The original Leigh Court was a Tudor mansion built by Sir George Norton of Bristol in 1558. It was demolished around 1812 after the estate, compromising of some 2500 acres, was sold to Sir Philip John Miles in 1811.
Philip Miles (1773 -1845), a Bristol ship owner, sugar baron and banker, was elected MP for Bristol in 1825 and was Bristol’s first recorded millionaire. His father, William Miles, was an entrepreneurial merchant who became very wealthy as a result of his involvement in the slave and sugar trade in Bristol and Jamaica. He managed sugar plantations in Jamaica containing hundreds of enslaved Africans and a refinery in Bristol, the Sugar House now Hotel du Vin in Lewin’s Mead.
On William’s death in 1803 the thirty year old Philip John Miles (1773-1845) inherited the family wealth, and diversified into banking as well as sugar and shipping. In 1811 he bought the Abbots Leigh Estate, but in the same year his first wife Maria died, and Miles delayed commissioning the new mansion of Leigh Court until 1814 by the Architect Thomas Hopper. Miles remarried in 1813 – to the wealthy Camilla Peach by whom he had eleven children.
By the 1830s Philip John Miles appears as a major claimant in the Slave Compensation Records, seeking over £36,000 for over 1,700 enslaved Africans at plantations in Jamaica and Trinidad.
Leigh Court architecture
Externally the architectural style of Leigh Court is Palladian and built of Bath stone. The interior style is Greek revival and decorated in impressive 19th century décor, with many of the original features still intact.
The Great Hall, with its magnificent double staircase, still houses the original unique pipe organ. The pipe organ has been restored over the last few years and is still played today.
Originally the mansion housed an impressive collection of over forty paintings including many classic old masters -Titian, Poussin, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens and Vandyke. The public could obtain a ticket from Miles’s Bank in Queens Square in the centre of Bristol, to view the paintings here on a Thursday afternoon. The collection of paintings was sold between 1884 and 1898.
To the present day
Philip Miles died in 1845 leaving Leigh Court to his eldest son. The house remained in the Miles family until 1915 when it was sold to Rev. Burden of Clevedon Hall. It was to become an institution for “Persons Requiring Care and Protection”. The NHS accepted management of Leigh Court hospital from 1957 until 1985.
In 1988 Leigh Court was sold to a private company and with successive owners the house has been sympathetically converted for use as office accommodation, conference and meeting rooms. Retaining many of its original features, the house is now restored to its former splendour, with an ongoing programme of repair & maintenance.
In 2004 Business West assumed ownership of the Estate. We now operate our many business activities from Leigh Court as well as other sites across the region. Our conference and banqueting facilities, together with fully serviced office accommodation, ensure that the estate remains a vibrant business hub within tranquil surroundings.
This record stands as a history of the Leigh Court Estate, and as the present custodians, we abhor the Miles family’s involvement in the slave trade. Today, Leigh Court stands not as a testament to the wealth of the Miles family, but as a place for businesses of all types, a place for people to work and to come together. We pledge to continue to preserve, maintain and improve the Estate whilst acknowledging our shared history, and educating ourselves and others about its past. We welcome any discussion or questions that you have.