Searching for Easy Money




At first glance this short chapter might appear to have little to do with the 1930s, but I feel it is important enough to warrant its inclusion, as it is a positive indication of how one aspect of the social consciousness has changed – that of avarice.

Today we live in a world where the chase is on, by millions, for easy money, elusive wealth that might be attained by gambling in numerous forms. We have with us, as regular financial travellers, a large number of ways in which money can be won and lost. Most of these methods, as far as the working population of half a century ago was concerned, either being non-existent or confined only to the rich. Hardly a town or city fails to have its share of bingo halls, casinos, with roulette wheels and blackjack tables in abundance. Licensed horse and greyhound offices flourish. Tote tickets or bingo cards are sold in every conceivable form, and football pools especially, capture countless millions of pounds from the working kitty each week.

I do not intend to discuss the moral virtues of these “hope to get rich quick” schemes, but rather to show how the pendulum, throughout the years, has swung to such an extent, that small time gambling, as carried out by the working class in the 30s, would be regarded as something of a laughing matter today.

Betting did take place before the last war, indeed betting mania has been a prominent feature of social life for longer than anyone cares to recall, but it was betting on a much reduced scale. This was not only due to the obvious reason, which was money being in short supply, but also because much of society then regarded it as one of the great evils of their time – something not to be encouraged or indulged in.

What forms of betting are we talking about – all sorts. Pitch and toss schools were common in Swansea. Generally the participants found some outlandish location, away from prying eyes, and with look outs posted in case the law arrived. The South Dock was a favoured place, as were most of the commons, the latter now being absorbed by new housing estates. The game had several options, the most popular having all competitors, in strict rotation, tossing up a handful of pennies and calling out either heads or tails as they struck the floor. If successful in their choice they collected all the coins corresponding to their selected call, the remainder going to the next in line to make his call and so on.

The main football pool in Swansea was operated by the South Wales Parlimutual, which had street collectors all over the town. Dividends, even on “shock result” weeks would never be great, several pounds being a good sum to win. Probably the best winners of all were those who promoted the scheme.

In the Mannesman Hall, both boxing and wrestling bouts were held regularly. Admission prices ranged from one shilling to three and sixpence, but plenty of opportunities arose, on the night, for a wager on the scheduled bouts.

Whist drives were extremely popular, most church halls holding regular sessions, with many offering cash prizes. Now and then one of the major halls would announce a large whist drive. This always attracted the crowd with the better prizes as bait.

Card schools were mainly confined to private clubs or homes, although it was by no means unusual to find hectic card playing aboard the paddle steamer that plied between Swansea and Ilfracombe.

As for horse racing, this was mainly in the hands of the bookmakers, who stood on their selected pitches on street corners accepting bets, or sending out teams of runners who visited works or pubs, picking up the betting slips. These would never have the person’s proper name signed at the bottom, always a non-de-plume, just in case the law arrested the bookie and confiscated all the slips in his possession. Greyhound racing was not done on a national basis. You visited the local track or did not bet.

To make an investment was far more difficult than it is today. The only real bargains about were the annual sales which commenced right after the Christmas holidays.
Maybe, the amount of money we spend on gambling today is a reflection on the improved living standards during the years. Maybe, it is because we are all being swamped by television, the press and advertising telling us how easy it is to turn a few pounds into a few thousand and by the luxuries of life.

Whatever the real causes for this vast increase in betting revenue it does not alter the fact that daydreams appear to be very much on the increase.

 Next Page, The Point of No Return