Captain Robert Bruce Browne-Clayton
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
He was a wonderful and caring grandfather, not
just generous but loving and genuinely interested in their
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
Source: Michael Purcell c.2014
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