29= (31- ) Jim Leavesley and family £150m (£110m)

You wouldn’t naturally associate Jim Leavesley with fine Chinese ceramics. He’s better known for dealing in every conceivable kind of military hardware from bailey bridges to battleships.

But his latest purchase is a shipment of 18th century Chinese porcelain from the Ca Mau Chinese shipwreck. The highly collectable blue and white ceramics are from the kilns of Jigndezhen, Dehua and Guangzhou from the Yongzheng dynasty, made between 1723 and 1735. The pieces are available for sale from Leavesley International, with a minimum order of £1,000.

It’s shrewd pieces of business like that which have kept the Leavesley empire going since just after the First World War.

One of Jim Leavesley latest ventures is the breaking up of HMS Intrepid, a Royal navy ship which played a major role in the Falklands conflict. It will be the first Royal Navy vessel to be broken up under Defra’s new guidelines on recycling. Some 95 per cent of the ship will be recycled.

The Burton-based Leavesley Group has been buying and selling military surplus for many years. The company was started by Jim Leavesley’s father James Thomas Leavesley in 1919. Now it lists the United Nations, the UK Defence Export Services Organisation and the Swedish Armed Forces among its clients.

The group is involved in other activities, including container hire and retail sales of workshop equipment, tools and furniture.

Two divisions of the group - Branston Investments and St Mary’s Investments are involved in property management, and have a significant portfolio of commercial properties and industrial parks throughout the UK.

The Leavesley family also has a stake in Simon Clarke’s St Modwen property business worth more than £100 million.