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Before organized consumer credit, there were few major lending sources: pawnbrokers, illegal small-loan lenders, retailers, friends and family.

Unfortunately indebtedness was common, it was hidden from view in the grocer's book and the pawnshop ledger, in the butcher's tab and the memory of friends.

Pigot & Co's 1828/9 Directory of Staffordshire

Hill Benj. St. John's sq. Burslem
Hill Thos. George st. Hanley
Wright Jos. Market st. Lane End

Gomersall's Pawnbrokers - Broad Street, Hanley
Gomersall's Pawnbrokers - Broad Street, Hanley
(closed Aug 2nd 1986) 

Gomersalls occupied the two cream and white painted buildings. Horace Gomersall opened two pawnshops in Hanley in 1906, of which this was one. At one time there were around 50 pawnbrokers in the Potteries.

photo: 2000


Pawning has been around since 1462, when Franciscan friars in Perousa, Italy established the "mont-de-pietes" or "Banks of Pity" to enable struggling people to obtain small, collateralized loans. The Italian word "Monte" has several meanings: "mount, mountain", and "heap, sum". In the Middle Age the term "Monte" was currently used to indicate "goods or money collected or polled by one or more persons for trading."

Pawning was very common in England but was viewed differently than the negative image it has today.

Typical items that were placed on deposit in exchange for cash were shawls, bonnets, undergarments, dresses, suits, shoes, jewelry, bedding, musical instruments, clocks, tools, and furniture.


Was pawning bad?

During those years people had very few places to turn for cash for emergency needs or to pay off creditors. Pawnbrokers were known as the "poor man's banker." Large numbers of people routinely used the pawnbroker to get much-needed cash. Many were longstanding, repeat customers.

The interest rates pawnbrokers charged could reach as high as 300 percent. Was this excessive? Part of the reason for such high interest rates was the need for the pawnbroker to make a profit on predominantly small loans

Is there a the patron saint for pawnbrokers?

A. As ironic as this is, it is St. Nicholas.


Stephen Liversage's pawnbrokers shop in Furlong Parade, Burslem
Stephen Liversage's pawnbrokers shop in Furlong Parade, Burslem
see the entry from the 1881 
census for Liversage 
(at the bottom of the page)

The universal symbol of pawnbroking is three balls and is one of the most easily recognized in the world. 

Pawnbrokers often joke that the three balls represent the motto "Two to one, you won't get your stuff back". In actuality, the three gold balls are a symbol of the Medicis, a family of powerful merchants in Florence, Italy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. 
The Medici family in Italy along with the Lombards in England were money lenders in Europe. Legend has it that one of the Medicis in the employ of Emperor Charles The Great fought a giant and slew him with three sacks of rocks. The three balls or globes later became part of their family crest, and ultimately, the sign of pawnbroking.


The children's song, Pop! Goes the Weasel is about pawning.


All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun.
Pop! goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle.
That's the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out of the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
Mix it up and make it nice,
Pop! goes the weasel.


  • Pop means "to pawn," and is still common slang today in some areas. Weasel is cockney rhyming slang for coat (weasel and stoat = coat).
  • The City Road is a main road leading from London's eastern suburbs to the center of London's business district and the Eagle is a tavern on that road. 
  • Tupenny rice is rice that costs "tuppence" or two pennies (plural of penny) per pound.


King Street, Fenton
King Street, Fenton

Brown & Walker
Brown & Walker

photos: Dec 2001


Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle Pawnbrokers from the 1881 census:


Marr | Age | Sex

 Dwelling Birthplace Occupation
George A. ROBERTSON  M 50 M 60 Peel St, Trentham Whitechapel, Middlesex Pawnbroker & Jeweller
George GREAVES  M 52 M  Trentham Rd, Trentham Newcastle Pawnbroker (Emp 5 Hands)
Thos. COLEMAN  U 55 M 4 High Street, Newcastle Leicester Pawnbroker
William CARTWRIGHT  M 25 M Church St, (Wolstanton) Chesterton Burslem Pawnbroker
Dennis RICHMOND M 42 M  61 Heathcote St, Wolstanton Cromwell, Nottingham Pawnbroker
James David JONES  M 44 M  76 High St, Wolstanton Tunstall Pawnbroker & Clothier
Samuel BARNETT  M 49 M 64 High Street, Wolstanton Burslem Pawnbroker, Jeweller & Outfitter
Allen B. LOWNDES  M 33 M  1 Victoria St, Wolstanton Tunstall Pawnbroker Employing 1 Boy
William COOPER  M 41 M 4 Temple St, Wolstanton Tunstall Pawnbroker
Stephen LIVERSAGE  M 51 M 17 Newcastle St, Burslem Press, Shropshire Pawnbroker Manager
Mary BOURNE  U 31 F  41 Stanley St, Burslem Smallwood, Cheshire Pawnbroker
Clement POVEY  W 37 M 12 Nile St, Burslem Stone, Staffordshire Pawnbroker
William DUNCALF  M 55 M  18 Nile Street, Burslem Norton, Shropshire Pawnbroker & Clothier
Isaac BARRATT  W 51 M  12 & 14 Regent St, Burslem Staley Bridge Pawnbroker
William AMBROSE  M 41 M  32 Lichfield St, Stoke Upon Trent Liverpool, Lancashire Pawnbroker
William WARRILOW  M 31 M  30 Edmund St, Stoke Upon Trent Hanley Pawnbroker
Samuel HILL  W 51 M 16 St Luke St, Stoke Upon Trent Hanley Pawnbroker & Outfitter
Thomas BICKLEY  M 27 M  1 Brunswick Place, Shelton Tunstall Pawnbroker
Sarah BENNETT  U 35 F 94 Hope St,  Stoke Upon Trent Burslem Pawnbroker
Arthur HILL  M 26 M  52 Ashford St, Shelton Burslem Pawnbroker
George BOWDEN  M 41 M  88 Boundary Street, Stoke Upon Trent Bucknall Pawnbroker Master
Wm. BOULTON  M 50 M  Park Cottage, Stoke Upon Trent Hanchurch Pawnbroker & Outfitter
Samuel CARRYER W 61 M  1 Princes Rd, Stoke Upon Trent Newcastle Pawnbroker
Thomas W. CARYER  M 34 M  Lord St, Stoke Upon Trent Burslem Pawnbroker & Salesman
John KELT  W 36 M  "Stoke Upon Trent Workhouse" Penkhull Liverpool, Lancashire Pauper, Pawnbroker



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