Opening hours 9.00 to 5.30 (except Wednesday and Sunday closed all day and Saturday 9.00 to 5.00)
In 1811, Joseph Braddell and his son came from County Donegal to the city of Belfast where they set up a business to make and supply sports equipment for the gentry. He was already an experienced gunsmith and a keen wildfowler. The first premises were in Castle Place next door to the Ulster Club, convenient to their intended customers. As well as the shop there were five workshops equipped with the most up-to-date machinery powered by their own 15hp engine. There were up to twenty men employed manufacturing the “Ulster Bulldog” revolver, shotguns, fishing rods and golf clubs which were exported world-wide. In addition the shop also sold tennis rackets and archery equipment.
After the death of Joseph Braddell the business was taken over by Colonel Charles Playfair, the son of a noted Birmingham gunmaker. In 1890, William James Clarke joined the firm as a junior salesman, later becoming manager. Also about this time the gunsmith of the firm designed, at the request of a local businessman, a triggerless shotgun fired by the left hand.
The then Belfast Bank required premises in Castle Junction, in 1915, and acquired the property occupied by Joseph Braddell and Son Limited as J. Robb and Company sold the property when the lease expired. It was at this time that W.J.Clarke, with the financial assistance of two wealthy customers, bought over the shooting and fishing section of the business and moved to Arthur Square. Another employee, John Knox, took over the golf and other sports sections and opened a shop in Upper Donegall Street.
The manufacture of guns and golf clubs ceased after this move although guns bearing the name of Braddell were made by Midland Gun Company and J.W.Tolley. Some of the records of the guns made by Braddells still exist but unfortunately the majority of the records were destroyed in a fire at the Castle Place premises. All the goods sold by Braddells bore their trademark which was the hand of Ulster with a monogram of an interwoven J B & S in the palm. About the turn of the century Braddells took part in two exhibitions in which they were awarded two gold medals.
During 1925 and 1926 James and Bobby Clarke joined their father in the business and it was they who carried out the last display, in 1930, of another service provided by Braddells. As the agents of a fireworks manufacturer the firm provided displays throughout Ireland at functions such as weddings, birthdays and births of heirs to estates. The last display was for the heir of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava at Clandeboye.
The business continued successfully through the Second World War when despite cartridge rationing, by 50%, all customers requirements were satisfied. In 1947, after his demob from the Royal Air Force, Harry Clarke joined his two brothers in the business to continue the family tradition. They worked together until 1970 when Bobby Clarke retired.
The next major event to affect Braddells in 1975 was the move away from Arthur Square after sixty years, due to extensive renovations. Larger premises were obtained at 9 North Street which gave more space for display of a larger stock. In April 1982 the business changed ownership as the two remaining Clarkes, James and Harry, had decided to retire, Kenneth Rankin, the proprietor of a similar business in Royal Avenue, Belfast, took over, and again this could be the start of another family tradition in Braddells as his son-in-law, Charlie Costley joined the firm as manager. The shop was enlarged and the display areas refinished to give bigger and brighter displays.
After operating as two separate companies for a number of years Braddells and Rankins merged, in March 1988, and moved into larger premises at 11 North Street. There are two large sales floors, workshop and storage areas making it probably the largest fieldsports shop in Ireland, with in the region of 400 rods on display at any one time.
Towards the end of 1989 Kenneth Rankin decided to retire and sold the business to Charlie Costley and Neil McWhirter who had been the managers of Braddells and Rankins respectively. Although no longer making guns the business continues to offer a gunsmithing and repair service.
Joseph Braddell and Son Limited has been an established part of the Northern Ireland sporting and business scene since 1811 and has seen many changes and overcome difficult times. From when a best quality Braddell gun cost less than fifteen pounds, salmon flies 1s.3d. right through the introduction of fibre glass and carbon rods to the present day. Through two world wars as well as the chequered history of Ireland, from 1811 to the present day, Braddells has survived, prospered and looks forward to its continuance as an institution of Irish angling and shooting for many, many years to come.