Search billions of records on


Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Captain Robert Bruce Browne-Clayton


Carlow & Devon

The picture is of Captain Robert Bruce Browne-Clayton pictured
with his childhood nanny Bride Fleming during their first meeting in 60 years.

Captain Robert Bruce Browne-Clayton 1940-2014.

By Michael Purcell.

The death on the 19th of January 2014, following a short illness, of Capt. Robert Bruce Browne-Clayton, terminated the last link with a Carlow gentry family whose connection with the area stretched back to the mid-17th century. Robert spent his early years at Browne's Hill House, Carlow.

His ancestor Robert Browne settled in Carlow town in 1650, having come as an officer in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army and was a witness to the surrender of Carlow Castle in July of that year.

In the years that followed Robert Browne purchased land throughout Carlow.

By the 1700s the family owned nearly all of what is now Graiguecullen and Sleaty as well as large tracts of land in Carlow, Dublin and several other counties.

For generations they held positions such as, Keeper of the Rolls, High Sheriff and Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the county and were often called upon to act as Magistrates, Justice's of the Peace and settlers of disputes.

The family were regarded as fair landlords. During the Famine they provided employment by building the massive high wall stretching for miles around the Browne's Hill estate.

In recognition of the high regard the family were held in, it is recalled today by family members, and confirmed by local research, that in the 1920s during "the troubles" in Ireland, President Éamon de Valera issued a direct order that Browne's Hill House should not be raided or damaged by the Irish Republican Army.

Robert Browne-Clayton, better known as Robbie,  was born on 25th April 1940, the only son of Lieutenant Colonel William Browne-Clayton and Janet Jardine.

He received his early education at home and in the Browne-Clayton Memorial School in Barrack Street, the school was founded and funded by his grandfather  Brigadier General Robert Browne-Clayton, DSO GOC.

His maternal grandfather was Brigadier General James Bruce Jardine, CMG DSO DL. From this side of the family Robbie was a direct descendant of James Bruce, the famous 18th century Abyssinian explorer, who was credited with finding the source of the Nile.

At a young age Robbie was sent to Frilsham House boarding school near Reading and later to Loretto School, Muselborough in Scotland. Travelling on his own by ferry, train and bus he became, in his own words, “a seasoned traveller by the age of nine”!

He completed his education and military training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Following in the family tradition of service in the British Army he was commissioned in 1960 as an officer in the Royal Green Jackets.

In August 1961 on the night the Berlin Wall was erected he was in command of a British force stationed nearby in the old Reichstag building. He witnessed the Soviets shooting down civilians attempting to flee. With his platoon on full battle alert he contacted the Allied command post for orders, only to be told that if his men fired one shot in retaliation it would lead to the outbreak of World War Three. Not wishing to be recorded in history as the man responsible for firing-up such a catastrophe, Robbie reluctantly ordered his men to stand down.

During his posting in Berlin his platoon was placed on security duty at Spandau Prison, there Robert often engaged in conversation with Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess as they tended to the little gardens they had established on the prison grounds. Robert told me that he found Hess to be talkative and friendly but he found Speer to be reserved and not so friendly.

He later served in British Guyana, Malaya and Borneo. He retired from the army in 1968,

After leaving the army he studied at The Royal Agricultural College and after graduating was appointed as agricultural adviser to the Conservative Research Department.

When the Conservatives won the general election in 1979, Robbie was appointed by Margaret Thatcher as consultant to her Government on Agricultural, Fisheries, Food, Forestry and Countryside policies. Robbie's friendship with Mrs Thatcher continued following her resignation as prime minister.

In his youth he was sponsored to become a member of one of the great City Livery Companies, Merchant Taylor. In the 1970s he was made a Freeman of the City of London.

 As a result of his years "in" Politics he held several  Political and Public Affairs positions after leaving the Conservatives until he retired :-  Director, Economic & Public Affairs at the Building Employers Confederation. Director General, The National Home Improvement Council. Director of External Affairs, Federation of Master Builders. General Secretary (Chief Executive), the Chamber of Coal Traders. Chief Executive Officer, IFA Promotions Ltd. as well as serving in the Financial Services Industry in London.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

 In 2007 I advised Robbie that he should donate the Browne-Clayton estate papers and family documents to the archives in Carlow County Library. He agreed to do so and later that year travelled to Carlow from his home in Devon bringing with him a large collection of documents dating from 1640s to the 1900s.

Among the documents are parchments signed by the Earl of Thomond and the Earl of Ormonde, memorials, deeds, indentures, estate records and details on the little known Carlow Orphan Society and the Carlow Cowkeepers Association.

Speaking of his donation to the library, Carlow County Librarian Josephine Coyne stated, "we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Browne-Clayton for depositing his papers in the Carlow Archives, they have proved to be an invaluable asset for historians and for students researching Irish history. The collection is also a superb utility for genealogical research".

