Christmas, Cornelius Harley


The Great Yarmouth Independent of 1881 reported: 

It is now some months since the attention of the public was directed to the magnificent gift dedicated by Mr. Christmas to the poor of this native town forever. It was an earnest and often expressed wish on the part of the now deceased gentleman that he might be spared to witness the first distribution of his bounty, which he had arranged should take place the week before Christmas each year. Soon after the event, Mr. Christmas’ health declined and it became evident to those in attendance that his strength was fast failing him. His remains were interred in a vault in St. Nicholas’ Churchyard. The funeral was of the most quiet and unostentatious character and attracted little attention. The two mourning coaches following the hearse contained the executors of the deceased (Sarah Christmas Vince of North Brixton in London), his housekeeper and others who had constituted his small household. 

Cornelius Harley Christmas lived at 57 South Market Road, Great Yarmouth for most of his life. He commenced his working life as a clerk in the offices of Messrs. Williams and Frere, the wine merchants on King Street. His hard work led him to become a partner in the firm and, after amassing a considerable fortune, he retired from the business. Over the years he accumulated a large collection of rare china, amber, paintings (including several by Rosa Bonheur) and cabinets in ivory, ebony and oak. 

He died in 1881 at the age of 86 years suffering no pain and in perfect possession of his faculties. In 1880, Cornelius Harley Christmas had given the sum of £15,800 (out of his estate of £60,000) to the poor and other charities of the town for ever. The sum of £15,800 is equivalent to two million pounds today. The annual interest on the sum, of approximately £696, (equivalent to £75,000 today) was to be used to distribute coal, bread and cash to every poor person in Great Yarmouth in the week before Christmas. The Vicar of Great Yarmouth was paid one pound to read out the will each year. 

During 1880, nearly 8,000 hundredweights of coal, 16,000 loaves and more than £100 in money was distributed among 6,000 poor families living in Great Yarmouth. On his death his will passed into the Chancery Court, as there was disagreement as to who should administer the charity. It took eight years, until 1888, for the court to rule on the bequest, but finally trustees were appointed and began to administer the bequest. Each year benefits were given to the poor from the fund. In 1890, the annual income was approximately £2,000 (equivalent to £220,000 today). 

In 1889, the trustees of Mr. Harley Christmas’ Charity Fund provided a nursing service for the poor of the town, who were sick. 

Great Yarmouth was still benefiting from this fund nearly 100 years later, for in 1977 several hundred elderly poor residents of Cobholm, Great Yarmouth received a hundredweight of coal each at Christmas. 

In the 1880’s, a stained glass window in memory of Richard Turner (a previous vicar) and Harley Christmas was placed in the window at the north end of the north transept of St. Nicholas’ Church. It depicted the Ascension of Christ

The Christmas Charity Fund was amalgamated with the other Great Yarmouth Charities in 1984 to form the Great Yarmouth Relief in Need Trust. This provides financial help with essential items for those within Great Yarmouth, who are in receipt of benefits and who are suffering extreme hardship. 

The fund is administered by a board of eleven trustees, which includes two members of the clergy and five councillors. In 2012, it distributed £33,563 to the poor of the borough. The Great Yarmouth Relief in Need Trust has capital of about £720,000.