A Street Through Time: No. 7-9
No. 7-9 on a map of Clifton Street

In 1884 the Belfast Charitable Society leased land next to the Benn Hospital for the building of two private residences. Two Doctors, who worked in the Benn Hospital, rented the land; Dr Wadsworth at No. 7 and Dr Clements at No. 9. Both resided on Clifton Street for a short time, by 1890 new doctors had moved in; Dr Austin at No.7 and the assistant physician of the lying-in hospital Dr Dickey at No. 9. Whilst resident at no.9 Dr Dickey was called to the scene of a suicide at the local Victoria Barracks. It was October 1892, and the individual was the wife of a soldier and a former patient of Dr Dickey, who he had been attending prior to her death, as she was complaining of low spirits.[1]

Multiple other doctors would later reside in the two houses, as Clifton Street’s association with the medical field continued through into the 20th century. In 1938, the houses were acquired and repurposed by the Dixon family, wealthy Belfast philanthropists, to serve as a home for the nurses of the Benn hospital. As the capacity of the Benn hospital increased, so too did the staff requirements, in particular the nurses. The extra accommodation available for them in the new ‘Lady Dixon Nurses Home’ was therefore vital.

The generous contributions of the Dixon’s did not go unnoticed in Belfast high society. The opening ceremony for the nurse’s home in November 1938 was widely publicised and attended by high profile individuals such as the Viscountess Craigavon.[2]

For the duration of the Second World War the home’s function would, however, change. In 1941 the Benn hospital permitted the Salvation Army to use the nurse’s home, rent free, for use as a hostel. The hostel could shelter 200 servicemen and boasted a canteen and recreational spaces.[3] The hospital’s wartime generosity here was part of what one author of a Belfast Telegraph article described as a strong Northern Irish culture of ‘helping to brighten the lot of the men in uniform’.[4]

After the war, the home resumed its function of housing nurses. It would continue to do so until the late 20th century and the development of the Westlink, which led to both the nurse’s home and the Benn hospital they worked in being levelled to make way for the motorway. Only one medical centre now remains on Clifton Street, further up the road, providing doctors services to the local community.

Property plans, shown bordering the Benn Hospital, 1884|MS9|2015|009|0311
Proposed Westlink development 1968, the nurse’s home is narrowly included (courtesy of Belfast Orange Hall, unreferenced collection)

[1] ‘The melancholy suicide in Belfast’ in Belfast News-letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/18921024/027/0007?browse=False, 24th October 1892.

[2] Northern Whig, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001542/19381110/217/0010?browse=False, 10th November 1938.

[3] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19411213/093/0005?browse=False, 13th December 1941.

[4] Ibid.

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