William Bracey, Senior & Junior, of Martham

William James Bracey (Snr.) 1847- 1922

William James Bracey was born on 8th July 1847 in Great Yarmouth as the first child of William Drury Bracey and Sophia, nee Nudd and was baptised at Great Yarmouth on 30th January 1848. He also had a sister called Elizabeth who was born in 1855. As a child he grew up living with his grandparents at Great Yarmouth in 1851 and at Caister in 1861.   

When he was 21, he married Lucy Taylor on 4th January 1868 at St. Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth and three years later, in 1871, they were livings at 4 Nelson Place, Great Yarmouth where William was a bricklayer. During these early years they had four children and they lived at Manby Road in Great Yarmouth when all four children were baptised on the same day, 6th May 1877, at St Nicholas Church. The baptism records tell us that William was a builder, contractor, carter and brick merchant. They went on to have seven children one of which died as an infant. The other six were as follows:

  1. William Bracey was born on 4th May 1870 in Great Yarmouth. There is more about him below.
  2. Albert Ernest Bracey was born on 19th December 1872 in Great Yarmouth. He married Henrietta Broom in 1894 in Great Yarmouth and died on 27th August 1925 at the Imperial Hotel, Great Yarmouth.
  3. Elizabeth Edith Bracey was born on 18th July 1875 in Great Yarmouth.
  4. Rose Ellen Bracey was born on 11th February 1877 in Great Yarmouth. She died in 1939.
  5. Frederick William Bracey was born in 1879 in Great Yarmouth.
  6. Amelia Lucy Rebecca Bracey was born on 7th July 1880 in Great Yarmouth.

William and Lucy lived separate lives after the birth of Amelia and lived at different addresses according to every census thereafter. Lucy continued to live at various addresses in Great Yarmouth from 1881 until at least 1901 and was in London by 1911. 


In 1881 William was at St Nicholas Road, Great Yarmouth but between then and 1890 he made the move to Martham. It may have been that he was able to obtain the land at Cess Road to build the terrace named after him but by 1890 he was listed in Kelly’s Directory as being a builder, contractor and market gardener and in 1891 the census tells us he lived at Braceys Buildings – shown left. He lived at the former level crossing end of Cess Road with his sons William and Alfred whilst his other children were with their mother in Great Yarmouth.

William had run his building business at both Martham and Great Yarmouth appearing in the 1896 edition of Kelly Directory as a “builder, contractor, carter and brick merchant at St Nicholas Road, Great Yarmouth.”  He extended his business activities and had become the owner of several brickworks in the Martham area, the largest being located opposite Martham Ferry and known as Bracey’s Brickworks of which today only the flooded pits remain and the site is better known now as Martham Pits.

Business must have been very good because in 1906 he acquired the manorial rights of the manor and Martham Hall at Hall Road. It seems he did not live there however because he was again counted in the census in 1901 as living at the same Cess Road address with his son William (Jnr.), who had married, living next door. (Certainly in 1901 The Hall at Hall Road, the historic seat of the Lord of the Manor, was only occupied by Charles & Mary Shreeve, as caretakers and Charles was the farm bailiff).

His acquisition of land and farms included Manor Farm with its house on Back Lane and by 1904 Kelly’s Directory recorded him as living there. Despite its name the property had nothing to do with either of the two historic manors of Martham at Hall Road and Moregrove.

His acquisition did not stop there. In 1908 the Risings‘ Martham Estate came up for sale which he bought and it included Martham House and 156 acres of farmland; four acres of Bell Meadow with a substantial barn and four cottages that backed onto the graveyard; Thunder Hill Farm; Rose Cottage, Cess; and 27 acres of arable and marsh enclosures. This is a copy of the advert for the sale:

Along the way he had diversified into dairy farming in a big way and taken over ownership of Heigham Holmes with its access over the River Thurne at the north end of Ferrygate. These holdings meant he was the largest landowner in Martham at the time and one of its most successful farmers ever.

Towards the end of his life William lived at Scratby Hall Farm, Scratby where he died on 23rd February 1922. There was a dispute about his Will and an Administrator was appointed by the Court of Probate. His son William, Jnr (1870-1949) took over the running of the business and the Martham Estate element was eventually sold by the Trustees to William’s Estate in 1937. You can get an idea about the extent of the 935 acre estate from the following catalogue pages:-

First three pages of the 1937 sales catalogue

The Journal newspaper ran an article on 24th July 1937 about the outcome of the sale which shows that the Martham House estate sold for £8,800 and Heigham Holmes did not sell at a reserve price of £3,600.

