Ezra Braggins – Founder of E Braggins & Sons
by Linda Ayres
Braggins had traded for 87 years in Bedford and was well known for delivering good service and selling high quality goods. It was said that if you cannot find what you want, try Braggins.
Ezra Braggins was one of nine children born to John and Susanna Braggins on October 14th, 1844 at Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire. By 1851, the family had moved to Station Road, Winslow, where Ezra’s father worked as a Railway Porter.
When Ezra left school, he served his apprenticeship at a drapery shop in Winslow. At the age of 26 years, he opened his first drapery shop in Winslow, that same year he married Susan Orchard on April 13th, 1870. Sadly, their marriage was short lived, the following February, both Ezra’s wife and his baby daughter, also named Susan died within four days of each other.
On October 12th, 1873, Ezra married farmer’s daughter Martha Elizabeth Willison, the following year he opened a second large silk and drapery store at 46 High Street Newport Pagnell.
Ezra opened his first drapery shop n Bedford at 28 Silver Street, in 1885, trading from 8.00am to 8.00pm during the week and 8.00am to 10.00pm on Saturdays. In 1898, the firm changed to E. Braggins and Sons when Ezra and Archibald his two eldest sons, were made partners. Before long, the firm became hugely successful and outgrew 28 Silver Street, subsequently Braggins acquired No’s 30, and 32 Silver Street, and staff living in the upper floors at No 28 Silver Street was provided lodgings elsewhere to make workrooms for the tailoring department. In 1910, Braggins acquired a property in Harpur Street.
When Ezra died in 1912, his sons Ezra and Archibald ran the firm as joint managing directors, in 1919, the firm turned in to a private limited company.
At some stage in the 1930s, Braggins installed the cash railway system, at that time it was usual practice for shop owners to install this system to put a stop to dishonest staff stealing money. Shop assistants placed money inside a golden metallic canister and the railway trolley pulled it with much clatter all along the lengthy open metal tracks by a system of wires to the cash office, hidden at the end of the shop. The Pneumatic Tube Transport, replaced this system in later years, the new system propelled cylil containers through networks of tubes by compressed air or by partial vacuum. This system remained in operation until the late 1960s.
Braggins continued to go from strength to strength, by expanding the Silver Street premises in 1947, when they acquired Bryant’s Fish Shop and the Victory Hall in 1950. In 1955, they opened a new women’s department for high value merchandise selling mink jackets and cocktail dresses.
August was one of the busiest times of the year when mothers with their children arrived in droves to purchase school uniforms. Braggins stocked most of the Bedfordshire schools’ uniforms.
The growth of Braggins had been due to the support given to the then large Bedfordshire pillow lace industry. Trainee sales assistants collected lace from lace makers living in the surrounding villages of Bedfordshire. Once collected and brought back to the shop, the lace was then sewn on to fine linen tablecloths, tray cloths, and handkerchiefs. Customers from as far as Australia, New Zealand, and America and who had once lived in Bedfordshire would send orders to Braggins requesting items of Bedfordshire lace be sent to them. However, by the 1980s, lace making had fallen into decline, as it did not attract future generations.
In 1968, Mr Derrick Braggins, grandson of Ezra, announced to the staff that the next generation of the Braggins family did not want to carry on the family business. Lonsdale & Bartholomew a stationery firm acquired the store. In 1982, they sold the store to J.E Beale a Bournemouth based family owned chain. In 2015, Andrew Perloff a property magnet and Beales major shareholder had taken over the company and closed those stores that were running at a loss.
Source: Bedfordshire Times and Independent July 19th 1912.
Researcher: Linda S. Ayres
May 21, 2021