Founded in 1752, Belfast Charitable Society is the city’s oldest known charity and was incorporated in 1774 by an Act of Parliament of Ireland. In 1996, to ensure that the Society was “able to serve the present day and likely future needs of the community”, a new Act of Parliament, ‘Belfast Charitable Society Act’, was passed. It sets out the objects, powers, constitution and management of the Society.
The Objects of the Society as stated in the Act are:
To pursue all or any charitable activities which advance the interests or are for the benefit of persons appearing to the society to be disadvantaged, primarily in Northern Ireland, including the care of the elderly, the relief of poverty, homelessness, distress, infirmity and sickness and providing for the educational and other needs of such persons; and
To participate in and encourage all forms of co-operation among appropriate parties which are calculated to achieve any of the objects mentioned in paragraph (a) above.
Some Fun Facts
Over the centuries, there have been some weird and wonderful powers written into the Belfast Charitable Societies Acts of Parliament. Below is just a few examples from our archives:
Belfast Charitable Society had the power to seize pigs wandering in Belfast and charge a fine to the owners to collect them. Alternatively they could be slaughtered for the benefit of the Poor House.
In 1840 an Act of Parliament created the Belfast Water Commissioner who took over the supply of water to the town. Belfast Charitable Society were granted an annuity of £800 per year as compensation for its investment. This payment is still received.
The 1800 Act of Parliament included a provision for street lights. If you were caught putting one out you could be fined and this money was given to the Charity. If a lamp was stolen, the judge could sentence the individual to transportation for seven years or publicly whipped!