In 1752 the Belfast Charitable Society was founded by a group of mostly Presbyterian merchants and industrialists who sought to erect a Poor House and an Infirmary.
Over 20 years later, land was donated by the local aristocrat Arthur Chichester, the first Marquess of Donegall, to the north of the town for the building of both.
A plan was drawn up by Mr Cooley for a combined 36 person poorhouse and 24-bed infirmary; the poor house and infirmary were opened in 1774 and a dispensary was added in 1792.
The poor house aimed to give support and sustenance to those in need in exchange for labour. Many of the inmates were trained in the skills and practices of the cotton industry such as weaving, spinning, knitting and net-making and this contributed to the establishment of the cotton industry in Belfast.
The infirmary gave medical care free of charge to the local populace and it was administered by many of the doctors based in Belfast donating their time. No fewer than eight Dr Purdons attended the House and Infirmary in an unbroken run from 1804 until 1947.
By 1806, there were only nineteen physicians and surgeons working in the town of Belfast; many of them were generous with their time and skills.
During the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1848, the town’s medical services were stretched to breaking point. By May 1846 the situation was so dire that the Poor House agreed to take all medical and surgical cases from the other hospitals so they could focus on fever victims.
Additional wings of the Poor House opened in 1872 funded by a charitable donation by Edward Benn.
Today Clifton House operates as a heritage centre, conference venue and old person home.