Belfast Charitable Society and the Provision of Water

Belfast Charitable Society and the Provision of Water

When Clifton House first opened its doors in 1774 the Belfast Charitable Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament giving it additional responsibilities that would normally be associated with local government. As well as looking after the poor the Society became responsible for things like street paving, planning permissions, street lighting, and the provision of a water supply. Indeed, it is one of the lesser known stories of Clifton House that we brought piped water to Belfast on a large scale.

Since 1682 a water supply had been taken from the Tuck Mill Dam, but the town’s growing population meant that by the beginning of the 18th century demand was outstripping supply. Furthermore, by the late 18th century the water flowing down the Farset and the Blackstaff streams had become so polluted that it could not be used for drinking. The provision of water had, by then, become a matter of pressing importance and in 1795 the Belfast Charitable Society took upon itself the responsibility of augmenting the supply.

The Society sent John Holmes to London to investigate whether elm, lead or iron pipes would be most suitable for use. Holmes ascertained that elm wood pipes would be best and by 1797 the Society had invested £4,000 to progress the work of piping and channelling water to a reservoir which they had leased at Fountain Street. Within a few years the Society had to obtain leases of additional springs at Malone, and between 1807 and 1837 the wooden distribution pipes were gradually abandoned and replaced with metal pipes at a cost of upwards of £30,000.

Old wooden water pipes discovered in Chichester Street whilst erecting new street lights, January 1921. (Image via Belfast telegraph)

By 1817, a further Act of Parliament was necessary to regulate the supply of water and a new body was created – the Spring Water Commissioners – who were subject to the orders and directions of the Belfast Charitable Society. Both demand and quality of water remained lower than the required levels during this period and by 1840 the Belfast Water Act enabled the transfer of the Society’s water property to another new body, the Belfast Water Commissioners. The transfer of water assets was carried out in exchange for an Annuity of £800 for the poor in the Poorhouse and Infirmary and a free supply of water to the grounds of the Poorhouse. Today the Annuity remains payable by Northern Ireland Water to the Belfast Charitable Society as long as the Society occupies any part of Clifton House.

Belfast Charitable Society Belfast Poor House Clifton House News Uncategorized