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Photograph of arch at Clifton House Belfast

Belfast Charitable Society

Established a poorhouse, hospital and church in north Belfast

Updated: 14/07/2008

On August 20, 1752, the Belfast Charitable Society was born at a meeting of leading inhabitants of the town and adjoining countryside, with the aim of establishing a poorhouse, hospital and church. The scheme was to be funded by a lottery.

Tickets were sold in large cities and towns throughout Britain, but it did not receive much encouragement in London, where they were cried down, and eventually legal proceedings had to be taken to compel purchasers to pay for their tickets.

With a sum of money obtained at last, a memorial was presented to Lord Donegall, asking him to grant a piece of ground for the erection of buildings. The land the Belfast Charitable Society earmarked lay to the north of the town. Lord Donegall granted the land and advertisements were issued inviting plans for the building of a poorhouse and hospital, the cost to be £3000. Stone, sand, lime and water were to be supplied by the inhabitants of the town and district.

The approved plans were drawn up by Mr Cooley of Dublin. The poorhouse was to accommodate 36 people, and the hospital to contain 24 beds. The foundation stone was laid on August 7, 1771, and placed within it were five guineas and a copper tablet with the following inscription:

This foundation stone of a poorhouse and infirmary for the town and parish of Belfast was laid on the first day of August, AD M, DCC, LXXI, and in the XI year of the reign of Majesty George III, the Right Honourable Arthur Earl of Donegall and the principal inhabitants of Belfat founded this charity; and his Lordship granted to it in perpetuity eight acres of land on part of which this building is erected.

In addition to the hospital and poorhouse, the building contained assembly rooms for the use of the townspeople and the profit of the charity.

On September 17, 1774, the hospital was opened for the admission of the sick. The first trials in the north of Ireland of inoculation and vaccination occurred here in March 1800, and the thanks of the committee were given to Dr William Drennan for his introduction of the plan of inoculation.

An extern department was established soon after, and wards were allotted for the treatment of lunatics. There also appears to have been a lock hospital and a reformatory connected to the building.

For a number of years the Belfast Charitable Society remained the only charity in Belfast, but gradually other institutions became established. With the erection of a dispensary in 1792 and a hospital for infectious diseases in 1799, the Society was able to close its extern department.

In August 1817, the hospital was moved to Frederick Street, where it was named the Royal Hospital. Renamed the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1899, it moved to its present location on the Falls Road in 1903.

© The Glenravel Local History Project.

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