The Pawnbrokers of Forest Gate

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The opening of H&T Pawnbrokers on Woodgrange Road last year wasn't the first presence by that trade in our area, by a long way.

In 1849, at about the time the railway arrived in Forest Gate, The Pawnbrokers' Charitable Institution built almshouses on the developing Woodgrange Road.  The institution, which still survives, existed then and now to provide pawnbrokers and their dependents, in need, who had been in business for at least five years and are generally over the age of 60, with assistance. 

1867 Ordnance survey map, showing
 location of Almshouses on Woodgrange Road
The rather splendid houses they built (pictured)accommodated upto eight occupants and their immediate dependents.  The impressive buildings were constructed in what has been described as the Elizabethan style. They occupied the land that was later to be turned into a public hall and range of cinemas (see last week's edition), a skating rink, the Upper Cut club etc and is now a ventilation shaft for the channel tunnel rail link.

As Forest Gate began to take off, economically, at the very end of the nineteenth century, the Pawnbrokers body cashed in, knocked them down and developed the land for more commercial purposes.

Pawnbrokers almshouses, Woodgrange Road
 soon after construction c 1850
We are very fortunate to still have contemporary records of that period available to us, in the form of the short-lived Forest Gate News.

The edition of 25 September 1896 tells us that:

A scheme has been sanctioned by the Charity Commissioners, under which the Almshouse buildings on Woodgrange Road may be sold and other buildings erected on the vacant site and the grounds surrounding.  The existing 'almspeople' will each receive additional yearly pensions of £25 to compensate for disturbance together with the sum of £2.10s to defray the expenses attendant on removal.
The Pawnbrokers Charitable Institution had some property clout, locally, at the time.The News tells us  that their total local landholding:

Embraces the almshouses buildings and the vacant land adjoining; the land on which stand the Princess Alice and seven shops eastwards along Romford Road; the ground and shops Nos 1 - 13, Woodgrange Road; and the ground on which stand the nine shops in front of the Almshouses (probably including what is today H&T Pawnbrokers). The present yearly revenue from the estate is close upon a thousand pounds, and when the new buildings are erected it will be very much larger ... The revenues will continue to be devoted to the payment of pensions of aged and destitute pawnbrokers and their assistants.
The paper described the occupants and their circumstances at the time:

In these five houses there are eight persons of the average age of 79 or 80 years. .. (namely) ... Mrs Sarah Emmaretta Lawes, aged 88; Mrs Martha Campion (widow of the ate Mr HH Campion, formerly an inmate), aged 76; Mrs Mary Anne Poole (widow of the late Mr F Poole, formerly an inmate), aged 73; Mrs Harriette Jones, aged 84; Mr James Corbridge, aged 83; Mrs Mary Ann Mackie (widow of the late Mr G Mackie, formerly an inmate), aged 76 and Mr Richard M Clarke, aged 73.
A dozen strides out of Woodgrange Road, through the gateway just above Messrs Lush and Cook's, and I was already in another world ... You would hardly credit the extent of those grounds at the rear of this little Elizabethan group of houses. I am told that presently it will form the site of a crescent of twenty or more new buildings.  Just now it is a site for little besides weedy paths and straggling plants


Sketch of almshouses, 1896, just before demolition
At the back of the Almshouses is  a paved courtyard, with nine wash houses ranged around it, all neat as you please. These were intended for nine tenants, but at present there are only (counting Mr and Mrs Corbridge the only married couple as one) seven.  Mr and Mrs Corbridge occupy the two back rooms in the centre house and are the only inmates in the row to go upstairs to bed. In each of the other four houses the sitting room and the bedroom are on the same floor.
These houses, then, were knocked down in 1898 to make way for further commercial development along Woodgrange Road.

Now, fast forward 115 years, to the appearance of H&T Pawnbrokers, within the footprint of the Pawnbrokers' charity's old land holding. Just who, and how useful are they?

Booming business, unfortunately.  By a strange co-incidence the firm was first established in 1897 in Vauxhall, as the Almshouses were being demolished, by Walter Harvey and Charles James Thompson (hence H&T).  They trundled along as small scale British high street pawnbrokers for almost a century.

New rip-off kids on the block - H&T
 pawnbrokers, Woodgrange Road, 2013
In 1992 the company was taken over by Cash America, the US's second largest pawnbroking firm, and developed rapidly.  By the millennium they had 41 UK outlets. They were subject to a management buy-out in 2004 and now boast over 180 shops, nationwide, including four in Newham.

Recent legislation requires pawnbrokers to be upfront about their charges.  We will let their website speak for the company, as other words fail us.

Just the 820% APR for a payday loan then - no, thanks!
The typical APR quoted on their website for pawnbroking with them is 137%

A typical payday loan, illustrated on their website, would set the borrower back an 820% annual rate of interest.

There was a time when pawnbroking activity in Forest Gate was concerned with providing cheap housing for poor, old folks, now it's just content to rip them off.

Coming soon - upstairs and downstairs in Claremont Road, in 1881!

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