Today (August 4, 2021) Belfast Charitable Society celebrated the 250th anniversary of the laying of the Poor House foundation stone – now Clifton House. Established by local merchants to help the poor of the city, the building works took another three years to complete, finally opening its doors to the destitute in 1774.

The foundation stone was laid by Stewart Banks, Sovereign (Mayor) of Belfast, who lived close by, and watched with interest as the building emerged. News of the laying of the foundation stone spread across the city, with the Belfast Newsletter reporting:

 Yesterday; a large Body of the principal Inhabitants of this Town assembled at the Market-House, from whence they proceeded to the Ground allotted for the Poor-House and Infirmary; where Stewart Banks, Esq,; Sovereign of Belfast, laid the first stone of the Ediface.

On this occasion every demonstration of Joy was express. And in the evening there was a numerous Meeting of Gentlemen at the Market-House, to celebrate the memorable first of August.

Two hundred and fifty years later, the occasion was celebrated today by a small gathering of key stakeholders and staff.  As in 1771, the Lord Mayor of Belfast was part of the proceedings. Councillor Kate Nicholl joined President of the Belfast Charitable Society, Sir Ronnie Weatherup and Chair, David Watters.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Kate Nicholl commented: “This is an historic event for Belfast, celebrating 250 years of the laying of the foundation stone for Clifton House. One of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Belfast, it’s a significant heritage site and one that’s very close to my heart, as it was established to address disadvantage and continues to do so to this day.”

Sir Ronnie Weatherup explained: “This anniversary is significant, as it reminds us of the great philanthropic effort that must have preceded the laying of the first foundation stone for the Poor House by members of the Belfast Charitable Society. It also symbolises the ethos of the Society, reflecting its ongoing work. Work based on ‘Empowerment’, ‘Influence’, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Education’ – addressing disadvantage since 1752.  This beautiful building, set in the heart of the city, is a fantastic reminder to the outside world of this ongoing philanthropic work.

David Watters, Chair of the Belfast Charitable Society expanded: “Our purpose and ongoing mission, vision and values of the Society are rooted in the past, from the first laying of the foundation stone, which was inscribed with This Foundation-Stone of a Poor-House and Infirmary for the Town and Parish of Belfast was laid on the first Day of August A.D. Today we continue to evolve and innovate, using technology to bring the stories and history of the Poor House to life. Our new immersive tours, using augmented reality, are a perfect example of that, allowing us to show what life was like in the Poor House in the late 18th century.”

Like most venues, Clifton House closed during the pandemic. But thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Emergency Fund, this downtime was used to carry out major refurbishment and to introduce state of the art immersive technology to enhance its visitor experience – normally the preserve of major heritage sites across the globe.  Clifton House is open for tours every Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 1.30pm. Click here for more information.