Oral History

Mr Nicholas Eales life and times of a Pawn Broker at Hinckley

Please Note The figures at the beginning of the line, correspond with the numbers at the foot of each report; and the figures at the end of the line, refers to the MS. Paging of the Volumes arranged for The House of Commons.

Interviewed: Mr Nicholas Eales

4557. You are, I believe, a Pawn Broker at Hinckley? --- I am.

4558. The only one? --- The only one.

4559. How long have you been connected with the trade? --- I am a native of the place, and have lived in the place 60 years, except during seven years apprenticeship. I knew the town when it was in good repute and prosperity.

4560. Have you observed that the condition of the people is much more depressed of late years than it was formerly? --- There have been different intervals of time, when perhaps they have been as bad as they are now. In the years 1817 and 1818 they were in a dreadfully bad state; there was no employment for a considerable time, and then trade revived and was tolerably well till 1825, when the panic was, I remember that year I was in office, and then they were in a dreadful state; they were on the parish, I should think, for 18 months before they got any regular employment; the parish was nearly ruined, as well as the people driven to the greatest extreme by the distress.

4561. What has been their condition the last three years? --- The last three years they have been very bad, until the last six months; their earnings are so exceedingly small and they have no relief; it is impossible to get relief even though the trade gets better. We have people in this town at the present moment that bring their blankets to us in the morning, and fetch them out at night for a day’s subsistence.

4562. That is, they pawn them in the morning? --- Yes, and take their labour in during the day, and fetch the blankets out at night again; but then we must make allowance for that; there may be some impropriety in the people, some want of better management in their household affairs.

4563. What. would be the cost to a poor person bring a blanket in that way? --- A half penny a day, that is 3d. a week.

4564. Do you find that many of them are in the habit of bringing their clothes on the Monday, their Sunday clothes? --- Oh yes; that is the regular way they do. We regularly pay away from 40/. to 50/. every Monday morning, or on the Tuesday. They will perhaps wash on the Monday, and get up their linen preparatory to the next Sunday, and in the course of the week they bring all the finer things they can spare. Friday is the worst; they will then bring small trifling articles such as are scarcely worth 1d. and we lend on them to enable them to buy a bit of meat, or a few trifles for dinner.

4565. And then, when they take in their work on the Saturday, and receive their wages, do they come and redeem their goods pawned during the week? --- Yes, on the Saturday night, and they will go to worship perhaps on the Sunday. The town is as orderly a one on the Sunday, perhaps, as most manufacturing towns.

4566. What do you suppose they generally take in a week in this way, each family? --- It would depend upon the value and the number of the things they could bring. Some with big families will perhaps bring in 14s or 15s; some will perhaps bring in 5s. or 6s, and some even less than that; some a couple of shillings: some have not any change of apparel, perhaps. and they cannot raise more than 2s or 2s - 6d. perhaps; but some of them are very improvident, and neither husband their time nor their little money when they have got it; but that will be found to exist in all manufacturing places.

4567. You state that it is their practice to redeem their articles on the Saturday night; do you find that they fully do so? --- Oh no, oftentimes they leave things for a good length of time, sometimes altogether.

4568. To what extent do you think they lose their property? --- They have not a great deal to lose, and oftentimes we lend as much on them as, when they have paid the interest, they are worth, and if they fall on our hands to sell them we could not sell them for as much. We know the people that come regularly, and we suppose that when they bring their things in they will fetch them out again, and we lend them to the full extent of their value upon that supposition. When they have lain in 12 months they often will get worse. It is a loss certainly. If a person pawns 10s. a week, that makes it about 8s 4d. a year; it is not a ruinous loss to them if they were provident.

4569. Would they only pay that amount a year? --- No: 10s. costs 2d a month. If they fetch it out every week they would pay the 2d; so that is not a ruinous system in that way, although it is a bad practice. When they have easy access to this money, they go and spend it improvidently in some case.

4570. Of course, the same things are returned to you again and again? Those that are of a more perishable nature you would not continue to lend the same amount upon, clothes for instance? --- No there is a great reduction in the value of clothes; their clothes are worth so very little money, and then they sell cheaper and cheaper as they get more worn, consequently as the value decrease, as a general principle, we lend less upon the articles. Pawnbrokers are like all other tradesmen; we all try to trade to profit. If we lend too much it is our loss; so we endeavour to lend lately as little as we can, and so we have not so great outlay as we used to have. From 70/. to 80/. a week I pay away now, and I used to pay upwards of 100s a week three or four years ago.

4571. And is your dead stock very large? ---Yes; some years ago my dead stock was worth 1500/. but when I took stock 12 months ago it was not 1100/. I consider the depreciation arose from giving less upon the articles than I formerly did.

4572. Have you known many instances in which persons who are accustomed to bring their Sunday clothes in the week, and to redeem them on the Saturday night, have latterly been unable to do so? --- Not latterly, there might be while they had no employment. Those who are tidy and go to a place of worship always redeem them. They take their work in on the Saturday night, and bring their money straight to me and take away their clothes; and they come on Monday morning and bring the clothes, and take my money, and pay off their grocery bills. Oftentimes when the clothes have come in six or eight months they have been regularly worn. I say, " Those things are reduced in value, I must give you less;" and they will tell me, “You must not do it this week; you must give me a week’s notice, or else I cannot pay the shop up.'' Their miserable earnings are so little that I think the earnings of no other manufacturing town are so small. The evil is in the payment of frame rent, and seaming, and all those little appendages. They take off so much money that the stocking-makers can get next to nothing. They used to get 1I. a week, and 23s and 24s a few years ago.

