A visit to ‘Uncle’ could tide you over for a week

PLEDGING PLACE...the front of the Marsh/Colledge pawnbroker premises in King Street, Great Yarmouth,

PLEDGING PLACE...the front of the Marsh/Colledge pawnbroker premises in King Street, Great Yarmouth, perhaps a century ago.Picture: LEN VINCENT COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

CHANNEL-hopping on the TV in Peggotty’s Hut recently, I chanced upon a compilation of star guests appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, a hugely popular programme that ran for 23 years from 1948 to 1971 in the United States.

I paused to view when I recognised the handsome young American singer in snazzy suit and tie as my favourite artiste in my postwar teenage years, Guy Mitchell, on whose 78rpm records I spent much of my meagre pocket money in the Carr and Carr shop in Regent Street, Great Yarmouth.

I played them on a wind-up gramophone, regularly replacing the needle, revelling in the infectious clap-clap, French horns and backing of Mitch Miller’s orchestra and chorus. I loved them!

Although that TV monochrome clip showed him singing a song I did not recognise, my mind went back to his string of UK hits in my long-gone collection: The Rovin’ Kind, Liberty Belle, Sparrow in the Treetop, She Wears Red Feathers, Truly Truly Fair...and Pawnshop on the Corner (“in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania”), a catchy ditty about a love-lorn chap hocking everything in a bid to make his sweetheart believe he was a rich millionaire.

The lyrics running through my mind prompted an inescapable train-of-thought because only that morning I had read a newspaper report that a collapsed British chain of pawnbrokers with 187 branches and 809 employees nationwide had been saved from extinction by a takeover of most of its premises and staff.

Call me naïve, but I had not realised that pawnbrokers are still in business to that extent, perhaps because their distinctive triple golden balls trade signs had disappeared from our streets. In three current telephone classified directories I found only a single local entry in one, a pawnbroker and jeweller in Gorleston High Street.

A 2011-12 edition listed just one, too – in “Unit 33b, Regents Boulevard, Gt Yarmouth” with a postcode of NR34 (Beccles area) but an 01493 (Yarmouth) phone number.

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Regents Boulevard? Where? But I found out it was the commercial terrace parallel to the Market Gates bus station, running from the 99p shop at the Regent Road corner to Allen’s music shop. Waiting there for a bus the next day, I spotted no street nameplate for Regents Boulevard...but one of the premises is the Boulevard Cafe.

We live and learn!

The pawnbroker in that outdated directory also offered cheque encashment, “cash till pay-day” and loans, and also bought gold and jewellery.

A Google internet search revealed five Yarmouth businesses listed under “Pawnbrokers” - on Hall Plain, Regent Road, Regent Street, Market Gates and Southtown Road, plus one in Gorleston.

They are more prevalent than I thought, perhaps kept alive more by people hit by the recent recession than by love-smitten young men pawning all their possessions to fund their romance with sweethearts convinced they are millionaires... Indeed, current television is giving them national publicity with programmes like Posh Pawn and Beverly Hills Pawn.

Uncles – the familiar name for pawnbrokers – are achieving widespread fame...or notoriety. The hock-shop has gone upmarket.

The late Charlie Lynes, of Runham Vauxhall, a prominent local football referee, was my source of many a memory of the Yarmouth of his era. One recollection was of pawnbrokers hereabouts, a business which gave him his first job in the late 1920s. His employer was J W Colledge in King Street, near the present Peggotty’s public house, and one of his recollections was of a quirky triple pen enabling an assistant to fill in three copies of each pawn ticket simultaneously.

Three nibbed pens fixed in line to a metal frame could be dipped into a trio of ink pots carefully spaced apart in a pre-carbon paper period.

Pawning and redeeming were done in private booths reached through a side door in an adjoining Row while Colledge’s jewellery business was at the front on the main street. The Rows was a base for Yarmouth’s old pawnbroking trade.

There seemed little that could not be hocked in return for cash – bed-linen to hand-operated wooden roller iron-framed mangles, musical instruments to work tools, trinkets to genuine jewellery... To save some clients either the time, trouble or embarrassment of sneaking into the pawnshops hereabouts, an Irish woman named Alice acted as runner, collecting, delivering and redeeming items on behalf of clients on either a tips or commission basis.

According to Charlie Lynes, a carpenter used to visit the premises every Saturday lunchtime and hock his tools over the weekend, being one of the first in the queue to redeem them on the Monday morning so he could start his working week.

Another story, which sounds apocryphal but he insisted was true, concerned a professional musician who pawned his violin in its case every week, collecting it on Friday’s so he could play it professionally at weekends. “The pawnbroker got so used to this weekly practise that eventually he ceased bothering to open the case every time but merely paid out to the customer who collected it on Fridays on repayment of the loan,” said Charlie.

“But one day the guv’nor noticed the case was still on the shelf in his store-room and had not been redeemed for several months. He decided to open the violin case, only to find not a Stradivarius nor even a cheap violin. Inside was only a brick!”

He emphasised that not all the clients were poor folk haggling as they sought a short-term loan to tide them over in straitened times but also the better off who were temporarily short of ready cash.

Before Colledge acquired the King Street building beside Row 85, Frederick Marsh had occupied it as a pawnshop from 1836, and at one time in the Thirties George Thompson (Carnforth) was the trading name. Its decades as a pawnbroking shop ended early in the war when it was demolished in a German bombing raid.

I wish I had kept my collection of Guy Mitchell 78rpm records. I could have hocked them on Regents Boulevard in exchange for a pay-day loan...