The Sentinel with the Sonorous Voice: Bramley of the Law Library, 1869-1904

From the Belfast Newsletter, 15 January 1904:

“A celebrity of the Four Courts has joined the majority, and the frequenters of the Law Library will miss the stalwart form and the stentorian voice of Bramley.  Every solicitor in Ireland knew Bramley.  He sat as trusty sentinel at his rostrum within the portals of the Library.  Nobody unless under escort of a barrister dared pass within the precincts sacred to the gentlemen of the long robe, and Bramley, like Justice, was no respecter of persons.  For thirty-five years he filled the position of crier, calling the names of the members of the Bar as they were required by the solicitors.  His commanding figure and deep voice excited admiration, and among solicitors’ clerks inspired awe.  He commenced life soldiering in the Engineers, and served in the Crimean campaign, attaining the rank of sergeant if not sergeant-major.  At the close of last sittings his physical powers were visibly waning, and it was a tense struggle to stay till the last day, when the Christmas-boxes were bestowed on him, as all anticipated, for the last time.  The news of his death today elicited expressions of regret.”

A brief additional obituary contained in the Nenagh News of 30 January 1904 gives the deceased’s first name as ‘William’. This corresponds with the 1901 Census which identifies a William Bramley, ‘Court Crier,’ aged 72, residing at Amiens Street, North Dock with his (step-) daughter Agnes Turner (43) and his son-in-law Henry Turner (59).

A William Bramley, Sergeant, joined the 12th Company of the Royal Sappers and Miners in 1851 around the time of the Crimean War; he is later recorded in 1861 as a sergeant in the Royal Engineers stationed at Chatham, and it seems that he may subsequently have been stationed in the Curragh. The Leinster Express of November 7, 1868, contains a report of a bigamy trial at which Sergeant William Bramley, storekeeper in the Royal Engineers Curragh Camp, gave evidence of having attended the accused’s wedding at Newbridge.

Given his period of service, Sgt. Bramley must have started his term in the old Law Library behind the Round Hall before moving to the new Law Library in the Eastern Wing when it opened in 1894. A nostalgic 1920 article of times past,  ‘Fun in the Irish Law Courts,’ references

“[a] genial giant, with a voice loud and round as the deep note of an organ, to whom the hurrying solicitors appeal to send a sonorous name thrilling through the hum of gossip and laughter, and bring the chosen one hurrying through the throng in eager expectation of a brief.

It would be interesting to have a fuller account of Sgt. Bramley’s life, and how he came to be an employee in the Law Library, where connections with the Crimean War were few and far between. Perhaps his appearance at the bigamy trial in 1868 was so impressive that it led to him being headhunted? The trial was in late 1868 and he would have to have started at the Law Library by early 1869 to have accrued 35 years service by 1904. If one of his descendants were alive, perhaps they could fill in the gaps in the history of this much-loved figure of the 19th century Four Courts?

In the meantime, thank you to @mallowtom, James Doherty and Ian Thomas Walsh for their very kind help with the military and genealogical research on this post. Much appreciated!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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