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The Mr Christmas who left a legacy of gifts to Great Yarmouth

PUBLISHED: 14:34 17 May 2013 | UPDATED: 14:34 17 May 2013

Cornelius Christmas - a great philanthropist whose money is still being paid out is buried in St Nicholas churchyard at the west end by Northgate Street

Cornelius Christmas - a great philanthropist whose money is still being paid out is buried in St Nicholas churchyard at the west end by Northgate Street

Archant

They say a gravestone should reflect something of the person that lies beneath.

So it is perhaps fitting that millionaire philanthropist Cornelius Harley Christmas should have a simple memorial making his final resting place.

That not a single sketch or portrait exists of the wealthy gentleman collector and wine merchant is also testimony to the lack of fanfare that accompanied his legacy of good works which, remarkably, are still paying out more than 130 years after his death.

But now in an effort to credit his contribution a blue plaque will honour the humble home at 57 South Market Road, Great Yarmouth, where he lived most of his 86 years.

Michael Jeal, whose borough council portfolio includes tourism, has dipped into his £2,000 ward budget to fund the £60 plaque.

He said the aim was to recognise Mr Christmas’s generosity and boost civic pride by remembering the time-lost citizen who did so much for the town.

“I wanted to find a person who had helped the people, irrespective of their political persuasion.

“A lot of the poor people of Great Yarmouth have benefited over the years from this gentleman’s generosity and I thought it was right to recognise him,” he said.

According to research carried out by Dr Paul Davies, chairman of the Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeology Society which is responsible for the plaques, Mr Christmas started his working life as a clerk in the offices of Messrs Williams and Frere, the wine merchants.

His hard work led him to become a partner and after amassing a considerable fortune he retired.

He died in 1881 “suffering no pain and in perfect possession of his faculties,” but not before handing over £15,800 to the poor and other charities in the town “forever.”

The sum, equivalent to around £2m today generated interest of £696 (about £75,000) to pay for the coal, bread and handouts to very poor people in the town in the week before Christmas - chiming with his name.

Records show that in 1880 nearly 8,000 hundredweight of coal, 16,000 loaves and more than £100 in money was distributed among 6,000 poor families.

After his death and following some disagreement over his will a charity was set up to administer the bequest which generated £2,000 a year - around £220,000 today.

Later the charity fund was used to provide a nursing service for the sick. In March 1915 the nurse made 785 visits, dispensed 1,157 pints of milk, 144 eggs, one bottle of Bovril, five siphons of soda water and one tin of food.

The nursing service received in donations a slipper urinal, bandages and old linen.

Great Yarmouth was still benefiting from the fund in 1977 when hundreds of residents received coal at Christmas.

The Christmas Fund was amalgamated with other Great Yarmouth charities in 1984.

It is now called the Great Yarmouth Relief Need Trust. It provides financial help with essential items, supplying goods not money.

The fund is administered by a board of 11 trustees. In 2012 it distributed £33,563. The Great Yarmouth Relief in Need Trust has capital of about £720,000.

The plaque will be unveiled on Sunday at 10am.

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