Born in Keighley, Yorkshire, he attended Wesley Place Primary School in the town. He started as a pupil teacher and attended Leeds University before entering business. He married Edith Whitaker in 1909 and had two children Eileen (born 1911) and George Bracewell Smith born in 1912.
Smith made his fortune in property. In particular he was a major hotel investor/owner and who built the Park Lane Hotel in 1920. The Bracewell Smith family also owned the Ritz Hotel which Sir Bracewell Smith's son George (but known as Guy) sold to Trafalgar House for £2.75m in 1976. They at various times had stakes in the Carlton Hotel and Hôtel Ritz Paris.
Smith was also chairman of Arsenal Football Club from 1949 until 1962, and his descendants still held a significant shareholding in the club until 2011. His grandsons Clive and Richard Carr as well as Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, his grandson Charles' wife, currently sit on the Arsenal board.