During his visit to Carlow he was delighted to meet up with his cherished childhood nanny Bridie Fleming, the last time they met Robbie was aged nine, they chatted about old-times and shared happy memories of Browne's Hill and the days they spent there. He made his first visit in over 60 years to Browne's Hill House courtesy of the present owners Frank and Patty Tully, where he recalled many fond memories of growing up in a place he dearly loved.

Robbie often humorously recalled that he had inherited, but never used or availed of, the title of Prince which had passed down from Major General Robert Browne who was, in 1794, created a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Pius V1 in recognition of his role as a commander in the 12th Light Dragoons.

Throughout Robbie's life his great interests apart from his family were fishing, hunting, Classical music and all sports. He was a member of the KRRC Celer et Audax Club and the RGJ Officers Club/Regimental Association.

In 1969, in a ceremony performed by the Bishop of Tuam, the Right Reverend Arthur Butler, MBE, Robbie married Jane Evelyn Butler in Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. They lived for a time in Dublin before moving to live in England. At the time of his death he was living with his family in Devon.

He is survived by his wife Jane, his son, Benedict, daughter, Clare, grandchildren, Corisande, Thomas, Charlie, Esmonde, Celeste and Sophie, sister, Magda Dunlop, nephews and nieces.


The following is extracted from Eulogy delivered at St. Peter's Church, Lamerton by Major Carol James Gurney, -- a fellow officer and a former member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

We come together today with Robbie's family to remember him to and to thank God for a good life and to support, his wife Jane and children Ben and Clare.

Born in Scotland in 1940, early in the war, in the border country where his mother came from, his father being away in the war. After the war the family moved back to Ireland to the family estate at Browne's Hill in Carlow.

In County Carlow and later when the family moved to Connemara, in the far west, was where Robbie grew up and where he developed his love of the countryside and learnt to fish and shoot, sports that remained his passion throughout his life.

I am told he swum under water to learn where the salmon lay and several times when hunting shot a left and right snipe etc.

He attended Loretto School in Scotland where he excelled at swimming, tennis, rugger and music.

He was a good friend to me for over 50 years, originally as soldiers together, then when he lived in London and latterly when he and Jane moved to Devon.

I first met Robert at Colchester at the end of 1963. That summer, at very short notice the Regiment was sent to British Guyana to calm the riots.

While in Guyana we somehow managed a week's leave and spent it together in Barbados where we stayed in a very scruffy little hotel. Each day Robbie managed to charm us in to the grandest beach hotels, where we spent most of our days, returning at night to our down-market hotel rooms.

He always had charm, style and elegance that won over every person he came in contact with.

Then we were both posted for two years to the Junior Leaders Training Regiment-- a school for 16/17 year-olds. That was a lot of fun with much sport. Robbie was on the adventure training side; climbing, sailing, canoeing and potholing mostly out in the wilds of Wales.

Then back to the Regiment in Penang with six monthly postings in Borneo, another interesting and enjoyable post.

Then back to Germany where Robbie is still fondly remembered for organising a magnificent dance in the officer's mess with the best dance band and food available in a divided Berlin. He arranged an aeroplane to fly out girls from the UK for the event and managed to keep them all under control, one of them is with us in this church today.

I make no apology for dwelling on this time of his life -- it moulded him for the rest of his life -- it was when I knew him most closely -- and when many of his friendships were made, evidenced by the number of brother officers here today.

Robbie retired from the army in 1968 after eight happy and eventful years.

He returned to Ireland and there did the best thing he ever did -- he met and married Jane in 1969.

They moved to London and lived for 30 years in their lovely house backing on to Greenwich Park. Ben and Clare grew up there and from where Robbie had a number of interesting jobs.

But before that in the mid 1970s he bravely enrolled in a two year course at The Royal Agricultural College Cirencester by then a mature student in his mid thirties.

A very interesting job followed-- with the Conservative Party in opposition, at the Research Department working on Agricultural policy. He much enjoyed his eight years there and maintained his links for that time and his interest in agricultural affairs.

There was a cultural side to Robbie's life, well known to his earlier soldiers - he loved Classical music - he liked and understood good pictures and art - he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and a Merchant Taylor, one of the great City Livery Companies and a Freeman of the City of London.

In 2001 he retired and moved down to Horsebridge in Devon overlooking the Tamar River where he spent many happy hours trying to catch its elusive salmon.

Robbie loved the English and Irish countryside but he and Jane also loved the sun and enjoyed visiting his little place in Egypt.

He was fond of his Irish background and visited there as often as time allowed. He kept in touch with friends from the different phases of his life, not least his Regimental friends.

He was a wonderful and caring grandfather, not just generous but loving and genuinely interested in their achievements.

He revelled in the successes and lives of his children and family, above all he enjoyed and appreciated the love and support of Jane through thick and thin.

Personally I shall remember him as a staunch friend, an enthusiastic sporty companion, a true countryman, a charming, cultured, elegant and kind gentleman.

Bless you Robbie and thank you for your friendship.

Source: Michael Purcell c.2014

The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM By Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved 

Back to the top