History of the Firm

James Andrews

The founding father of the firm was James Andrews, who was admitted as an attorney in 1822 at the age of 22 and commenced practice at 60 Donegall St, Belfast. His father, also called James, was the proprietor of a large flour mill in Comber. But law was also in the blood; his maternal uncles, Isaac and Joseph Glenny were attorneys, and he had two brothers, Robert and Charles who were QCs.

In 1836, when the Ulster Banking Company (later Ulster Bank Ltd) was being set up, the deed of co-partnership was prepared by James Andrews.

James subsequently became the first President of the Northern Law Club.


Geo. L. Maclaine became a partner in 1858 and the name of the firm became Andrews Son & MacLaine. In late 1863, shortly before the death of James Jr, who was also a partner, the name was changed to Andrews and Maclaine. James Sr died on 29th November 1875 at his residence, Eden Cottag, Whiteabbey. The portrait above is in possession of the firm, while another hangs in Law Society House, Belfast.

George Langtry MacLaine

George was born in or about 1834. His father, Alexander was a partner in a ship-building firm of Ritchie & McLaine - the extra "a" came in later, as the rungs of the social ladder were climbed. It is not known whether George was apprenticed to James Andrews, though this would seem likely. At any rate it is clear that he worked for the firm as a qualified assistant for some years, before becoming a partner in 1858.

In 1874 he was appointed Clerk of the Crown for County Down. This post carried a salary of £2000 per annum. In 1891 the Clerks of the Crown and Peace were entrusted with the duties of local registrars of title. The signature of George L. can be seen to this day on many a County Down Land Certificate.

By the time of George's death the firm had its offices at 57 Upper Arthur Street, where it remained until 1922. The strongroom was not integral to the office; it was in the backyard. It was in consequence a strict rule that the strongroom was to be kept locked at all times. One day in 1915 George found that it had been left open; he started to bellow and this high excitement brought on his fatal illness. He died on 5th October 1915.


Omar Collingwood Nelson & William Herbert Niall Nelson

Of the Nelson family, the most famous member was Samuel Neilson, one of the leaders of the United Irishmen. They were a liberal Presbyterian family, and when the split came they sided with the non-subscribers. Omar's paternal grandfather James and his father, Samuel Craig Nelson had been in succession ministers at Downpatrick, where they conducted a classical school. Three future Catholic Bishops of Down and Connor received their early education at Nelson (or Neilson) School.

As to Omar himself, he was admitted a Solicitor in 1878 and was awarded a silver medal in the final examination. He must have been a man who got quietly and competently on with his work, for anecdotes of him are quite rare. He died on 3rd February 1912.

Omar's only son, William Herbert Niall Nelson was born on 22nd March 1883. He entered Campbell College immediately on its opening in September 1894. In 1899 he attended Fettes College in Edinburgh for two years. The Scottish public schools were much favoured by wealthy Ulster Presbyterians, who did not wish their sons to be contaminated with Anglicanism.

He was a keen sailing man in his younger days, and was also blessed with the ability to drink large quantities of whiskey without visible effect. So he was able to return safe and sound from a notable holiday in the Isle of Man, while his yachting companion had to be brought back in a strait-jacket.

He was a member of the shareholders committee of the Northern Bank Limited, and for some years in the 1930s was Chairman of the Board of Governors of Campbell College. In the halcyon days before World War II Niall used to arrive at work "chauffeur driven and smoking a large cigar". His colleagues remarked that it "gave a certain opulence to the office". He died of inoperable cancer on 21st May 1953.

Robert Victor Hamilton

R. V. Hamilton was born in 1888, the younger son of the Reverend Robert Winston Hamilton, who became the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. His early years were spent in Lisburn. After taking his degree in Logic and Metaphysics at Queen's College, Belfast (as QUB then was), R. V. Hamilton was apprenticed to Martin Turnbull. Qualifying in 1913, he then joined the firm of Fisher & Fisher in Newry, and remained there until 1919.

He started work as a partner in our firm on Friday 1st August 1919 on a salary of £300 per annum plus three-eights of the profit from the legal department, which amounted to £94.17.5d. In 1935-36 he was President of the Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland.

So far as one can piece it together, the theory probably was that the well-connected Niall Nelson would bring in the business and the industrious Robin Hamilton would do the work. And he must have worked very hard. Besides dealing with a great mass of probate and conveyancing, he acted in nurmerous High Court actions for the Century Insurance Company. He suffered a coronary in the same year that Niall Nelson died and by 1965 his activities were greatly reduced. He died on 5th October 1970.