Belfast Charitable Society

Due to the current Covid-19 crisis, Clifton House, home of the Belfast Charitable Society, is temporarily closed. However we are continuing to conduct our work remotely. Please contact us by email on or follow us on Facebook or Twitter for our latest news and updates.

The City’s First Charitable Organisation.

Over 260 years old, the history of the society is intertwined with that of the city.

The Society was founded by a group of leading businessmen in 1752 to build a Poor House and Infirmary for the most vulnerable citizens of Belfast. Some of the first recorded minutes of the Society noted that:

“a poor-house and hospital are greatly wanted in Belfast for the support of vast numbers of real objects of charity in this parish, for the employment of idle beggars who crowd to it from all parts of the North, and for the reception of infirm and diseased poor.”

Today The Belfast Charitable Society remains an important influence in Belfast and is proud of its guiding role in shaping the city.


Venue Hire at Clifton House

Donate to Belfast Charitable Society

Book a Tour at Clifton House

Influential members of Belfast Charitable Society

Henry Joy
Brother of Robert Joy, a member of the printing family who founded the Belfast Newsletter. Henry Joy became one of the most diligent fundraisers for the Charitable Society and was appointed as on three ‘key-carriers’ entrusted with safe guarding the lottery money raised to build the Poor House
Robert Joy
Brother of Henry Joy, Robert founded the 1st Belfast Volunteer Company in 1778. The Volunteers were initially set up for the defence of Belfast against possible invasion from French or American forces but it was from this organised military group that the radical Volunteer Movement sprang. It was Robert Joy who researched the building of the Poor House, produced the drawings and supervised the building, leading to a complete amateur designing Clifton House.
Valentine Jones
Valentine was a merchant with West Indian interests – Belfast’s trade with the West Indies was more important than its trade with continental Europe. He was at the Society’s inaugural meeting in August 1752. The Valentine Jones dynasty, which had premises at Winecellar Entry off High Street, Belfast, were wine merchants and rum and sugar importers who had established a thriving agency in Barbados where they bought goods from the planters and also sold goods to them.
Thomas McCabe
Thomas was a prominent protestant businessman with a goldsmith and watch –making business. He prospered in business and bought a small estate called Vicinage behind the Poorhouse, where St.Malachy’s College now stands. On one occasion in 1786 in the Assembly Rooms he was asked to join in a scheme to float a slave ship company, but he refused. Thomas was also a member of the United Irishmen. His shop in North Street was repeatedly attacked by government troops because of his involvement with the United Irishmen.
John Holmes
John was a founding member of the Belfast Bank. Known as the ‘Bank of the Four Johns’, it soon was doing decent business in the town. Indeed, such was the extent of their success that other merchants in the town set up a rival partnership. Holmes was sent by the Society to London to negotiate with Lord Donegal for rights to water for the Poor House and to discover whether elm, lead or iron pipes would be best to use in Belfast’s new water system.
Dr Robert Stevenson
Dr Robert Stevenson was called on to set broken legs, treat cancers and in 1777 he carried out the first anti-smallpox injections. Not only did he carry out the first vaccine injections for the disease but the Poor House requested for him to ‘do the needful in this matter’ and treat the children of the Poor House. Five years on from his initial Smallpox vaccination work, a scheme of inoculation for the public was set up in the Poor House. When Dr Stevenson died he left £1,000 to the Belfast Charitable Society and was buried in the New Burying Ground.
Waddell Cunningham
Waddell was the founding president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and first president of the Harbour Board. Reputedly the richest man in Belfast, he attempted to establish a slave trading company in Belfast in 1786. The “Belfast Slaveship Company” was opposed strongly by Thomas McCabe, another founding member.
Mary Ann McCracken
It is said that Mary Ann was making clothes for the children of the Poor House when she was little more than a child herself. When the Ladies Committee formed she became a member and quickly went on to Chair that committee. She was particularly devoted to the women and children of the Poor House and fought tirelessly to improve their conditions, training and education.