London’s Street Bankers
Whenever my gran wanted ‘a flutter’ on the horses or the dogs, she sent for the man over the road who acted as the street’s banker. Every working class street had a Mr Fix-It, as well as a local woman you could visit for ‘marital advice’.
The men ran book, bought and sold, lent money, collected and delivered, and ‘sorted things out’. They usually held office in the local pub. In Alexander Baron’s novel ‘King Dido’, they take care of local problems, which means running up against the police and opposing those in the next street over – and so gangs are formed.
A friend points me to an interesting story about the murder of Stan ‘The Spiv’ Setty in Warren Street, back when it used to be the main centre for used cars in London. Men like The Spiv worked as kerbside bankers out of lock-ups in the mews behind the street – this was between the wars – and they were usually carrying a fair bit of cash in their sharp suits. You can read the much more in-depth article here. Spivs like Stan made a big return during and after WWII because of shortages in shops. The classic postwar image is of Sidney Tafler or Harry Fowler (no relation) with jackets full of black market nylons and betting slips.
‘Spiv’ is a bit of a lost word now, although I still use it, and there’s a suggestion on the site that it’s a Romani corruption meaning ‘sparrow’. ‘Chav’, ‘drag’, ‘lollipop’, ‘pal’ and ‘shiv’ are all Romani-based words still in use.
There are an awful lot of weird English words and phrases that I and my friends still tend to use; ‘nante’, ‘latty’, ‘geezer’, ‘Teddy Boy’, ‘birds’, ‘wide boy’ and ‘whistle’ (i.e. suit), for starters. I may start a campaign to shift them back into regular usage. Anyone got some good ones I’ve forgotten?