When the Belfast Charitable Society opened the new Poor House in 1774 it had room to accommodate seventy people. On the same footprint 40 years later there were four hundred and fifty residents due to demand. As you can imagine this put huge strain on the finances of the charity which relied exclusively on public subscriptions and donations.
The Belfast Charitable Society used innovative methods to help raise additional funds for the running of the Poor House. Arguably, celebrity culture is not a modern invention, and the Charitable Society invited celebrities and artists to help raise money, and some well known individuals of that era voluntarily offered assistance. The archives of the Society show some interesting donations:
- Mrs Siddons, a London actress who performed in a staging of Macbeth donated the contributions from her final performance
- Edward Bunting, famous still for his work in preserving traditional Irish music, organised a festival in 1813 with proceeds going to the Poor House
- The ventriloquist Mr Charles donated £21 9s 4d.
- Mr Howis donated £18 12s 1/2d – a whole day’s takings from an exhibition of his menagerie.
- M. Grimondi and his dancing dogs donated £21 8s 6d.
Distinguished foreign visitors were often generous with their money. On this day 200 years ago Grand Duke Michael of Russia donated £54 to the Poor House on a visit. However, more traditional fundraising activities were a staple in the Belfast social calendar with the Charitable Society also benefiting from appeals to conscience through ‘Charity Sermons’, one of which inspired someone to leave two £500 pound notes on the collection plate.
Today, the Belfast Charitable Society is funded through paid up members, and Clifton House Heritage Centre is operated as a social enterprise with income generated from tours, talks, lectures and other events going directly back into the work of the Society in tackling poverty and destitution in Belfast and further afield today.