Sir William Miles, 1st Baronet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir William Miles, 1st Baronet (13 May 1797 – 17 June 1878), was an English politician, agriculturalist and landowner. He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, and was created a baronet on 19 April 1859, of Leigh Court, Somerset.[1]

Miles baronets, of Leigh Court
MottoLabora sicut bonus miles
ArmsAzure 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
CrestUpon a helm barry affronte with visor open a dexter arm embowed in armour proper garnished or supporting with the hand an anchor also proper


Miles was the son of Philip John Miles (1773–1845) by his first marriage to Maria Whetham (1776–1811). His father was a landowner, shipowner, banker and reportedly the first millionaire in Bristol.[2]

Miles married Catherine (1798–1869), daughter of John Gordon, on 12 September 1823, with whom he had the following children:-

Political career[edit]

He was Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for Chippenham from 1818 to 1820, for New Romney from 1830 to 1832, and sat for East Somerset from 1834 to 1865 as a Conservative. During his time as MP for East Somerset, he was returned unopposed at all elections bar one. He voluntarily retired his seat in 1865 and it was subsequently held from 1878 by Sir William's son, Sir Philip Miles. He served a total of 35 years 7 months and 30 days, making him one of the longest serving MPs in the UK's parliament.

Sir William was a staunch Conservative, opposed to the Reform Act, and was a protectionist who favoured the Corn Law and supported the Duke of Richmond's Central Agricultural Protection Society (known as the "Anti-League"). Miles's sympathies lay with the landowning interest in the Party.[3] He supported the protectionist Benjamin Disraeli's early career, and was described in The Athenaeum as "chiefly responsible for his [Disraeli's] appointment".[4] The two shared extensive correspondence and visited each other's houses over many years. It was his actions as a leader of the protectionist faction of the Conservative Party in parliament and support for Lord Derby's Prime Ministership that saw him elevated to the Baronetage.

He supported amendments to the Poor Law to ensure that the responsibility for a bastard was not left solely upon the mother, as originally proposed, but would "place some portion of the responsibility on the head of the father".[5]

Miles supported Enclosure, maintaining that "Allotments of land under enclosures were much more beneficial to the poor than a common right of pasture. Not one inhabitant in ten of a parish made use of a common for purposes of pasturage; but when Allotments were made, every inhabitant participated in the benefit."[6]

He was deeply religious, at one stage putting forward an amendment in Parliament to prevent trains running on the then newly proposed Great Western Railway on Sundays.

Other roles[edit]

Sir William was chairman of Somerset Quarter Sessions for 35 years, partner in the family's bank, Miles & Co (which later became part of NatWest), from 1845 to his death in 1878, and commanded the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry as its Colonel.

When the parish church at Abbots Leigh burned down in 1847, he paid for its rebuilding from his own pocket.

This afternoon while the bells were chiming for divine service, a fire broke out in the rafters of the roof on the north side of the Church, it was ascertained the next day that the fire was caused by a crack in the chimney of the Store which was most negligently & stupidly built of only one brick thick and placed in immediate contact with the wall plate upon which the feet of the rafters rested. The fire, not withstanding the most active exertions of all the male inhabitants headed by William Miles Esq., whose exertions were almost incredible; the aid of the powerful engine from Leigh Court and after an interval of an hour and a half the assistance of three engines from Bristol, consumed the whole of the roof of the nave and south Aisle, the gallery, pulpit, reading desk and nearly all the pews leaving the tower and chancel uninjured.[7]

Sir William was Vice-President of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes which sought to improve housing for working families.[8] It eventually became part of the Peabody Trust.

Royal Agricultural Society[edit]

A prominent agriculturalist and one of the founding fathers of the Royal Agricultural Society, he was chairman of the local committee who "contributed to the excellence of the arrangements" for the Bristol Country Meeting. He took a practical interest in experiments on his farms.[9]

He regularly hosted the Society and served on its Management Committee as well as being Chairman of the Local Committee at Bristol in 1842 when he judged the trials at Pusey. He lent his own steam engines at Leigh Court for experiments following an anti-modernisation protest in 1847. He was the Royal Agricultural Society's Steward of Implements from 1841 to 1847 and during his Stewardship, the Exhibition of Implements grew from "a couple of sheds to an extend which even then gave promise of the vast proportions which the Shows have attained in recent years".

He was then a member of the Council and, from 1852 until his death in 1878, one of the 12 Vice-Presidents. Upon his death, his place as Vice-President was taken by Lord Skelmersdale and the President was the Prince of Wales, a shooting companion of Sir William's son.

Sir William served also as President in 1854–5 when he headed the Society's deputation to the Universal Exhibition in Paris when he was "received, both by the Emperor, the Ministers, and the learned Societies of that Capital with marked courtesy."

In his obituary, it was said that

"... ample testimony should be borne to the unwearied energy which Sir William Miles displayed in everything he undertook. No day was too long for him and no obstacle too great to be surmounted ... He was endowed with great promptitude of decision and although he required his decisions to be carried out to the very letter, and enforced them where necessary, there always predominated a frankness and manliness of character which won the confidence of all with whom he came in contact and endeared him to those who had the advantage of being associated with him as colleagues."[10]

"A keen sportsman, he was a hard rider with Sir Richard Sutton, Bt, at Lincoln in his youth (see Burton Hunt),[11] an earnest politician, an able magistrate, an enlightened agriculturalist and a warm-hearted friend."

Death and succession[edit]

Sir William was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Philip (1825–1888), who was later an MP for East Somerset. He was uncle of Philip Napier Miles.


  1. ^ "No. 22248". The London Gazette. 12 April 1859. p. 1482.
  2. ^ Livings, Steve. "The Miles Family and Leigh Court". Abbots Leigh web site. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  3. ^ Disraeli, Benjamin; Wiebe, Melvin George (1 June 2018). Benjamin Disraeli Letters: 1860–1864. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802099495 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ The Athenaeum, number 4606 June 1916, page 271
  5. ^ Hansard 21 June 1834 vol 24 cc 715-9
  6. ^ [Hansard 18 May 1836 vol 33 cc 1064-6]
  7. ^ Notebook of William Lansdown of Abbots Leigh, 1886, an eyewitness, accessed at
  8. ^ Society for improving the condition of the labouring classes (1870). Plans and suggestions for dwellings adapted to the working classes, including the model houses for families built by command of ... the prince consort ... in connection with the Exposition of the works of industry of all nations, 1851. Society for improving the condition of the labouring classes.
  9. ^ Miles, William (1841). "On the Cultivation of the Mangold-Wurzel". Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. 2: 298–300.
  10. ^ Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, 1879
  11. ^ Obituary. The Gentleman's Magazine. 1856. p. 182. Retrieved 2 July 2014. PPA80,M1.
  • The Annals of Bristol (Vol 3, Nineteenth Century), John Latimer, pub'd 1887.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Chippenham
With: George Spencer-Churchill, 1818–1820
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for New Romney
With: Arthur Hill-Trevor, to 1831;
Sir Roger Gresley, March–April 1831;
Sir Edward Dering, 1831–1832
Constituency abolished
Preceded by Member of Parliament for East Somerset
With: William Langton, to 1847;
William Pinney, 1847–1852;
William Knatchbull, from 1852
Succeeded by
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Leigh Court, Somerset)
Succeeded by