Christmas through the Centuries


Every year Christmas seems to be getting bigger and bigger with decorations in the shops from September and the introduction of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales from North America. However, a Georgian Christmas was an equally, if not more elaborate affair, for those who had money, based around saints and feast days. The Georgian Christmas period began on St Nicholas’s Day (6th December) and continued on until Twelfth Night (6th January).  However, in the early years of the Poor House Hallowe’en, and not Christmas, was the main festival. It was not until the Victorian period that the Christmas holiday became [...]

Christmas through the Centuries2021-12-23T13:39:03+00:00

A Festive Tradition: The Benn Christmas Dinner 2021


Today (15th December 2021) Clifton House hosted the Benn Dinner, a Christmas Tradition which started 139 years ago and has continued through two world wars, a Spanish Flu Epidemic and throughout the Troubles. And this year it prevailed again, despite Covid-19. In 1882 George Benn, the generous philanthropist, historian and benefactor of Belfast Charitable Society died, leaving the sum of £1,000 to the Charitable Society to set up the Benn Charity. This sum of money was to be used principally to provide a dinner or other entertainment for the residents of the Old Peoples Home at Christmas. George was also very [...]

A Festive Tradition: The Benn Christmas Dinner 20212021-12-23T13:29:28+00:00

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: Belfast Charitable Society & Slavery


Olaudah Equiano The Belfast Charitable Society And The Slave Trade Today marks International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The notion of slavery tends to bring us back to African slaves brought to America, however slavery continues as 21st Century problem. The Belfast Charitable Society of the 18th Century found themselves caught in the controversy surrounding this abhorrent trade. Much of the conflict regarding the differing views of slavery happened outside of the Poor House, however, when the freed slave Olaudah Equiano visited Belfast in the early 1790s, he was invited to speak at the Poor House and several [...]

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: Belfast Charitable Society & Slavery2021-12-23T12:54:45+00:00

Social Enterprise Day 2021: Past & Present


What is a social enterprise? A social enterprise is like any other business in that it works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is that they are driven by their social and environmental purposes and any profit made is reinvested towards achieving these purposes. Today, the government defines social enterprises as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.” The term social enterprise was first coined in 1953 and has [...]

Social Enterprise Day 2021: Past & Present2021-11-12T10:02:18+00:00

Black History Month 2021: Frederick Douglass, Mary Ann McCracken & the Belfast Ladies Anti-Slavery Association


Frederick Douglass (c.1879) Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and after a failed attempt to escape bondage he successfully fled north to freedom in 1838. Frederick married and became involved in the abolitionist movement in the United States. However, there were some elements who doubted his story. Frederick went on to publish his autobiography in 1845 as a means to tell his full story. This put him at an even greater risk of recapture and so he sailed to the British Isles. Douglass became one of the most recognisable abolitionists. He spent three months touring [...]

Black History Month 2021: Frederick Douglass, Mary Ann McCracken & the Belfast Ladies Anti-Slavery Association2021-10-27T09:35:05+00:00

Black History Month 2021: Belfast and the Slave Trade


As part of Black History Month this article explores the abolitionist and pro-slavery elements within the town of Belfast in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Waddell Cunningham Belfast had many wealthy merchants who owned land, estates and businesses in the West Indies in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  As was the practice at the time, these estates and businesses would have exploited slave labour to harvest crops such as sugar and tobacco.  Waddell Cunningham, a member of the Belfast Charitable Society is probably the most infamous advocate of slavery in Belfast as he attempted to open up the [...]

Black History Month 2021: Belfast and the Slave Trade2021-10-27T09:00:07+00:00

Belfast Charitable Society & the Belfast Blitz: Return From Garron Tower


Following air strikes in April 1941  those in charge of Clifton House set about making arrangements to get the residents and the staff out of Belfast. They ultimately settled on Garron Tower on the North Coast as a safe refuge. Garron Tower was a quiet, isolated spot compared with life in the city of Belfast. Rationing also had an impact. In Belfast the relatives of the residents could have easily walked there for visits, however with petrol rationed, even those with cars did not have enough fuel to get to Garron Tower. The Matron requested additional games, gramophone records and a [...]

Belfast Charitable Society & the Belfast Blitz: Return From Garron Tower2021-10-27T09:09:47+00:00

The Case of Mary West- an abandoned child


Children were admitted for a variety of reasons to the Poor House, but we have records of a number that were abandoned by their families. Two years prior to Mary West’s admission to the Poor House a volcanic eruption had caused what was known as the ‘Year of No Summer’, which decimated crops and led to the spread of disease. Even in 1818 the effects of famine, fever and poverty were still rife in Belfast. The Poor House was under pressure to cope with demand, and the conditions in the town drove many people to desperate actions in order to survive. [...]

The Case of Mary West- an abandoned child2021-10-07T09:29:47+00:00

Black History Month 2021: William John Brown and his escape from slavery


In August 1830 William John Brown appeared before the magistrate at the Belfast Police Court. Mr Brown, an enslaved man from America, entered the courtroom accompanied by members of the Society of Friends. Newspaper reports describe him as looking crestfallen and physically frail- the fifty-year-old slowly took the stand and was said to have recounted his story in a feeble voice. William was enslaved as a young man in Virginia, but had worked his way out of bondage and received his papers of freedom. Now a free man he got married and had five children and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. However, [...]

Black History Month 2021: William John Brown and his escape from slavery2021-10-08T14:17:13+00:00

Mr Girmondi, Dancing Dogs & the Belfast Poor House


There have been some unusual donations to Belfast Charitable Society over the years, many of them recorded on huge wooden boards with the details of donors stencilled on. On this day (30 September) 1818 Mr Girmondi, who was in Belfast entertaining the citizens of the town, became one of these donors. Girmondi was the proprietor of a troop of 'Dancing Dogs' and he donated a days takings from his exhibition to the Poor House in order to support its work. You too can support the work of Belfast's oldest charity! Our weekend tours offer something for everyone- from our Friday afternoon [...]

Mr Girmondi, Dancing Dogs & the Belfast Poor House2021-09-30T13:41:58+00:00
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