Back in the 1850’s cash was definitely king and when you didn’t have any it led to desperate measures.
Pawnbrokers were central figures in many communities and shops like J. Devlin’s in Belfast provided an important service.
Hanging over the lives of the poor was the fear of the workhouse, so to keep life going, people would bring jewellery, wedding rings, musical instruments, bedding, shoes and clothes to the pawnbroker’s shop where they would receive ready cash in return. Once the loan was repaid (with interest of course) the goods were returned. Any unclaimed items were sold.
This well-known children’s rhyme from around 1850 may have been a reference to pawning.
“Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel”
‘Pop’ was a slang word for pawn and ‘weasel and stoat’ was cockney rhyming slang for ‘coat’. The rhyme could be about pawning a coat in order to buy food and drink.
The shopfront of this pawnshop came from Toberwine Street, Glenarm, County Antrim. It is typical of small shops in Ulster in the late 1800s
You can see three golden balls hanging outside the pawnbrokers. They are the symbol of the pawnbrokers. According to legend Saint Nicholas gave three daughters of a poor man a bag of gold each so they could get married.