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24 September 2014
BBC Liverpool - Local History

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My name is Roy McCadden, as a young boy in the 1950's, I can remember helping my mother to carry our blankets to the Pawnbrokers on Breck Road.

The Summer was on the way and Mum knew the blankets would not be needed for some time. So she would Pawn them for what ever she could get.

I can recall the smell as we walked through the door of the Pawn shop, there was always the smell of leather. It was so strong, you could be forgiven if you thought you were in a shoe shop.

The counter in the Pawnshop was too high for me to see over. It seemed so natural to Pawn things then, but there was always a stigma attached to the people who pawned their shoes or items of clothing. And yet, almost everyone we knew pawned something at sometime or other.

Roy McCadden

George-Alex Gault shares his memories of pawnbrokers:

The distinctive pawnbroker’s sign, three brass circular globes suspended overhead, was as well known as any local pub.
Every day, anxious customers could be observed making their trek to pledge or redeem something from the pawn shop.

Almost anything was pawned; rings, watches, guitars, trumpets, banjos, men’s suits, women’s brooches, whatever, pledged for a month, a year or more.

The biggest business days and nights were Fridays and Mondays. Friday was the day most people were seeking extra money to purchase the necessities of life; Monday night was when many pledges were redeemed. It was a revolving door -- bringing regular cash profits to the pawnbroker.

When I was nine years old, at Old Barn Road, local kids made fun of a middle-aged woman who took her husband’s only suit for pawning, Saturdays (for beer money, the kids claimed), redeeming same the following Tuesday. Whenever the kids saw the husband wearing the suit at funerals, the occasional wedding, or at church, they would holler ;

"She got it out again, eh! Ha, ha!"

Gran was forced two or three times to pawn her gold wedding band to buy us some food; her last few shillings had gone on rent. I believe she got three or four shillings for it.
About three months later, she redeemed the ring by paying back what she received, plus interest of three pence per week; pretty nice profit for the pawnbroker of three shillings or 36 p.

George-Alex Gault
George-Alex Gault aged 35.

On the other hand, if a pawn was not redeemed, and no interest paid, the shop put it on sale -- at a 15 - 25-per-cent profit. After all, he had to cover the cost of holding the merchandise, plus his profit and overhead.

When I was about 11, I began to be fascinated by the pawnbrokers’ window displays, mainly jewellery. It did not occur that a great deal of the estate jewellery, as it was known, was, in fact, unredeemed merchandise from customers, mostly locals, unable or unwilling to pay their pledge and/or redemption fee.

I had never seen so many watches, rings and brooches, some solid gold adorned with diamonds and at what seemed to my young mind, unreachable prices.

Years later I still retain the same fascination and on a trip to England a few years ago, I took delight in watching one of the now-few pawnbrokers emptying their windows at night as a security precaution and re-stocking the following morning.

This particular shop claimed to have more than 1 million pounds of gold displayed in its windows!

I wondered how much of it was unredeemed merchandise of cash-poor people, unable or unwilling to pay up. Such was life then -- and, to some degree, is still today.

George-Alex Gault

 

 

 
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