volunteers. Even the grass of the golf course was used for the war effort when it was harvested to feed horses and cattle when Great Britain’s agriculture was stretched under rationing.

During the Second World War, air raid drills were carried out at the park with military inspections and processions taking place in the grounds. There was a public air raid shelter in the corner of the park next to Hinckley Road and children recalled seeing guns and search lights illuminating the sky above it, with concrete sewer pipes being laid across the grassy areas to prevent enemy aircraft from attempting to land.

A beautiful local park

Leicester City Corporation took pride in providing their citizens with a public park with a majestic entrance and lined avenue of trees. The ‘fair pool’ became the much-loved paddling pool, and that, along with tennis courts, the band stand and a play area secured the immediate success of the park with all social classes.

The park today is still a popular visitor spot for families and boasts frequent concerts in the bandstand as well as a wide variety of sporting and recreational facilities.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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