Situated in a magnificent position overlooking Bristol this house was built for Joseph Leech, local newspaper baron, in 1872. He died there in 1893 and subsequently George Wills bought the house. George extended the house and his land holdings in the area and in 1908 donated Leigh Woods including Nightingale Valley and Burwalls Wood to the National Trust. The University bought it from the Trustees of his estate in 1948.
The house and grounds were used as halls of residence until 1973 when it was converted into Bristol University Conference Centre. By 2010 the building was deemed surplus to requirement and the University placed Burwalls on the market for £5 million. The house was considered run-down and future occupation would need considerable investment.
“Its impressive red brick frontage will be instantly recognisable to anyone who regularly goes across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.”
The sale process was long and complex but a deal was eventually reached in 2013. However, this fell through soon after and allowed Kersfield, a London and Bath based property developer, to begin negotiations for the purchase. The company Kersfield, run by David Newton, specialised in high-end flat conversions and paid a sale price of £4 million. The freehold was acquired in 2014 and Kersfield subsequently obtained planning consent to convert the main house into five large apartments and redevelop the old stables and lodge as six houses together with a studio.
Over the next few years almost £6 million was invested at Burwalls. The conversion went over budget due to the presence of asbestos and the discovery of an old well underneath the house. The aim of Kersfield was to remove many of the university’s later changes and re-engage with the original purpose of the house. They appointed Nash Partnerships to design and reconstruct Burwalls into luxury apartments but this meant consultation with English Heritage and Bristol’s Conservation Department. They were required to restore the building to its former glory with minimal disturbance to the fabric of the building. At the same time they introduced contemporary features sympathetic to its original features such as fireplaces, timber panelling and the decorative ceilings. The old stables, along the southern boundary of the estate, were also redeveloped to provide two refurbished houses along with four new detached houses and a studio. In 2016, a year later than planned, the new apartments were advertised for sale with prices ranging between £1.1 million and £1.5 million.
An article which appeared in House and Heritage in January 2017 has been reproduced and can be viewed in the Articles and Information section on the Leigh woods Society page. It can also be read below.