4573. You pay about 70/. a week you say; to what number of persons do you think you pay that? --- I dare say about 600 or 700. About 320 of a Monday; on Tuesday about 200 or 300, and so on. That is regularly what we calculate upon, 320 coming on the Monday; but then they come from the neighbourhood as well as from Hinckley.

4574. Are must of those heads of families, women or men? --- They are most of them that come on the Monday heads of families, with regular family things.

4575. Do you think that they often pawn things that they stand in great need of during the week? --- Yes, they do frequently; such as taking the shoes off their feet and bringing them. I have known them to do that to get a few pence to buy something.

4576. Is that more frequently women than men? --- It is both, but the women frequently bring them. Those that I allude to now are more towards the latter end of the week, Thursday or Friday, when they want to raise something for dinner. I suppose they get bread from the shop; then the little money they want is to buy a little meat, having no credit for that.

4577. Do they pay nothing then for tickets, or anything of that sort? --- 5s is a halfpenny, and 10s a penny; but it is very seldom that for those small things we get paid anything for the tickets.

4578. Then all the profit you have for the week is the 2d is it? --- If it is 5s it is a penny, and if 2s - 6d. it is a halfpenny; we write three tickets and carry the bundle away, and they fetch it back and it is a halfpenny. If they have more than 2.s - 6d, if it is 4s, we have a penny, and if they get 7s - 6d we have 1½d; if they have 10s it is 2d, and for 15s, it is 3d.

4579. That is the total cost to them for the week? --- Yes, or for a month if they please; 1s is 4d a month, so that the mere expense of pawning would not, ruin them, nor keep them poor, if there was not an improvident use made of it; only it is a ready means to get hold of money is the pawnshop: they run to the pawnshop when they should do without perhaps, or work and get it.

4580. Do you see many instances in which they go from the pawnshop to the gin-shop, or public house? --- Yes, we frequently see that it goes for ale. The public house in this town are a great evil. I think in towns when the manufacturers' men are kept in their hours, they do better than they do in this town, because here you see the time is their own, and they are so improvident with it; they come out at breakfast, and count having an hour, and perhaps when that hour is gone some little amusement will take them two hours; the same at dinner, they count having an hour at dinner, and perhaps they may stop two; then there is tea-time, there is another hour, so that then is such a waste, of time. Some few of the people that are prudent seldom use my shop. There are people that, live comfortably, and very comfortably, out of the business, but they must be very prudent people; their earnings are so small they must take care of the halfpence and the pence. The public houses spoil them for work; the liquor makes them bad at night, and they cannot work the next day, and so they go at it again.

4581. Is there any other stimulant that they take here, do you think, except the public house supply? --- Nothing that I know of.

4582. Are the children's clothes often pawned? --- Oh yes, as frequently as grown-up people's.

4583. Do you believe that the children are constantly kept from school by their clothes being pawned? --- A good many of them are, I dare say. There wants a better system of education altogether.

4584. How long have you been in this business? --- About 10 years.

4585. Have you known father and son to descend down the same course? --- Oh yes, I have no doubt of it; for I oftentimes can perceive that with people that have never been in the habit of coming to the pawnshop there is such a diffidence; they now often send children, and I send them back, and say I will not have them. I often send them back and chide the parents for sending them, and their excuse is that they are at work; the children are all brought up to it, it is carried on more than it used to be; their pride is brought down, and they think nothing of coming to the pawnshop now. All the town is poor, there are no opulent people in it; if there come a few that, make a fortune here they flit away as soon as they have made it. The poor are frequently and generally ungrateful, I think; indeed there is such amass of them, there is not sufficient respectability to make them obeisant. There is a great deal of charity in one way and another given away in Hinckley.

4586. Is bedding as frequently pawned as other things? --- Not quite so frequently, because they have not got it, but bedding is frequently pawned, There are many families that have not a bed to lie upon. I know a family that are living in a house of mine. There are eight children, and the man and his wife, and they have not a bed to lie upon.

4587. And is their bed in pawn? --- No; they very likely have sold them, and have never been able to get fresh ones. I. have lost 5/., by the house, and they still continue in it; and they have been there two months without a bed to lie on; they have got bedsteads, but never a bed.

4588. I suppose you have no chance of getting your rent? --- Yes, I get it now. I lost the 5/., because the goods were not enough to pay me for it. I found the evil of letting them run on in the hope of their doing something, and eventually I was obliged to take all their things, and the poor folks have had nothing since. When I was in office in 1825 I bought two houseful of goods for 8s. Two poor people that their landlord had seized upon their goods, I went to look at the goods and see what they worth. I said I would give 8s for the lot, and I had it.

4589. Have you much cottage property? --- No.

4590. Do you consider they are very much in arrear of their rents? ---They are all through the town. The weeks that they have for holidays at Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, and so on, they never can get over, and illness the same; they never lay up for a rainy day; they never can get over those drawbacks. If they had a better price for their labour I think they would be much more comfortable.

4591. You are the owner of some house property in Hinckley? ---- Yes, I am.

4592. What do you consider has been its depreciation in value of late years? --- I think small houses may have decreased about 12½ per cent, but the better class of houses have come down considerably more, One reason that will account for that is, that we had formerly here a doctor of celebrity, and great numbers of persons came to be under his care. There was a respectable class of houses provide, such as would afford respectable accommodation in lodgings and otherwise. When he died, the patients of course did not come again, because he left no successor, and the houses have fallen away in value A house up this street is mortgaged for 800/. and I have no doubt it might be bought for 120s; but that is one of the extreme eases.

The Witness Mr Nicholas Eales withdrew.