A Street Through Time: Benn Hospital
Benn Hospital on map of Clifton Street

   The ‘Ulster Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital’ also known as the ‘Benn Hospital’, was located on the junction of Clifton Street and Glenravel Street. The building was funded by philanthropist Edward Benn, his significant contributions are reflected in the hospital’s name, and was designed by prominent Belfast architect William Hastings in 1873.

Edward Benn came from a wealthy distilling family in Antrim.[1] He gave generously to charitable pursuits in the Clifton Street area, having also funded a large wing of Clifton House and later a Skin Hospital on the adjoining Glenravel Street. Benn’s donation was inspired by the work of Dr William McKeown, who was experimentally operating on eye diseases on the poor population of Belfast. The Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital was intended to provide a permanent place in which Dr McKeown and his colleagues could work.[2]

Originals plans for the Benn Hospital, 1873|

   The foundation stone of the hospital was laid by then Mayor James Alexander Henderson in March 1873.[3] The hospital was integral to shaping and defining the developing street that surrounded it, with neighbouring properties built to accommodate the doctors and later nurses working in the hospital. The hospital was thus central to Clifton Street’s development as a respectable, middle-class community. The hospital served the community of North Belfast in increasing numbers, leading to its first extension in 1896. Six new wards, with an adjoining shop space, were stitched to the existing building. Owing to increasing demand, the shop space was reclaimed in 1924 as a further extension, which included a new operating theatre and a dark room.[4] Under the presidency and sponsorship of Lady Edith Dixon, a nurse’s wing was added to the hospital in November 1938.[5] In the following year Lady Clark funded the ‘Clark Extension’, which expanded the hospital’s inpatient capacity by a further 22 beds.[6]

The Benn Hospital

   It is fortunate that these various extensions were completed at this time, as the hospital would soon face its greatest demand. In April 1941 Belfast was heavily bombed by German forces in the Belfast Blitz. North Belfast was gravely impacted. In this year alone, 12,777 patients were admitted into the Benn hospital as injuries attributed to the bombing soared. [7] The hospital was thus a lifeline to the local community during the Blitz as it continually attended patients despite real threats to staff safety. The grateful public donated generously towards the hospital which, pre-welfare society, did not receive any government funding. Despite its local importance and affection, the Benn hospital was demolished in the development of the Westlink and no physical reminder of the former hospital exists. Once defined by its medical practice, Clifton Street no longer boasts a hospital. A contemporary doctor’s surgery on the junction between Clifton Street and Henry Place is the only reminder of this once important past.

Clifton Street in the 1900a, Benn hospital shown on corner

[1] Woods, C.J., ‘George Benn’ in Dictionary of Irish Biography, https://www.dib.ie/biography/benn-george-a0577, October 2009.

[2] ‘Edward Benn-Three Belfast Hospitals’ in Belfast Entries, https://www.belfastentries.com/people/edward-benn/, 1st March 2021.

[3] ‘The Belfast Hospitals No.2 The Benn Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital’ in Ulster Medical Journal vol VI (1937), pp119-122.

[4] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19240926/178/0010?browse=False, 26th September 1924.

[5] ‘Deserved support’ in Belfast News-Letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/19381110/198/0010?browse=False, 10th November 1983.

[6] ‘The Benn Hospital Clark Wing opened’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19390701/222/0009?browse=False, 1st July 1939.

[7] ‘The Benn Hospital’ in Belfast News-Letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/19420430/036/0002?browse=False, 30th April 1942.

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