Thousands of individuals, from the young and old, to local citizens and passing sailors all sought sanctuary within the walls of the Poor House, today known as Clifton House. However, it is the stories of the children (some were orphans, others deserted and many who came from families struggling to make ends meet) which still continue to fascinate visitors to Clifton House.

In this new series we will be highlighting the stories of those children who were admitted to the Poor House, using the unique Belfast Charitable Society archive held at Clifton House to explore what we can about the their lives.

The first child whose story we are highlighting is that of young Jonathan Bryans. Johnathan was born in Belfast c.1794 during which time the town was known as the ‘Athens of the North’. We know little about his early years, but in July 1804, at the tender age of 10, he was admitted to the Poor House. Our archive offers no information on his parents which leads us to to believe that he may have been orphaned.

Advertisement from the Belfast Commercial Chronicle illustrating Francis McCracken’s other occupation as a merchant

Johnathan was a resident in the Poor House for just under four years when he was apprenticed at the age of 14 to learn the trade of sail making for seven years. Johnathan was apprenticed to Francis McCracken, an older brother of the famed abolitionist, reformer and philanthropist Mary Ann McCracken. Jonathan would have been working at the rope and sail making establishment run by Francis McCracken at 1 James’ Street in the town. Francis was also a merchant importing goods to Belfast for general sale.

Although we do not know about Jonathan’s latter life, our archive shows that he did not return to the Poor House during or after his apprenticeship.