Beverly Brown MAGI

Thomas Hutchinson: portrait 2

Thomas Hutchinson: portrait 1

In 1752, the Belfast Charitable Society was founded by a group of public-spirited citizens to provide welfare for the poor of Belfast. The Poor House, later to be known as Clifton House, operated until the late 1880s, after which it became a nursing home and hospital for the elderly and infirm. Clifton House is an elegant Georgian building, set in landscaped gardens in the heart of Belfast.

During the course of my research last year, for a lady in America, I discovered that her great-great-uncle, Thomas Hutchinson, had been a resident in Clifton House, Belfast.  It was while looking for more information about this establishment, that I came across a current article in a Belfast newspaper about a series of portraits that had been discovered in the attic of Clifton House. Twenty seven portraits of former residents, painted between 1940 and 1980 by a well-known artist and former President of the Belfast Charitable Society, Thomas Everard Spence, had been stored in the attic for safe keeping, during a period of refurbishment. The Society now felt that these should be returned to the families of former residents.

I passed this information on to the lady in America, who, in turn, contacted Clifton House. With the information she was able to give them, Clifton House discovered that they had not one, but two portraits of Thomas Hutchinson. He was admitted when he was 95 and it is believed that he remained with them until his death, aged 110! Clifton House Achive contained Thomas’s original application form, along with the references that had been written for him. He was affectionately known as ‘Uncle Tom’ and was regularly photographed at events in Clifton House, including one of him dancing at his 103rd birthday party.

Tom, with his two portraits

It so happened that my American client was organising a trip to Northern Ireland for March 2016, along with her father, her brother and her two children. When Clifton House discovered this, the family was invited to a lunchtime reception for the presentation of all the information they had been able to gather on Thomas Hutchinson. My client very kindly asked me to join them at the event, which was quite an emotional occasion for her and her family.  As well as a wealth of material about her great-great-uncle, she was presented with both portraits to take back to the States.

Clifton House is still keen to reunite families with portraits of their relatives painted by Thomas Everard Spence between 1940 and 1980. The full display of these portraits can be seen on its Facebook page.