The Drawing Room, Leigh Court, Bristol, c.1840. Oil on canvas by Thomas Leeson Scrase Rowbotham
|Type||English country house|
|Location||Abbots Leigh, Somerset|
|Construction started||1812 (1558 for the Tudor house)|
|Demolished||1812 (Tudor house)|
|Floor count||4 (plus mezzanine on one side)|
|Design and construction|
The manor of Leigh at the time of the Norman Conquest belonged to the lordship of Bedminster but William the Conqueror awarded it to the Bishop of Coutances. The manor house was given in 1118 by Robert Fitzharding to become a house of rest for the abbot and monks of St Augustine's Monastery in Bristol and as "Abbot's Leigh" it was destinguished from other places named "Leigh". At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Paul Bush, the Bishop of Bristol, surrendered it by a deed dated 25 May 1549 to Henry VIII; on 23 September the King granted the reversion of the manor, after the death of the bishop (which took place in 1559), to Sir George Norton (d. 1585).
The original house was demolished and rebuilt in the Regency period by Philip John Miles and became the seat of the Miles baronets. The estate now offers office accommodation, conference and meeting rooms, and the house has a licence as a venue for civil wedding services.
The original Leigh Court was an Elizabethan mansion built by Sir George Norton of Bristol in 1558. His great-great-grandson, also George Norton (born 1622), unknowingly hosted Charles II, who arrived at the house the evening of 12 September 1651, during his escape to France following the Battle of Worcester. the Nortons were friends of the Kings's travelling companion, Jane Lane. The Nortons were unaware of the King's identity during his three-day stay.
While staying at Leigh Court and after being recognised by the elderly butler, who had served the King when a young Prince at Richmond, Charles deflected suspicion by asking a trooper, who had been in the King's personal guard, to describe the King's appearance and clothing at the Battle of Worcester. The man looked at Charles and said, "The King was at least three inches taller than you."
Richard Ollard describes the house in The Escape of Charles II, After the Battle of Worcester:
"Abbots Leigh was the most magnificent of all the houses in which Charles was sheltered during his escape. A drawing made in 1788, only twenty years before it was pulled down, shows a main front of twelve gables, surmounting three storeys of cowled windows; a comfortable, solid west country Elizabethan house."
The manor of Abbot's Leigh eventually passed into the hands of the Trenchard family after Sir George Norton's son, also Sir George (1648–1715), and his daughter Grace (1676–1697) both died without issue. William Trenchard of Cutteridge, Wiltshire, had married Ellen Norton, sister and coheir of Sir George. The direct Trenchard line died out on the death of John William Hippisley Trenchard (1740–1801) and the estate and the old Tudor manor, now in a state of disrepair, was sold to Philip John Miles (1773–1845), who also owned properties and extensive estates elsewhere including Kings Weston House (by Sir John Vanbrugh), The Manor House (Old Rectory) at Walton-in-Gordano, Walton Castle, Cardigan Priory and Underdown by Anthony Keck in Ledbury, Herefordshire.
|Miles baronets, of Leigh Court|
|Arms||Azure a chevron paly of six ermine and or between three lozenges argent each charged with a fleur-de-lis sable, in chief upon an inescutcheon argent a sinister hand appaume coupled at the wrist gules|
|Crest||Upon a helm barry affronte with visor open a dexter arm embowed in armour proper garnished or supporting with the hand an anchor also proper|
|Motto||Labora sicut bonus miles|
After the estate of some 2,500 acres (10 km2) was sold to Philip John Miles (1773–1845) in 1811, he demolished the original building around 1812 and in 1814 rebuilt the seat a quarter of a mile further north-east, to designs by Thomas Hopper, that were based on plans which Hopper had previously drawn for Pytminster House, Wiltshire. Philip Miles died in 1845, leaving Leigh Court to his eldest son, William Miles, for whom the Miles Baronetcy of Leigh Court, Somerset was created in 1859. In 1884 the second Baronet, Sir Sir Philip Miles, entertained the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Externally the architectural style of Leigh Court is Palladian. The house, built of Bath stone, has a hipped slate roof with a glazed and coffered area over its Great Hall. The south-east and north-west elevations are identical, with the central three bays slightly advanced with a detached portico of four, unfluted Ionic columns, with plain entablature and pediments. The north-east elevation is of seven bays with the central bays recessed behind four Ionic columns. To the south-west are attached nine-bay service wings of two storeys.
The impressive, largely intact interior is Greek Revival. The square entrance hall has a central ring of eight marble Ionic columns which support a saucer dome. In addition it contains decorative anthemion friezes and a stone and marble patterned floor. The morning room in the east corner is in a late 19th century Adam/Wyatt style.
The mansion housed a collection of over a hundred paintings representing many Old Masters – Domenichino (including the St John the Evangelist sold in 2009 for £9.2 million), Titian, Poussin, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, Claude Lorrain (including the Altieri Claudes) and Van Dyke, as well as numerous family portraits, however the majority of the more famous paintings were sold between 1884 and 1898. It was possible to visit the house to view the art collection on Thursday afternoons upon application to the Miles family's business offices at 61 Queen Square, Bristol (formerly the house of Philip John Miles's father, William Miles). The Great Hall which has a double staircase still contains an original pipe organ built by Flight and Robson of London. In addition to being played manually, it could originally be set to play the overture and a duet ("Ah, Perdona") from Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito. The grounds were originally landscaped by Humphrey Repton. At the turn of the 19th century a 2-acre (8,100 m2) walled garden was built to provide food for the estate.
