On Friday 11th May Clifton House hosted a special ‘Plots and Plotters’ tour of Clifton House and Clifton Street Cemetery, looking at the radicals of Belfast in the late 1700s, in association with the Linen Hall Library to mark their 230th anniversary. Prior to the tour commencing Monica Cash, deputy librarian, presented Clifton House with a book with a rather usual connection to what was then the Belfast Poor House.
Martin Waddell, who has written under the pseudonym Catherine Sefton, had asked the library to donate an inscribed copy of his children’s Irish ghost story ‘In a Blue Velvet Dress’ to Clifton House. But what association does a children’s book written in the 1970s have to do with Clifton House? In 1970 Mr. Waddell had purchased a charming drawing of a young girl seated at a table reading a book, on the back of the portrait was a hand written ink note identifying the subject as Roseanna Gardner, who died on 16th April 1840 aged only 13 years. Roseanna had been buried in the Gardner Family Plot in Clifton Street Cemetery, opened by the Belfast Charitable Society in 1797.
The image of this young girl was the inspiration for Martin Waddell’s book which tells the story of a young bookworm who has to visit her aunt and uncle when her parents go on holiday. When she arrives she realises she is stranded with no books! A mysterious figure in a blue velvet dress appears to help her out and this mysterious friend who knows just what she needs.
Roseanna’s father, James Gardner, had a grocers in North Street in Belfast- a short walk from the Poor House. He later became a ship owner and provisions merchant in Lane, before becoming a starch manufacturer in the same street.
So it is fitting that after dying so young, that Roseanna Gardner’s memory lives on today, and now Clifton House has a beautifully inscribed copy of the book inspired by a drawing of one of the individuals who was buried in our graveyard nearly 180 years ago!