Burslem potter, orphaned at an early age. After attending the Tunstall WM Day School, he started working at a local pottery around 1832. Keen to improve his situation he went to evening classes, was given a job in the office and eventually became Works Manager. His WM upbringing gave him a strong social conscience. In an article in the Staffordshire Sentinel in 1890 Charles Shaw told how Leigh gave his family money for food when they were without bread and also gave Charles himself books that opened the world of literature to him.
Leigh was secretary of the local Building Society and became an alderman of the Burslem town council in 1878. Around 1857 he became a partner with Hancock and Whittingham at the Swan Bank Pottery in Burslem, leaving them in 1862 to become a partner of Frederick Rathbourne Burgess (1832-1895) at the Central Pottery, trading under the name Burgess and Leigh. In 1868 they leased part of the Hill Pottery, on the site of a chapel in which John Wesley had preached in 1760 or 1761. In 1889 the factory moved to the Middleport Pottery, where it continues in business as Burgess, Dorling and Leigh with the trade stamp of Burleigh Ware. In the late 19th and early 20th century it extended into overseas markets, including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
William's son Edmund Leigh (1854-1924) was educated at the Burslem WM Day School and entered the family business at 14. Following his father's example of hard work and study, he was a major force in the firm's development, opening offices in many countries abroad. Like his father he took a keen interest in national and local politics, becoming a Liberal and a foundation member of the London National Liberal Club and President of the local Liberal groups Associations. He served on the Burslem Borough Council and the Staffordshire County Council and was a JP. His social philosophy, based on his Methodist and family background, was that a country is measured by the way in which its wealth is fairly distributed. He campaigned for better pay and conditions for the pottery workers. and the foundation of the British Pottery Manufacturers' Federation owed a great deal to him. He was influential in building the Wolstanton WM chapel. He held several Methodist offices and was a representative to the 1900 WM Conference, held at Burslem.