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Albert Embankment 1906; Copyright London Met Archives 91521

2022 marks a special year for H&T — it's the 125th anniversary of our business! One of the many ways we want to celebrate this occasion with our team and customers is to take it back to where it all began, by delving into the lives of two of the most important people to the business: Walter Harvey and Charles James Thompson. Not only are this pair the namesakes for our business, but most importantly, they're the two who started it all — there’d be no H&T without Harvey and Thompson!

To celebrate this iconic pawnbroking duo with us on our 125th birthday, read on to find out more about the lives of the men who started it all, and the working friendship between the pair.

The life of Walter Harvey

The oldest of the pair, Walter Harvey, was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, in 1844. While his father worked as a tailor, Walter took an interest in pawnbroking instead. We like to think the knowledge his father might have shared with him would have been invaluable to his pawnbroking career though, as up until the mid-1900s, fabric and clothing were fundamental assets in the business of pawnbroking.

Walter Harvey started his career at just 15 when he moved to South London to work as a shopman for John L Foster in 1861. He was a loyal and dedicated worker, staying in this role for ten years before moving on to become a pawnbroker for Margaret Osman at the age of 26.

This was a period full of changes in Walter's life, as a year after making this step up in his career, he went on to marry Lucy Jane William in 1872. The pair would go on to have seven children together, some of whom would go on to become pawnbrokers, just like their father.

Walter Harvey established himself as a prominent businessman in the area. He was even accepted into the oldest and one of the most exclusive fraternal organisations in the world, the Freemasons. But despite all his success, Harvey was a family man at heart, and would invite four of his sons to work for him: Walter Charles, Allen, Gilbert, and Oliver. The eldest son, Walter Charles was also accepted into the Freemasons in 1897, but sadly passed away 11 years later on Christmas Day at the age of just 35.

The importance of family to Harvey (and Thompson too as you’ll later discover) is something we still hold close to the heart of business, it’s at the centre of our culture and influences everything we do. We consider family to be beyond blood, to us, it’s about taking care of each other, being kind and always going to extra mile for our colleagues and customers.

The same year Harvey’s son was accepted into the Freemasons, Harvey founded H&T with Thompson, and became invested in the business. Under the pair’s leadership, the company went from strength to strength. But after 17 years of involvement with the business, Walter Harvey passed away at the age of 71. He spent his final days living in Dulwich Village, and hadn't left South London since moving for his first job at the age of 15.

The life of Charles James Thompson

Charles James Thompson was born a few years after Harvey in Bermondsey, South London. And, just like Harvey, Thompson was loyal to his roots and would stay living in South London for the rest of his life. But unlike Harvey, Charles Thompson didn't start his career in pawnbroking. In fact, he was a clothier for many years, which was a well-respected job at the time as clothing was extremely popular as a retail service.

Even during his time as a master pawnbroker, he still kept up his role as clothier which served as the retail side of the business. Eventually, jewellery became more popular than clothing, which is why today our pre-owned watch and jewellery collections are our main retail service.

Thompson married his first wife, Kate Williams, at the age of 25, and the couple went on to have five children together. He later went on to re-marry a woman called Sarah Jackson, who he had one child with. Just like Walter Harvey, Charles Thompson was seemingly family-orientated, and got his two eldest children, Charles and Alfred, into the pawnbroking industry. The pair became assistant pawnbrokers at the ages of just 15 and 14 respectively.

The established pawnbroker made a name for himself in the area as a successful businessman, and he was accepted alongside Harvey to be a member of the Freemasons in 1893, although none of his children were given this honour like Walter Charles Harvey was. Charles Thompson passed away in 1915, at the age of 66.

The creation and growth of H&T

Together, this pair created the most well-known pawnbroking brand in the UK, and it all started with a small store in Vauxhall in late 1800s. This store was so successful that a second store was opened a couple years later on the famous Lambeth Walk, and a third just three years after that on the same street. By 1897, Harvey and Thompson officially established H&T which is where our story began, at which point there were an impressive 12 stores in the business.

Lambeth 1969: Copyright London Met Archives 89890

But it wasn't always smooth sailing for the two businessmen. In 1906, their Bermondsey store was completely destroyed in a huge fire, which took all of the stock and pledges with it. Despite this awful event, the business recovered and by 1915, there were a total of 19 stores. Sadly, the same year both Thompson and Harvey passed away within just weeks of each other.

There have been a number of hard-working and talented directors since their passing, and the current number of stores stands at a staggering 256. But it's safe to say that without these two sharp and savvy businessmen, the business wouldn't be where it is today.

If you're interested in learning more about H&T, head to our about us page to find out more about our pawnbroking service, and our Est 1897 range. And don't forget to keep up to date with the rest of our blog too, where you can find more fun and informative content.

By H&T Pawnbrokers

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