Edward Mills Grace was a very important person in Thornbury and his name was well-known throughout the region because of his work as a medical practitioner and coroner and his involvement in local affairs. He was even more well-known as a cricketer and his fame in this context spread throughout the country and the other cricket-playing nations. It was said of ‘E. M.’ (as he was called) that ‘But for the accident that his own brother proved greater than himself, E. M. Grace would have lived in cricket history as perhaps the most remarkable player the game has produced. Barring W. G., it would be hard indeed to name a man who was a stronger force on a side or a more remarkable match winner’.
As a cricketer, he was often referred as ‘The Coroner’. We do not intend to write about his achievements on the cricket field as these have been well documented elsewhere on the internet. Click here to read one profile
Here we will write briefly about his family, the houses where he lived and the various other activities which kept him busy when not playing cricket. We have attached a separate page giving a biography of EM written by his son, Dr Edgar Mervyn Grace, which does include some references to cricket as well as other more personal matters. Click here to read this biography
Edward Mills was born in Downend on 28th November 1841, the third son of Dr Henry Mills Grace and his wife, Martha (nee Pocock). He started school at Long Ashton, but moved to Goodenough House School in Ealing which is where he was at the time of the 1851 census. After school, like his brothers, Edward gained an apprenticeship with his father in Downend 1857 and then he attended lectures at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and in London. On qualifying as a doctor in 1866 he started a practice in Marshfield before moving to Olveston and then on to Thornbury in 1867. Edward moved in to live at 20 Castle Street.
Whilst at Olveston he met his first wife, Annie White Stutchbury. They were married at Almondsbury Church on 5th February 1868. Annie was the youngest daughter of the late Mr Joseph Sidney Stutchbury a druggist of Georgetown, Demerara which is where Annie was born in 1846. By 1871 he and Annie had moved to a rented house at 13 The Plain which he rented at £55 per annum. The 1871 census shows Edward Mills Grace as a physician and surgeon aged 29 living with his wife, Annie White aged 27 born in Demara West Indies and their two daughters, Annie Ethel aged 1 and Edith Mabel aged 8 months. They lived here until 1879 when the house was being put up for sale.
As mentioned earlier, Edward was an enthusiastic and talented cricketer from an early age. This didn’t stop when he moved to Thornbury. It was in 1871 that E.M. founded the present Thornbury Cricket Club, and in 1872 the ground at ‘The Ship’ at Alveston, where the Club still plays, was brought into use, and for 40 years he was Captain, Secretary and Treasurer.
Edward was quickly moving up in the world. In 1873 he was appointed as Secretary to Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. In 1874 he was made Mayor of the Borough and in 1875 Edward was appointed as Coroner for the Southern District of Gloucester. He was also the Registrar for Births and Deaths, Chairman of the Thornbury School board and Parish Councillor.
On 29th September 1879 Edward bought Park House (shown in the photo) from William Henry Councell for £2200. This was a large house in its own grounds just off the High Street, and he made it his family home. He certainly needed a large house. We have read that Edward fathered 18 children, but we have only found records of 17. Edward and Annie had: Annie Ethel baptised on 15th December 1869 who was dumb and an imbecile from birth, Ethel Mabel born in September quarter 1870, Florie Beatrice born in September quarter 1872, Mina Gertrude born in June quarter 1873, Edward Sidney Henry baptised on 2nd February 1876, Maud Tiny baptised on 2nd February 1876, Sarah Martha Annie baptised early in 1877 and Alice Rose born later in same year, both baptised on 28th November 1877, Francis Henry baptised on 5th February 1879, Ada Hellings baptised on 29th October 1879, Sybil Elizabeth born in March quarter 1881, George Frederick baptised on 1st April 1882 and John baptised on 17th March 1883.
On 29th March 1884 Edward’s first wife, Annie White, died. In June 1885 Edward married Annie Louise Robinson, the eldest daughter of Mr Alfred Robinson of Beechwood, Fishponds and Kemerton Castle near Malvern. Alfred was one of the founders of the firm of E.S. & A. Robinson, who manufactured paper and paper bags. Annie had been engaged to Edward’s brother, George Frederick another outstanding cricketer, who had died suddenly in 1880, two weeks after playing with his two more famous brothers for England against Australia. She bravely took on the responsibility of caring for Edward’s eight children, the eldest of whom was 15.
