The History Of The Belfast Poor House

The Belfast Charitable Society was founded on a Friday afternoon in August 1752 in a tavern called The George Inn on the corner of North Street and John Street, Belfast. The newly formed Society was made up of a group of leading Belfast citizens who played a key role in the development of Belfast and were at the forefront of providing welfare for its people.

At the time, the care for the poor of Belfast was left to public-spirited citizens to do what they could and the Society was the driving force behind the Belfast Poor House.

The Poor House, which became known as Clifton House in 1948, was formed with the aim of providing a refuge for the poor of Belfast.

The members of the Society amazingly sold lottery tickets to raise the money for the development of the Poor House and after twenty years fundraising the £7,000 required to complete the construction was eventually generated.

The Society went to great lengths to get a suitable design for the Poor House and sought applications from many architects but in the end it was board member Robert Joy who was asked to produce his own design. These were unanimously accepted, leading to a complete amateur designing what is today the finest surviving piece of Georgian Belfast.

The Poor House opened in 1774 and provision was made at first for about 50 inmates, as they were know, but the numbers grew so rapidly that by 1820, there were 330 in the House, many of whom were destitute or deserted children. The deserving poor who could not be taken in were given licence to beg and identification badges to commend them to the charity of the citizens of Belfast.

The Poor House clothed and educated the inmates and endeavoured to provide them with a trade or a skill to take into their future lives.

One such scheme was the introduction of cotton manufacture and the Society agreed to allow experimental machinery to operate in the basement of the Poor House and the children to be instructed in its operation. These machines were the first in Ireland & they represented the spark that led to the subsequent industrialisation and growth of Belfast. The Poor House could not accommodate all the machines and eventually a cotton mill was built nearby where the majority of workers where children from the Poor House.

The Belfast Charitable Society would go on to be responsible for the origins of social welfare, funeral services and municipal burial grounds, Belfast’s first hospital, the provision of clean water and the creation of a fledgling police service.

Today Clifton House is one of the finest surviving pieces of Georgian Belfast.

Book a tour

The Belfast Poor House. Book a Tour

Step back in time and discover the rich history of the Belfast Poor House by taking a tour. Explore a building that was built when Belfast consisted of five streets, learn about the founding members of the Belfast Charitable Society who all played pivotal roles in the history of the city and discover the stories behind the unfortunate lowly inhabitants of Belfast who sought sanctuary in the Poor House.

  • Weekly tours: A tour of Clifton House is held each Friday at 3.00pm. The tour costs £6.50. You can call, email or fill in the form below to reserve your place, or simply turn up on the day. Tours of Clifton Street Cemetery are also held occasionally. Check out our Facebook page or Twitter feed for details.
  • Groups tours: Groups can book a guided tour of the Clifton House by phoning to arrange a time and date in advance by calling 028 9099 7022 or emailing Group rates for tours of 10 or more are available
  • Individual tours: Individuals can view the building if there is no other event taking place at that time however the tour will not be guided. It is recommended that individuals check availability in advance of coming to the building by calling 028 9099 7022 or emailing

Visitor Reviews: We Love Our Visitors, And They Love Us.

We’ve no doubt your visit to the Belfast Poor House will be fascinating as you delve back in time to discover its rich history and the important role it played in the welfare of Belfast’s citizens. Just don’t take our word for it, read what some of our visitors have to say.

Have you visited the Belfast Poor House? Send your review to


‘Really interesting snapshot of Belfast’s history’
European Heritage Open Day visitor from Lisburn
‘Many thanks for your hospitality for our group today and I hope that we will be back to visit your historic premises again soon’
Group Tour 2015
I had the opportunity to visit The Belfast Poor House last week. The guides were knowledgable, friendly and able to answer my questions. I would recommend it to anyone to visit.
John Wallace