As we remember this month the first child admitted to the Poor House in November 1775 we also look at how the Belfast Charitable Society managed the children who were left in their care.
Admitting children was not without it’s perils and the archives record the first major incident involving children running riot in the house was in March 1777. The Orderly reported that “blankguard boys” are “running and playing through the house and sometimes striking or ringing the bell”. The decision to put door keepers in the house to stop such behaviour seems to have been ignored. How did the Belfast Charitable Society deal with such misbehaviour? They began by giving the children small tasks in order to keep them occupied. On April Fool’s Day 1777 the Orderly visited the house on his daily rounds after reports of “the misbehaviour of some of them, in particular Mary Kelly whom I found to be really idle”. It was ordered that, “no less industry … than six cuts of linen yarn” were to be received from her daily. The nuisance of children continued through the week and on 4th April “the house [was] infested with idle boys running up and down stairs”. Henry Jones was ordered “to attend at the hall door agreeable to order of the committee and prevent idle children from troubling the house”.
The Society also gave praise when it was due. In October 1777 the Orderly reported that ‘it gives me infinite pleasure to acquaint this committee that the children make great progress in their learning, both in spelling and reading’. While some of the children were orphans, many had been left in the Poor House because their families were unable to care for them. This led to problems of parents and relations coming and going from the house as it caused huge disruption and upset for children. In an effort to regulate visitation the Belfast Charitable Society directed 25th March 1780 that “Mr Knox be directed not to suffer the parents or relations of the children under his care to enter their apartments or permit them to call them out of the house, unless authorised by the committee – It is further resolved that no persons whatsoever shall be permitted to enter said rooms without the knowledge and permission of Mr Knox”. Mr Knox was also instructed to ensure “that none of the children under his care shall be permitted on any account whatever to be sent upon errands out of the house”. The children and their well being was taken very seriously with the Society always placing the needs of the children before parents, relations or employers.
At the peak of admissions there were around 200 children in the Poor House at any given time, therefore the need to “mind the children” was tremendous. The archives of the Society given numerous examples of how the Poor House guardians were extremely diligent in their care for the children of the House.