A Street Through Time: No.11-13
No.11-13 on map of Clifton Street

With the Benn hospital in such close proximity, real estate on Clifton Street was incredibly lucrative for Doctors. Prominent Belfast doctor, Dr Johnston, commissioned two houses on the street in 1874. The three-story buildings were ornately fashioned from red brick, a testament to the wealth and status of the proprietor. Whilst occupying No. 13, Dr Johnston attended the scene of an infamous case of infanticide. In December 1888 Johnston discovered the body of a new-born child in North Belfast [1]. Accused of the murder was house-servant Jane McDowell, the infant’s mother, who was suspected to have become impregnated with the house owner’s child. McDowell was found guilty at a Belfast court on the 25th March 1889 and sentenced to death.[2] With her execution date set for the 25th April 1889, McDowell’s lawyer launched a successful appeal to have her sentenced commuted to life in prison. His appeal was granted on the 30th April 1889.

Plans for No. 11-13 Clifton Street, 1874|

   At this time, Richard Lilburn, then editor of the Belfast Newsletter, was occupying the next-door property of No.11.[3] The Belfast Newsletter began its publication 1737 and was then, as it is now, a vital communication of news in Belfast. Both houses later passed between a series of doctor owners, including Dr Moore at No. 11. Dr Moore was the father of acclaimed Irish-Canadian author Brian Moore, who was born in No. 11 in 1921.

   Residential dwellings on Clifton Street, such as No. 11-13 fell into decline after the second world war. Heavy Blitz bombing destroyed much of the surrounding area, making the inner city undesirable for middle-class buyers. By 1947 No. 11 operated as a Sancta Maria hostel, which was residential accommodation that housed destitute women who had issues with ‘dirt, disease, drink, poverty, drug addiction’ amongst others.[4] The hostel was run by the Catholic group, Legion of Mary who, under the leadership of Frank Duff, had previously opened the first hostel in Dublin in 1930. [5] Rehabilitation was accessible to women from across the religious divide, its blended religious approach was reflective of the surrounding mixed community. The Sancta Maria Hostel operated successfully on Clifton Street for 30 years until the threat of demolition on Clifton Street encouraged the hostel to move to nearby Cliftonville Road in 1971.[6] No. 11 was left vacant.

Letter from Dr Johnston regarding his expectations for the house, upon purchasing the land | MS9|2015|016|0504

Likewise, after the Belfast Blitz No. 13 no longer served as private residence. It was transformed into an RAF association and Ulster Memorial Club in 1945. The club served as a meeting point for servicemen and was funded by charitable contributions from local people grateful for their recent sacrifice in the war. The club aimed to ‘Promote and provide the means of social intercourse, recreation and other advantages of a social club and for the promotion of the welfare and furtherance of the interests of its members and for advancing the object of the Royal Air Force Association and fostering good fellowship and the spirit of comradeship amongst its members’.[7] Integral to the club’s success was its President William Neill. Neill was a prominent Unionist MP for North Belfast, and Lord Mayor of Belfast between 1946-1949. He was a popular member of the club, leading to his frequent re-election as President until his tragic death by drowning in 1960.[8]

Whilst the function of No. 11-13 Clifton Street was subject to great change over time, the physical building remained unaltered whilst the surrounding street was redeveloped or demolished. Curiously, the building was not demolished as part of the Westlink development, having narrowly avoided the roadway. Nevertheless, it has since been taken down, with the land now being used as a  car park..

Historic Clifton Street, No.11-13 can be seen on the right

[1] Baker, J., ‘Tragic murder of a baby in Newington’ in North Belfast: A scattered history (2011), p21.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘200th Anniversary Supplement: 1737-1937’ in Belfast News-Letter, 1937.

[4] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19671124/126/0011?browse=False, 24th November 1967.

[5] Kennedy, F., ‘Frank Duff’s search for the neglected and rejected’ in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review Vol XCI (2002), p384.

[6] ‘Philbin opens Hostel’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19711204/117/0009?browse=False, 4th December 1971.

[7] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19751128/155/0015?browse=False, 28th November 1975.

[8] ‘Ulster Memorial Air Club Meeting’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19530319/103/0006?browse=False, 19th March 1953.

[9] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19491227/117/0005?browse=False, 27th December 1949.

Members Involved