Higher Leigh was built by Henry Keene Bowden between 1851 and 1855 and was originally part of the much larger Lee Barton estate owned by his father John Bowden. When John Bowden died in 1851 he left the bulk of his estate to his elder son and pieces of land to his younger son Henry. There was no dwelling on this land so Henry naturally set about building himself a handsome residence suited to a man of his status which eventually became known as Higher Leigh Manor. The original building was not as ostentatious as it is now; it was extended to include turrets and elaborate windows a few years later. The house remained in the Bowden/Snell family for around 100 years.
In 1944 Michael Snell (the younger) conveyed the property to four women who were all nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent, Honor Oak, in London. Higher Leigh Manor was transformed into a Convent where many evacuated children lived during the war. The Nuns also schooled a lot of the children in the village. The top floor of the house were the children’s dormitories, Bug World used to be the Chapel, and the Tomb of the Pharaohs was the basement where the nuns used to sleep. Unfortunately during this time the nuns sold off pockets of land to local farmers, reducing the size of the estate quite dramatically.
In more recent times the Higher Leigh Manor Estate has been a Woolly Monkey Sanctuary and a Hotel but had been derelict and overgrown for many years when the founder of Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park, Robert Butcher, bought the estate in 1985. He originally intended to develop it into a nursing home. But after falling in love with the beauty of the valley and seeing the vast amount of exotic trees and plants, natural waterfalls and streams that were on this lovely Victorian estate he changed his mind and Combe Martin Wildlife Park was created, with the Dinosaurs appearing a few years later.
Although the Estate has seen many changes over the years you can still wander through the unchanged valley and appreciate all the unusual exotic trees, plants and fauna planted in the 1800’s. The Victorian walled garden that is in one of these old photos is now our Meerkat Dessert and also forms the back wall of our Wolf and Macaque enclosures. As new owners since 2012 (although related to the founder) we have undertaken a series of improvements on the park and will continue to do. Every penny possible is reinvested back each year to upgrade existing animal enclosures and increase attractions on the park for our visitors to enjoy.