The Miles family continued to occupy the house until 1917 when, in common with many such houses, it had become oversized for modern living; with onerous death duties to pay, it was put into a period of institutional use as a hospital. It was purchased by The Reverend Dr Burden, for use as a hospital for the mentally challenged. During the 1980s, Leigh Woods (surrounding the house) were used to film the TV series, Robin of Sherwood starring Michael Praed (later Jason Connery).
The mansion is entered from the south-east front through an Entrance Hall measuring about 30-foot (9.1 m) square, around which four pairs of massive marble pillars with Ionic capitals giving the impression of a circular room. This leads to the Great hall 50-foot (15 m) by 30-foot (9.1 m) and 50-foot (15 m) high extending to the glazed and coffered roof; the Hall is surrounded by galleries on the first floor which are supported by marble pillars with Ionic capitals. This in turn leads on to the Salon which is the same size as the Entrance Hall. To the right of the Great Hall is the Library which is 55-foot (17 m) by 25-foot (7.6 m) and was fitted with bookcases on three sides to the full height of the room and has two mauve marble fireplaces and deep coved friezes and cornicing. The ceiling, 18-foot (5.5 m) high, is of a bold, coffered geometrical design. The Library leads, to its right, to the Morning Room, about 35-foot (11 m) by 24-foot (7.3 m) and to its left to the Drawing Room of the same size as the Morning Room, decorated with gilt and tapestries and with views extending across the Severn to the Welsh hills. To the left of the Salon is the Dining room, of the same size as the Morning Room. Also to the left of the Great Hall are a Billiard room, Smoking room (now used as a bar when the house hosts receptions), Gun Room and WCs.
On the first floor is a suite of six "principal" bedrooms of approximately 24-foot (7.3 m) by 19-foot (5.8 m) and two dressing rooms, with a further eight other "best" bedrooms of approximately 20-foot (6.1 m) by 15-foot (4.6 m). There are two secondary bedrooms or "night nurseries" and a "day nursery" or school room as well as bathrooms and WCs. On a mezzanine level are workrooms, store rooms and closets.
On the second floor are fourteen "Maidservants' Bedrooms" though most such bedrooms have been converted to office space.
In the south-west wing on the first floor level are eight "Menservants' Bedrooms", again converted subsequently to office space and on the ground floor level are the domestic offices which were originally the Butler's Pantry, Butler's Room, Servants' hall, Housekeeper's Room, Kitchen, Still room, Scullery, Dairy, Wash-house etc., though these again have mainly been converted to office space.
Leigh Court was eventually restored to much of its former glory and many rooms and outbuildings have been converted for use as office accommodation, conference and meeting rooms. It is also approved by North Somerset council as a venue for civil wedding services. Business West (formerly the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative) also have their head offices at the house.
A not-for-profit organic farm has been established based on the walled garden, and buildings within the old estate are used by a charity providing mental health services and by the Macmillan Lymphoedema Service.
- "Leigh Court". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
- Evans, William (2002). Abbots Leigh — A Village History: Manor, Estate and Community. Abbots Leigh Civic Society. ISBN 978-0-9543875-0-1.
- Count Grammont. Memoirs of the Court of Charles the Second and the Boscobel Narratives, edited by Sir Walter Scott, Publisher: Henry G Bohn, York Street, London, 1846. Chapter: King Charles's escape from Worcester: (The King's own account of his escape and preservation after the Battle of Worcester as dictated to Samuel Pepys at Newmarket on Sunday, October 3d, and Tuesday, 5 October 1680). p.466
- J. Hughes (ed.) (1857). The Boscobel Tracts: Relating to the Escape of Charles the Second After the Battle of Worcester and his subsequent adventures, William Blackwood and Sons. p.166
- Ollard, Richard (1966). The Escape of Charles II, After the Battle of Worcester. Hodder and Stoughton.
- "Abbot's Leigh".
- "Manor House, Walton Street". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
- Evans, William (1997). "Leigh Court, Thomas Hopper and Pythouse". Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS) (The Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society) 141: 115–123.
- "Abbots Leigh Village Character Statement" (PDF). Abbots Leigh. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
- Young, John; Philip John Miles (1822). A Catalogue of the Pictures at Leigh Court, Near Bristol. London: W. Bulmer and W. Nicol.
- "A brief history of Leigh Court at Abbots Leigh" (PDF). Leigh Court. Business West. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
- "Abbots Leigh". Goblin Combe Environment Centre. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
- "History". Leigh Court Organic Farm. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
- Jancar, J (1987). "The History of Mental Handicap in Bristol and Bath" (PDF). Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 11 (8): 261–264. doi:10.1192/pb.11.8.261.
- Summary of description from survey undertaken in 1915 by Knight Frank
- "Leigh Court". Approvded premises. North Somerset Council. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
- "History". Leigh Court. Retrieved 14 November 2010.