Outcomes of the Martham Estate sale held on 17th July 1937.

William Bracey (Jnr). 1870-1949

William Jnr. was born on 4th May 1870 in Great Yarmouth.  He lived with his parents in Great Yarmouth in his early years before moving to Martham with his father in 1891 where they were both in the building business. When he was 22, in 1893, he married Clara Alice Brown at St Mary’s. She was the daughter of James Brown and Eliza, nee Jeary and over the following 22 years she had the following children with William:-

  1. Horace William Bracey who was born on 11th November 1893 in Martham. He died in 1959 in Norfolk.
  2. Wilfred James Bracey who was born on 24th April 1896 in Martham.  He died in 1959.
  3. Sidney Gordon Bracey was born on 21st January 1900 in Martham. He married Elsie Elizabeth Debbage on 4th May 1922 at St Mary’s. He died in 1952.
  4. Florence Clara Eliza Bracey was born in 1901 at Martham.  She married Jabez Blyth in 1925 and died in 1980.
  5. Dorothy Winifred Bracey who was born in 1904 at Martham. She married Herbert Mainey in 1929 in Great Yarmouth and died in 1977.
  6. Gertrude Agnes Bracey who was born on 17th January 1915. She married George Frederick Crisp in 1937 in Great Yarmouth and had a son called Raymond who is mentioned again below. 

As a young man William worked with his father in the building business at first but significantly was a fruit merchant by 1901 whilst living at Cess Road next door to his father. By 1904 his father had become wealthy by expanding his building and brick making business and had purchased land and farms in the village including Manor Farm and the Lordship of the Manor. Father and son Bracey were also named amongst the commissioners of the Martham Level drainage wind pump, aka Bracey’s Mill, built in 1908 on the southern bank of the River Thurne.

By 1911 William (Jnr.) had really gone up in the world and was living with his family at the same house but it was now called Manor House rather than Farm and he had a servant called Maud Sales. His blackcurrant business had taken off and like his father before him he appears to have become a consummate entrepreneur as the 1911 census listed him as being a farmer, fruit merchant & grower, wheelwright, blacksmith and agent for agricultural implements.

Business must have been good because William purchased a brand new car from Mann Egerton in Norwich in March 1913 but it nearly cost him his life! When approaching Martham and rounding a bend in Repps Road at the level crossing he ran into the closed gates smashing them open and the 6.20 p.m train, that had just left Martham station, crashed into him. The car had to be written-off and William had head injuries and his son suffered a leg injury but both, luckily, survived.

The family firm grew further by expanding the farming side of the business and records show that by the time his father died in 1922 he had become the biggest land holder at Heigham Holmes owning almost half the 261 acres there which was used for summering a herd of about 90 dairy cows from May until September and for grazing heifers which stayed on the island throughout the year.

As time past the family’s herd of dairy cattle was disbanded and in July 1937 the Martham Estate portion of the business, including Heigham Holmes dairy farm and wild fowling estate, was put up for sale by auction at the Royal Hotel, Norwich. Some of the lots, including Heigham Holmes, failed to attract a buyer so the Braceys’ paired-down presence in Martham continued. William Jnr. bought Manor Farm out of his father’s estate for £3,900 and continued to live there. In the same year Kelly’s Directory listed William as a farmer, fruit merchant & grower and blacksmith. He was still listed as an employer and as a self-employed farmer and merchant in the 1939 register living at Manor House.

William died in 1949, aged 79, and was buried on 17th January at St Mary’s at section E, plot C1 and was joined, much later, by his widow Clara when she died on 26th February 1956.

The double grave of William & Clara Bracey at St Mary the Virgin, section E, plot c1 with a unique wooden kerb

After the Second World War, Braceys were one of only five merchants of soft fruit, mainly blackcurrants, in England, sending large tonnages each year to the wholesale markets, canning, and jam-making factories all over the country. Following William’s death in 1949 the business continued as a family trust until 1971, when Raymond Crisp, the grandson of William (Jnr.) took over. In the 1970s they were still in business and in 1973 the company was the first in England to pioneer a fully mechanised method of fruit processing, an innovation which reportedly cost about £25,000. Profits however plummeted dramatically during the following decade due to competition from cheaper imports and in the early 1990s the merchant side of the company ceased. The business was eventually sold in 2002.

You can read a schoolgirls’ account of fruit picking at Bracey’s by clicking HERE.

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