Edward and his second wife had four more children: Edgar Mervyn born on 6th October 1886, Mervyn Bruce born on 15th August 1889, Doris Marguerite born in September quarter 1893 (she died after only 5 months) and Norman Vere born on 31st July 1894.
Annie Louise died on 24th July 1901 aged 43 and was buried in the Robinson family vault at Fishponds Baptist Chapel. The congregation overflowed the Chapel and had to wait two hours for the hearse to arrive from Thornbury and then heard an hour long address on Annie’s many virtues. We understand from Edgar Mervyn’s notes that she used to follow the cricket played by Gloucestershire County and Thornbury and she enjoyed riding with the hounds, first with the Beaufort Hunt and then following her marriage with the Berkeley Hunt. She also played golf on the short course at Oldown, was an accomplished pianist and confident platform concert singer and a very good painter in oil, especially animals and country scenes.
Edward married for a third time in the Keynsham area on 15th March 1902. His new wife was married Blanche Adelaide who had also been married twice before. Her maiden name was Hall, and she had previously been married to Thomas Abraham and John Rapsey Guy who had died in 1901.
Blanche died in Clifton in February 1907 aged 63 and in the December quarter of the same year, Edward married for the fourth and last time. His new wife was Sarah Elizabeth Brain who he married in the Walsall area. Sarah Elizabeth was born in 1844, the daughter of George Brain and his wife, Mary (nee McGowan) of St George in Bristol. George who had become a wealthy man based on his interest in coal mines, brickworks, farming, shipping, and property and following his death much of his wealth was left to Sarah Elizabeth. She also had close family connections with the Brains Brewery Company founded in Cardiff. The notes made by Edgar Mervyn Grace mention that Sarah and his father had courted 40 years earlier. Apparently the London newspaper ‘The Winning Post’ quipped ‘What she lost in Brain she gained in Grace’. Edgar thought Sarah was ‘a marvellous woman in every way, extremely active for her age who at 88 could jump a kitchen chair, and looked after Father very well indeed, playing Besique with him every evening’.
The Western Daily Press of 2nd December 1907 reported that Dr Grace had resigned from his appointment as medical officer for the workhouse. His reason was that at the age of 66 and having done the job for over 40 years he felt it was time he relinquished some of his duties. The Board of Guardians administering the workhouse accepted his resignation and re-advertised the job at the same alary of £168 per annum.
Edward died on 20th May 1911 aged 69. Large crowds took to the streets to watch the funeral cortege pass along from his house in the High Street to Downend where the funeral service took place. It took the cortege two hours to travel the twelve mile route. His remains were buried in the churchyard next to the Downed Cricket Club ground and near to the house where he was born and where he learned to play cricket.
In Edward’s last will and testament dated 20th September 1909 his property left to his trustees. His wife Sarah was given the choice of any furniture and household effects that she might want. At the time of his death, Edward still owed £1400 on a mortgage held against the property. The property was put up for sale at auction on 16th August 1911 together with a collection of the furniture and household effects. The property was bought by Henry Privett Thurston for £1400, a price which was surprisingly low according to Edgar. We are not sure where Sarah Elizabeth lived after the sale of the house. By 1921 her son, Edgar Mervyn Grace had bought Park House following the death of Henry Privett Thurston in 1918 and she returned to live there for the rest of her life. Sarah Elizabeth died at Park House in Thornbury on 13th October 1932 aged 88.
Of his many children:
- Edgar Mervyn – followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a general medical practitioner in Thornbury. He was also a very good cricketer in his own right and continued his father’s involvement with Thornbury Cricket club up to the time of his death. Click here to read about Edgar and his family
- Francis Henry – became an electrical engineer and played a major role in bringing electricity to Thornbury and in the opening of the Town’s cinema called ‘The Picture House’. Click here to read more
- Florie Beatrice – was baptised in Mangotsfield on 4th September 1872. She married Dr Claude Bernard of Fishponds on 20th September 1899. Florrie was aged 27 and she was still living in Thornbury with her family at the time of her marriage. Claude was a widower aged 31. She died at Downend on 20th May 1948 aged 75.
