MILES, Philip John (1774-1845), of Leigh Court, Abbots Leigh, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



29 Nov. 1820 - 1826
6 Mar. 1829 - 1832
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 1 Mar. 1774, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of William Miles, merchant, of Bristol and Clifton, Glos. and w. Sarah Berrow of Clifton.1 m. (1) 1795, Maria (d. 26 July 1811), da. of Dr. John Whetham, dean of Lismore, 1s. 4da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 11 May 1813, Clarissa, da. of Samuel Peach Peach of Tockington, Glos., 7s. 4da. suc. fa. 1803. d. 24 Mar. 1845.

Offices Held


Miles’s father, the eldest son of Robert Miles (d. 1737) of Ledbury, Herefordshire, went early in life to Jamaica, where he prospered. On his return to England he settled in Bristol, set up in business as a West India merchant and acquired a house at Clifton.2 He was active in municipal affairs, becoming a member of Bristol corporation in 1766 and, having served as mayor, 1780-1, being elected an alderman in 1782.3 He was the first chairman of the Bristol West India Association, a ginger group formed in 1782, and was admitted to the Society of Merchant Venturers the following year.4 His eldest son William died, aged 23, in 1790, leaving his second, Philip John Miles, to benefit handsomely as his residuary legatee on his death in 1803. (He also provided his widow with £40,000 and his four daughters with £50,000 each.)5

Miles became a Merchant Venturer in 1795, but declined to serve on the corporation the following year.6 He carried on the business, subsequently taking in his nephew Thomas Kington as a partner, at 61 Queen Square, and later built Leigh Court on the Somerset bank of the Avon as his residence. In 1794 he became the senior partner in the Bristol bank (founded in 1752) of Vaughan and Baker at 29 Corn Street, which became known as Miles and Company. In 1820 the business amalgamated with the banking house of Harford and Company of 8 Corn Street and was thereafter styled Miles, Harford and Company.7 At the general election early that year, the ministerialist White Lion Club invited him to stand for Bristol, but his candidacy was not considered credible and, after some prevarication, he declined on the ground of poor health.8 Eight months later he came in for Westbury as the paying guest of Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes*.

Miles made no mark in the House, where he is not known to have spoken in this period. He gave general support to the Liverpool ministry when present, but was a lax attender. He voted in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, but cast a wayward vote for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. It is not clear whether it was he or Charles Mills who voted for investigation of the Calcutta bankers’ claims on the East India Company, 4 July 1822. He divided with government against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., and of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into chancery administration, 5 June 1823. His only known vote in 1824 was against reform of Edinburgh’s representative system, 26 Feb., which he again opposed, 13 Apr. 1826. He divided against Catholic relief, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He was in the ministerial majority on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.

Miles did not find a seat in 1826, but in March 1829 he was returned on the Bond interest for Corfe Castle, where he sat until it was disfranchised. His four votes that month against the Wellington ministry’s policy of Catholic emancipation, which he was brought in to oppose, are the only traces which have been found of his activity in this Parliament. He took a month’s leave to attend to urgent private business, 9 Mar. 1830. After the general election that year ministers numbered him among the ‘moderate Ultras’ who were essentially ‘friends’, but, like his son William, who had now returned to the Commons, he failed to rally to them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. The Grey ministry’s reform bill returned him to his former allegiance, and he voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, and was in the minorities against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, the third reading, 19 Sept., and the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. 1831. His only known votes against the revised reform bill were against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832.

Miles re-entered Parliament as Conservative Member for Bristol in 1835, and was replaced on his retirement in 1837 by his second son Philip William Skynner Miles (1816-81). In 1833 he bought the De Clifford estate at Kings Weston on the edge of Bristol for £210,000, and he formed ‘a most celebrated collection’ of pictures at Leigh Court.9 Noted for ‘his kindness of heart, his mental ability, and comprehensive grasp of mind’, he died in March 1845, his personalty being sworn considerably in excess of £1,000,000.10 He devised Leigh Court and his Jamaican plantations to the only son of his first marriage, William (1797-1878), Conservative Member for Somerset East, and made handsome provision for his other sons, who continued the family’s banking, West India and cotton spinning concerns. In 1877 the bank amalgamated with the Bristol Old Bank at 35 Corn Street and became Miles, Cave, Baillie and Company.11

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / David R. Fisher


  • 1. She was probably da. of William Berrow, linen draper, of Bristol and Stoke Bishop (d. 1765), of whose will Miles was an executor (PROB 11/910/244).
  • 2. C.H. Cave, Hist. Banking in Bristol, 244-5; Caribbeana, ii. 330; iii. 122-3.
  • 3. A.B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 302.
  • 4. Trade of Bristol in 18th Cent. ed. W. E. Minchinton (Bristol Rec. Soc. xx), p. xvi; Politics and Port of Bristol in 18th Cent. ed. W.E. Minchinton (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxiii), 125, 162, 215; P. McGrath, Merchant Venturers, 158.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1790), ii. 864; PROB 11/1391/389; IR26/74/156.
  • 6. Politics and Port of Bristol, 216; Beaven, 302.
  • 7. Cave, 10, 72-78, 99; Recs. Bristol Ships ed. G.E. Farr (Bristol Rec. Soc. xv), 33, 36, 55, 100, 152, 207.
  • 8. Wilts. RO, Benett mss 413/485, Buckland to Benett, 5 Feb.; The Times, 29 Feb., 9 Mar. 1820; Beaven, 177; J. Williams, ‘Bristol in General Election of 1818 and 1820’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxxxvii (1968), 193-5.
  • 9. Cave, 74; Macaulay Letters, v. 283-4; J. Young, Cat. of Pictures at Leigh Court (1822).
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 657; IR26/1713/253; B. English, ‘Probate Valuations and Death Duty Regs.’, BIHR, lvii (1984), 88.
  • 11. Cave, 36, 81-84; Studs. in Business Hist. of Bristol ed. C.E. Harvey and J. Press, 14.