Leigh Woods Snaps


The recent availability of the 1901 Census has made it possible to analyse and understand how the population of Leigh Woods increased and changed in character in the 1890s.

20 new houses were built in the decade, leaving Leigh Woods still a modest community of only 56 houses in 1901.  6 of the new houses -such as Bracken Hill, Denegarth or The Evergreens - were “gentry“ houses, built on big plots, for big families and lots of servants.  The other 12 houses were “servants dwellings” attached to existing or newly built “gentry” houses, designed for coachmen and grooms, and to a lesser extent gardeners, and their families.  The total population therefore went up by almost exactly 50% to 357 : women continued to outnumber men by over 2:1 in this servant dependent community.

Only 4 of the original 14 families were still in Leigh Woods in the 1890s, and of these only 2 survived until 1901.  Francis Fox (Alpenfels) and Joseph Leech (Burwalls) died, but Charles Montague, and his son’s family, continued at Hillside, and Haythorne Latcham, for many years a widower, survived in his 70s with his five unmarried sisters in Heathlands.

The newcomers, over the years, had begun to create a Leigh Woods community with three distinct elements within it, and by 1901 that pattern was very clearly established.

Firstly, there were the families of important and wealthy Bristol businessmen, in particular from the tobacco and wines and spirits trade, and they occupied over one-third of the houses.  It is interesting how the arrival of one member of a business family often led to others following, and increasingly including those active and not just retired or honorific in the business.  George Wills, who moved into Burwalls after the death of Joseph Leech in 1892, was followed into Leigh Woods by his brother Melville, who built Bracken Hill.  Tom Davey, of Franklin, Davey & Co, Tobacco Merchants, at Bannerleigh, was followed by his brother Richard moving into Eversley (where Foye House now is) after the death of Francis Fry (of the chocolate company), and by his son, who, in his 20s, built The Coppice.  John Harvey, of the sherry importers, at Glenside was followed by his son John at Ardmore, when Professor Rowley moved to another of the new houses at Denegarth, and his son Edward at Woodside after the death of Emma and Hugh Marshall.  Edwin Avery took over Woodside on George Wills’ move to Burwalls, and Joseph Avery built The Evergreens.  A retail bread merchant and confectioner lived in Rosemount, an iron merchant in Oakleigh and a corn merchant in Southwood.  The widow of Alderman Jose, “American Trader”, Master of the Merchant Venturers and Mayor of Bristol, established herself in Alpenfels after the death of Francis Fox, and completed the representation in Leigh Woods of Bristol’s powerful commercial community.

Just over another third of the houses were lived in by the families of professional men, and of these, most strikingly, exactly half were solicitors, who constituted the largest single occupational group in Leigh Woods.  Individual professions  represented included banking, academia, architecture, the Church and the Army.

Finally, the Census records just under a third of the heads of households as “living on own means”.  Most were elderly widowed ladies, but included still at Woodleigh the now middle-aged and married Arthur Way, with his large household staff, his horses and grooms.

This distinctive, affluent, influential community was able in the course of the 1890s to work together to achieve two things for Leigh Woods that have proved to be of lasting significance.  Firstly they gained a Church for Leigh Woods.  Secondly, they successfully resisted the City of Bristol’s attempts between 1891 and 1896 to incorporate Leigh Woods within the City boundaries and make its inhabitants pay the City Rates.  The Church flourishes a hundred or so years on, and the City of Bristol has never tried again.  On the other hand, affluent and influential as it was, even the Leigh Woods community did not escape the typhoid outbreak of 1897 unscathed.

George Wills’ generosity, enabling the purchase of the remaining Leigh Woods Development Company land and its gifting to the National Trust, was soon to come in 1908 and in the physical sense this was to preserve and conserve Leigh Woods.  But the community that  had developed within that preserved Edwardian setting, of which the 1901 Census provides a snapshot, proved to be remarkably resilient as well; created in the late 19th century it lasted well into the 20th.

  ©Derek Smith 2005


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