- Mervyn Bruce – educated at Wellington College he became an engineer and worked at the GWR railway works in Swindon. In 1911 he went to South Africa for 2 years and on his return he married and took a partnership with a motor agent in London. At the outbreak of War he was given a commission in the North Staffs Regiment. He served briefly in Ireland during the Easter Rebellion and was then sent to France. On 8th May 1917 Mervyn was reported missing on the Somme when he and the greater part of his party fell within minutes of going ‘over the top’ to attack the German lines. It was later learnt that he was wounded in the arm soon after the battle began, but refused to go back and as he rushed to the front he was shot through the head and died. He left a wife, Dorothy (nee Dale) and two daughters. We are grateful to Les Summerfield, Thornbury Cricket Club and Mike Grace for allowing us to see the documents written by Edgar Mervyn Grace on the history of the Cricket Club. These included the following thumbnail sketch of his brother Mervyn:
Mervyn Bruce Grace – the fourth son of E. M. Grace and born on August 15th 1889, Mervyn was a useful all-round cricketer, who first played for Thornbury in 1902 at the early age of 13; he scored his maiden century in 1909. The following year he sought employment as an engineer in South Africa, and when the First World War broke out in 1914 he joined the North Staffordshire Regiment, in which his brother-in-law, Dr. W. Dale, was Medical Officer. Three years later he lost his life after being shot through the head while leading his platoon into action in France. A very likeable fellow, he would undoubtedly have made his mark had he lived.
Norman Vere – the photo on the right is said to be one of Norman taken about 1900. He was also educated at Wellington College and then joined the Royal Navy in the First World War. In 1916 he was appointed Lieutenant and was serving then on the HMS Lawford, a destroyer having previously served on the HMS Implacable and HMS Foyle. Norman married Lilla Marguerite Spiller in Kilgarriffe, Clonakilty, County Cork in Ireland in 1932. Miss Spiller was described as “Margery Spiller M.B. B.C.H.” in the announcement of their marriage in the Gazette and so she too was in the medical profession. An article in the Western Daily Press mentions she had been in practice in Thornbury for several years previoulsy with Norman’s brother. They had two sons: Patrick Norman born in 1934 and Mervyn Harton born in 1938. Patrick became a missionary and Mervyn a schoolmaster. Both have played cricket for Thornbury Cricket Club. In the Second World war, he was Captain of a minelayer, the HMS Adventure from August 1940 to August 1942. In 1943 he was Captain of the heavy cruiser, HMS Berwick until he took over as Captain of the HMS Vernon in September 1944. He was, not surprisingly, another cricketer. We know he represented the Royal Navy in three matches between 1920 to 1927. Norman died on 20th February 1975 at Amberley, Gloucestershire. We are grateful to Les Summerfield, Thornbury Cricket Club and Mike Grace for allowing us to see the documents written by Edgar Mervyn Grace on the history of the Cricket Club. These included the following thumbnail sketch about his brother, Norman:
Norman Vere Grace – born on July 31st 1894 Norman Grace was E.M.’s fifth son, and at an age which was early, even for a member of the Grace family, first played for Thornbury when he was only 9! He continued to play until 1966 when at 72 he decided it was high time he retired. When he was 12 he joined the Royal Navy and was at Osborne and Dartmouth with the then Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VIII and now Teddy Windsor, retiring as a Captain in 1948. He was a very good all-round cricketer, playing for the Navy against the Army at Lord’s three times, and in many parts of the world. Whenever he was at home he performed very successfully for Thornbury, making several scores between 80 and 100 as well as taking heaps of wickets. As a successful slow bowler, very similar to his uncle ‘W.G.’ he once captured all ten wickets in a match, two of them in the last over, the tenth with the final ball – a considerable feat. He also played for Gloucestershire Gipsies from 1924 until a few years ago, being elected Chairman in 1954, a position he still holds with great success. As a fielder he made his mark at long-on and also at first slip, where he made many fine catches, often falling backwards, to everyone’s amusement. His finest performance was against Bath Association at the ‘Ship’ at Alveston. They were set to make 27 to win, but so well did he bowl that they lost seven wickets before the winning hit was made! Once he took 8 wickets but was robbed of all ten by two run outs, while on another occasion, after taking the first 9 wickets, he was deprived of the tenth by his nephew, who brought off a great catch at extra cover off the bowler at the other end!