In August 2016, we launched a search to reunite families with portraits of their loved ones which had been painted by Tobias Everard Spence between 1940 and 1980.  To date we have been quite successful and have re-homed three, however, this week has witnessed a tremendous journey for one family in their quest to find out information on their great-great-uncle Thomas Hutchinson.

Hilary Tompkins, from Seattle, first contacted Clifton House in December 2016.  She had been working with a genealogist from Bangor who had advised her of our search for relations of those who featured in our portraits.  Hilary viewed the portraits online and wasn’t sure if any could be her great-great uncle but she was curious to find out more.

When Hilary gave us all the details she had on Thomas Hutchinson, we set to work to see what information we could find.  Our first discovery was that we had not one, but two portraits of Thomas, but we had no idea why this was the case.  We began our archive research, looking at our admission records.  We found his records that showed he was admitted when he was 95.  We were then able to locate his original application form and the beautiful references that had been written for him, prior to admission.  When we began the search of our Minute Books, we realised that Thomas Hutchinson was no ordinary man, as it was believed he had lived until he was 110!

Our archive contained scrapbooks of photographs and newspaper cuttings, which unsurprisingly Thomas featured in quite a lot.  He was known as “Uncle Tom” in Clifton House and was regularly photographed at events at the House.  We had details of many of his birthday parties and a photograph of him dancing at his 103rd birthday party.  Our copy of the photograph had faded significantly and due to the expert work of our volunteer tour guide, Jim Ferran, we were able to have it digitally enhanced.   We were delighted with all of the information we would able to gather and we replied to Hilary to let her know we had some information that she should see.

Hilary was organising a trip for her father, brother, who live in Canada, and children to Ireland in March and agreed to come to Clifton House on 20th March.  We were able to present all of this information to Hilary, her father Hamilton and her brother David.  They were delighted to receive such a wealth of information on a relation they had known little about.

We had a wonderful afternoon with the whole family and it was emotional for both the staff and the families.  Hilary wrote to us on Tuesday, “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough to acknowledge all you and your team have done to bring us these portraits and welcome us so warmly to Clifton House.  I’m so grateful and feel so deeply touched to receive such an outpouring as we did on Monday.” 

Did you know someone who lived at Clifton House between 1940 & 1980?  Have a look on our Facebook page to see the full display of the portraits and who knows we might be reuniting the next one with you.