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Old Market in Bristol 1930s

Old Market in Bristol 1930s
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Looking along a traffic-free Old Market Street (said to be the widest street in Bristol) towards the junction wirth Midland road. On the corner of Midland Road was a permanent fairground. On the other corner is that famous old pub The Palace Hotel, commonly known in those days as the Gin Palace.

note: The policeman by the tram post on point duty and nearer the lone figure of a well dressed man standing in the road looking down the street, wonder what he's waiting for a tram maybe?.

On the far right is the original Almshouse situated at the corner of Old Market Street and Midland Road had been in existence for over six hundred years. Although it had occupied the same site since its foundation in the fourteenth century, it had been rebuilt a number of times and the present building dates back to mid-Victorian times.

The Almshouse founder was John Barstaple, a Bristol merchant who was bailiff in 1379, Sherriff in 1389 and Mayor in 1395, 1401 and 1405.

The building was listed as Grade II* and it was accepted that due to the design and layout, it was unfit for occupation by frail, older people.There were significant problems with access for those with even minor mobility issues.

On the left past the advertising hoarding for The Colston Hall and Hippodrome displaying forthcoming attractions we see the sign for Raselle the pawnbrokers.

Bristol pawnbrokers today, you can count on your fingers of one hand but, according to Wright's Street Directory for 1892, there were once over 50 and it listed them in three walks so that you could call on them all without going over the same ground twice.

In those long-vanished, pre-Social Security days you could 'pop your weasel' - pawn your goods - at the sign of the three golden balls in busy Old Market Street.

The business is still going strong in Stapleton Road and run for the last 50 years by the Fowler family — can trace its origins back to 1796, but in those days it was run by Alfred and Edward Lyddon. In 1894 Raselle the pawnbrokers took over and it was under that name that the business became a well-known part of Old Market life. In 1984 it had to move as the area was redeveloped.

For a decade or more, Raselle was the only pawnbrokers left in the city and it remained that way until the early 1980s, when the trade — like the rest of the country — experienced a mini boom. Albemarle and Bond of Bedminster, which opened in 1983 with a brand new image incorporating plush carpets and potted plants, was the first new pawnbrokers to open in the city for 50 years. It is still going strong. Robert Pritchard, the managing director of Raselle's until he retired in 1984, described in an interview in the 1970s just how much things had changed in the business since he had started as a warehouse lad just three weeks before his 14th birthday.

'In the old days, before the war, there were six of us working on the pledge counter and we used to have queues every Monday morning,' he said. He remembered regular customers bringing in the same things every week, such as flat irons, fishing rods and even false teeth. 'They used to get them out for the weekend, which was the only time they had any money and perhaps the only time they needed them in order to tackle the meat in their Sunday lunch. 'It was the same thing with fishing rods —; you only used them once a week. There was real poverty then and poor wages even if you were working, but you couldn't afford to feel sorry for people. After you'd worked there year in, year out, it was just part of the job.'

Before the war, fiddles, flat irons and china dogs were favourite pledges, with the latter two being rejected unless they were in pairs. This was because one iron was heated while the other was being used, and the dogs, of course, sat each end of the mantelpiece. In the deprivation years of the 1920s and 1930s, long queues built up at 'uncle' — as the pawnbrokers were known — stretching right down Old Market. People would pawn children's clothing and 'best' suits just to get them through the week.

So-called 'tallies' — men who pushed carts around the streets, picking up bulky items such as furniture for pawning — did brisk business. They charged a penny to take it to the shop for you. In early Victorian times, the 1830s, a pawnbroker stated that the main items pawned were men's suits, vests and trousers, and women's gowns, stockings, petticoats and hats. But there were also many items of domesticity such as pillows, blankets, sheets, bedcovers and tablecloths. Miscellaneous items such as umbrellas, bibles, watches, rings and war medals made up the rest.

Pawnbrokers in those days not only kept the wolf from the door, they also kept many a family from the dreaded workhouse. By the end of Victoria's reign, the business had become semi-respectable. John Swaish, who owned six pawnshops, became Lord Mayor of Bristol in 1913 and 1914 and was knighted. He was also a councillor for 35 years and a Sunday school superintendent. One of his workers, Jesse White, had this to say about the trade: 'We had 500 to 600 customers on a Monday... and it was always the women who came. They bought in their husbands' suites, shoes and wedding rings and on that they raised enough money to see them through the week.

'People used to pledge things for half-a-crown (12p), one and six (7p) or ninepence even — you could get a meal for four or five kids for that. Desperate women even went so far as to pawn the weekly wash.' Some families would buy a new suit especially for pawning from a 'duffer', or credit agent, and then pay him off weekly with money raised by taking it to 'uncle'. It was known as a duffer suit.

So the money went around and around. Raselle's business nowadays relies on quick cheque cashing and money transfers and it only takes gold jewellery as a pledge.

By contrast, in the 1970s the items pawned were wristwatches, rings, binoculars, record players, radios and the like. These days the clientele of so-called 'popping shops' has changed from the poor, working classes, unable to find money for rent or food, to middle-class people desperate for cash to pay electricity bills or to pay for car repairs or even to go on holiday. Modern pawnbrokers seem have gone back to their roots as moneylenders. After all, the sign of the three golden balls is really part of the coat of arms of Lombardy, which is where in Italy the first moneylenders set up shop, and not, as some wags have suggested, the two-to-one chance that the goods you have pledged would ever be redeemed.

image attribution from @Herbert Frank Tarring collection
Date: 2018-01-12 16:28:14

Old Market in Bristol 1930s Looking towards the junction wirth Midland road The Palace Hotel, commonly known in those days as the Gin Palace Almshouse situated at the corner of Old Market Street and Midland Road Raselle the pawnbrokers Fowler family Alfred and Edward Lyddon pop your weasel money lenders

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Great photo, thanks for sharing.

I remember the Raselle sign in Old Market on my trips to Broadmead on the 87/88 bus in the 70s - it meant that I only had about 10 minutes before the bus would turn the corner and go down Union Street where I'd usually get off.

The billboard to the left of the picture, for the Bristol Philharmonic Society provides some useful information, which becomes visible thanks to the zoom facility on smart phones and tablets. It shows that the show, at the Colston Hall, is on Saturday 6th February. In the 1930s, that date only fell on a Saturday on two occasions - 1932, and again in 1937. It's probable that this photo is from 1932.

The bill is of interest also. Mary and Geraldine Peppin were twins, and were both pianists who featured regularly on the BBC Home Service. Arthur Catterall was an accomplished violinist. At the bottom of the bill it shows that the ensemble would be conducted by Mr Arnold Barter. Barter was something of a 'local boy made good', being an employee of Wills in his early amateur conducting career, and who went on to become great friends with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, with whom he exchanged many letters.
St George Exile 2018-01-14 05:55:31
thank you for above information.
brizzle born and bred 2018-01-14 12:34:48

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