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Florence Cole as a child

Pawnbrokers
in early 20th century London

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This page is based on childhood recollections of shops in Edmonton, north London in Edwardian times.

Three gold balls: the sign of a pawnbrokers shop

The sign of a pawnbrokers shop.

Pawnbrokers shops were quite common when I was a child in the early 1900s. They could be recognized from some distance away because there were always three balls hanging outside, usually of a gold colour.

The idea was that anyone in need of ready cash would take something or things that they owned to the pawnbroker who would loan them a certain amount of money using the loaned items as security. The amount of the loan was based on what the pawnbroker thought he could sell the things for, plus some sort of commission for himself.

The goods could be redeemed at the end of a certain time if the loan was repaid. If it couldn't be repaid, the goods reverted to the pawnbroker who sold them. Pawnbrokers did a good trade because people were much poorer in my childhood in the early 1900s.

Our pawn shop in Edmonton was run by two brothers by the name of Evans. One window was given over to jewellery and the other to men's clothing. I recall seeing women standing outside with bundles of clothes and bedding waiting for the shop to open on a Monday morning. Then they would redeem these bundles at the end of the week when or if their husbands brought home enough wages. It was a vicious circle in that, once started, it had to continue.

Old English pawnbroker's shop showing the name plate, glass front and pawnbroker sign of three gold balls

An old pawnbroker's shop.

The jewellery was mostly second hand and had been pawned more than once. Now that I am an adult, I have thought about it a lot and have wondered what stories of sadness there were behind the jewellery that couldn't be redeemed.

A pawnbroker's life and family

My Grandfather was Henry (Harry) Messer who owned the pawnbroker's and general outfitter's shops at 119-121 Silver Street. The business was originally owned by Mr Evans, to whom my Grandfather was apprenticed. When Mr Evans wanted to retire none of his children were interested in taking over the business and my Grandfather bought it. However, the locals often still referred to the shop as 'Evans'.

I don't remember hearing that my great uncle David worked there but great uncle Horace certainly did. He had fought in the Great War and often regaled us with stories about it.

My Grandfather had had a bad accident as a child and had to wear a built up boot and had a limp for the rest of his life, so did not serve in the war. he and his wife lived with their four daughters behind and above 119 Silver Street while Uncle Horace Messer lived with his wife, Ivy and two daughters in Bulwer Road. Mum told me that on Monday mornings the bus conductors, instead of calling out 'Bull Lane' (the nearest bus stop to the shop) used to call out "Arry's pawn shop!"

Pat Slocombe

Pawnbrokers in the 1911 Edmonton census

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer
webmaster

I have been unable to find pawnbrokers named Evans in Edmonton in the 1911 census. There were, though, three Messer brothers were at 119 Silver Street, all brothers-in-law to the main occupant David Punnett. The brothers were Henry Messer, 29, a pawnbroker manager David Messer, 20, a clerk, and Horace Messer, 17, a shop assistant in a pawnbrokers. Messer brothers did set up a pawnbrokers business in Silver Street, as Doreen Buckland remembers it in the 1930s as run by brothers Harold and Horace Messer who lived at 4 Bulwer Road. Yet she reports that older people still referred to the shop as Evans.

Pat Cryer, webmaster, and daughter of the author

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