Mary Ann McCracken at 250


2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the social reformer, philanthropist and abolitionist Mary Ann McCracken. Our exhibition highlighted the unique holdings of the Charitable Society’s archive related to her life including the Ladies Committee Minute Books (1827-1851), the surrender of her lease on a property in Donegall Street, and her burial in the shadow of the Poor House. Click on the image to READ MORE.

Women & Philanthropy


This exhibition charts the involvement of women in the history of Belfast Charitable Society. The early history focuses on the foundation of the Lying-In Hospital (1793), Belfast’s first maternity hospital and the Ladies Committee who championed the cause of women and children in the Poor House. It also explores the role of Clifton House training nurses in the 1940s and our first female President, Lady Moyra Quigley. Click on the image to READ MORE.

Register of Plots


Mary Ann McCracken’s grave remained unmarked until 1909 when bones believed to be those of her brother, the executed United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken, were placed in the McCracken plot at Clifton Street Cemetery. The headstone was erected by Francis Joseph Bigger, a noted antiquarian and solicitor. A transcription of the inscription was inserted into the Register of Plots held by Belfast Charitable Society.

Surrender of Lease


Following the death of her brother Francis McCracken, with who she lived with in Donegall Street, there was still six years left on the lease which she could not afford to buy herself out of. Led by Rev Macartney, who had served on the Poor House Committee, her friends came together and loaned her the £200 required. This document is the official surrender of the lease to the landlord.

Ladies Committee Book


Inspired by the social reforming Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, who visited Belfast in the 1820s, Mary Ann and a number of women formed the Belfast Charitable Society’s Ladies Committee in 1827. The minute books reflect the women’s views and activities in relation to education, welfare, cleanliness and improvements for all aspects of the lives of the women and children resident in the Poor House.

Mausoleum Keys


The mausoleums within Clifton Street Cemetery were a way in which wealth and social class could be reflected in death. These imposing monuments typically had iron doors or decorative gates which locked to protect those whose remains were laid to rest in them. Some of these wealthy families deposited the keys to their mausoleums for safe-keeping with the Belfast Charitable Society.

Burial Register


For the first thirty-five years of the cemetery’s existence a record of interments was not kept. From 1831 each burial was recorded in the Burial Register. Information about each burial did vary but typically included the date of interment, the name of the deceased, age, profession, residence and if they are a native of Belfast. Most significantly, the details of those who were buried in the Stranger’s Plot, are also recorded.

Register of Plots


From the opening of Clifton Street Cemetery in 1797 a register book was kept detailing the list of burial plots, who they were purchased by, the date of purchase and the price paid for the plot. The Register records those who purchased ‘Wall Plots’, the most expensive in the cemetery, and the ‘Garden Plots’ in the centre of the graveyard. Of particular interest in the purchase of Wall Plot 35 by Captain John McCracken in 1801.



Clifton House also houses a large number of documents, letters and correspondence belonging to the Belfast Charitable Society. Published material related to the history of Belfast Charitable Society from 1905 to 1970 can be found in this category. Dr Strain’s copper printing plates used for his 1960 publication Belfast and its Charitable Society: A Story of Urban Development are included in the archive.

Clifton House


Correspondence, architectural plans and papers relating to the building, refurbishment, health & safety, and contents of Clifton House. Architectural plans comprise the bulk of this category including additions to the Poor House in the 1820s and the development of Belfast Charitable Society land including the Benn Hospitals and sites on Glenravel Street. It also features a map of the Charity’s land by Charles Lanyon.

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