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Tales from the Treasure House - when Christmas presents were abolished!

Tales from the Treasure House Beverley East Riding Council

Tightening the purse strings during times of economic downturn is nothing new.

Throughout the ages, people have always tried to cut down their spending when the going gets tough, especially at Christmas, when people feel it the hardest. But somehow, we always pull through, and ensure that we have a merry and enjoyable Christmas through dark and uncertain times. The last thing we want to do is abandon our Christmas cheer for the sake of a few pennies!

So, has it ever been as bad as in the Christmas of 1835 when, during an economic depression, the tradesmen of Beverley decided it was necessary to abolish Christmas presents?

A public notice, held at the East Riding Archives records that no less than 71 of the town's tradesmen signed an agreement abolishing the giving of presents at Christmas. Had Charles Dickens taken a trip to Beverley during this time, he would have had no shortage of inspiration for his 'Ebenezer Scrooge' character in the novel 'A Christmas Carol', published in 1843!

At the time it was customary for shopkeepers and tradesmen to give what were known as 'Christmas boxes' to workers on 'Boxing Day', as a gesture of goodwill. Many Beverley traders in 1835 decided that this was too costly for them and abolished the custom.

The notice reads: "We, the undersigned Tradesmen, feeling that the practice of giving presents at Christmas, commonly called 'Christmas Boxes', is a very heavy Tax upon the Trade of Beverley..., have unanimously agreed, on account of the great depression so generally felt in almost every branch of Trade, as well as the small profits upon which business is now conducted – that, in future, we will not give any Christmas Presents, either in money or in any article we deal in."

The notice, dated 9 December 1835, can be viewed on request in the East Riding Archives on Champney Road, Beverley.

Contact the Archives on (01482) 392790, quoting archive ref DDX1322/8/11, for more details.