Moneylending in Edwardian Great Britain
April 25, 2013 7:48 PM   Subscribe

There's a small curious thing that I've been wondering about for some time, and I hope MeFi can help me find out more about. I have a predilection for novels set in the 1920s and 30s, particularly Enligh ones. I've read more than my fair share of Wodehouse and Sayers and the odd Agatha Christie as well. And in these books I've often come across a passing reference to what seems to have been a well-known variety of small classified ad, in which a Scottish moneylender offers to lend anything up to £10,000 on "your note of hand alone." Except, from context, it's pretty much always implied that such moneylenders were a) not Scottish and b) wouldn't actually lend money without collateral. Can anyone tell me more about this phenomenon?

In some instances it reads to me like the subtext is that the lenders are actually Jewish; presumably the idea was that a firm would use a Scottish name to combat anti-Semitism. But was there ever such a thing as an actual Scottish moneylender? Such a thing that Scots became proverbial for it, like Vietnamese nail salons? And how does the whole "note of hand" phenomenon work? Why were they allowed to advertise that they'd lend thousands of pounds if they wouldn't? Or if they would, how would you prevent a deadbeat from skipping without collateral? Were these services a total joke/scam, like X-ray specs in a comic, or a slightly shady thing that people actually did use, like the escort ads in the back of the Village Voice?
posted by Diablevert to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's a possible hint: apparently Scottish law made lending money within Scotland very difficult while also giving moneylenders based in Scotland certain legal advantages over debtors in England and Wales, so moneylenders doing business outside Scotland would set up offices there and use Scottish law against defaulting clients.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:39 PM on April 25, 2013

Best answer: It does seem that they actually existed. Here's a whole section of ads in a 1915 Glasgow newspaper.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:46 AM on April 26, 2013

Best answer: I am not a legal expert by any means but looking further in old books, it seems to have had something to do with the Scottish law of "summary diligence," which meant the money lender could take the borrower's property without serving notice in an English court. I don't know how long that went on but here is an article about it from 1897.

And here's an interesting book on the evils of money lending from 1895
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:01 AM on April 26, 2013

Here's a little more about it. It looks like English money lenders would maintain an office in Scotland so they could sue the debtor under Scottish law and use summary diligence to get the debtor's property.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:20 AM on April 26, 2013

And I just realized that last thing I found is the same thing A Thousand Baited Hooks found, sorry. But that must be it!
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:10 AM on April 26, 2013

There's a scene in Dorothy Sayers's Busman's Honeymoon, where, according to Bunter, "Certain Scottish Gentlemen" have arrived at the house to repossess the furniture to sell in settlement on multiple debts.

These gentlemen aren't Scottish, they're Jewish, and they're for want of a better term, Loan Sharks.

After hanging around with Lord Peter, and watching the family members argue over the financial affairs of the deceased, Lord Peter asks, "So, what do you think of our Christian Family life?" One of the moneylenders replies, "Not much."

The idea of charging interest on a loan (usary) was prohibitted in the new testiment, so Christians didn't lend money. But there's no such prohibition on usary in the old testiment, so Jews were typically the ones who would lend money. Merchant of Venice centers around this concept. This is also one of the reason Pawn Brokers were primarily Jewish.

It was assumed that if you were lending money with an interest rate, that you were Jewish. The Scottish part of it wasn't to disguise the lender's religion, it was, most likely to take advantage of the Scottish debtors laws.

I think I just went around the block to say what others have said. But MAN do I love Busman's Honeymoon!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:23 AM on April 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

This all explains that bit in Vanity Fair (movie, couldn't get through the book, though I try) with the repossession of the furniture ...
posted by tilde at 8:17 AM on April 26, 2013

Response by poster: Hey y'all, thanks, this is really interesting so far. The bit in Busman's Honeymoon is one of the references I was alluding to, Bunny. Others of them imply that Scottish names were actually used, for example, this bit in Wodehouse's Something Fresh, Chp. 1:
[Ashe glanced at] the Morning Post, the advertisement columns of which he had promised her to explore. The least he could do was to begin at once.

His spirits sank as he did so. It was the same old game. A Mr. Brian MacNeill, though doing no business with minors, was willing--even anxious--to part with his vast fortune to anyone over the age of twenty-one whose means happened to be a trifle straitened. This good man required no security whatever; nor did his rivals in generosity, the Messrs. Angus Bruce, Duncan Macfarlane, Wallace Mackintosh and Donald MacNab. They, too, showed a curious distaste for dealing with minors; but anyone of maturer years could simply come round to the office and help himself.

Ashe threw the paper down wearily. He had known all along that it was no good.
Also, a search on "your note of hand alone" turned up a reference in Hansard's transcripts of debate in the House of Lords, from as late as 1968; though it being the Lords they could well have been referring to practices by then 50 years out of date.
posted by Diablevert at 8:31 AM on April 26, 2013

Others of them imply that Scottish names were actually used.

Sure, and why not? We have American names in America. Many Jews didn't have surnames upon leaving the old country. Our ancestors had to purchase them. The better the name, the more money one paid. This explains why Gold, Silver, Pearl, Diamond, etc are all associated with Jewish names. Schwartz (black) is a cheaper name.

For some folks, they took a name when they approached the desk at the customs office, or it was changed for them by a customs officer who couldn't figure out how to spell it.

If you'll recall from the Godfather, Don Corleone's name is actually that of the villiage in Sicily, his real name was Vito Andolini. The customs officer thought Andolini was his middle name and Corleone was his surname. Happened all the time.

Just as when slaves were emancipated, they elected to choose their own surnames, so they choose the surnames of American presidents, their owner's last name or simply Freeman.

So, it may be a bit from column A, change your name to assimilate, and a bit from column B, although everyone knows that you're Jewish, having a Scottish name might be good for business.

Think of all of those Hollywood folks who changed their very Jewish names. Lauren Bacall, Woody Allen, Tony Curtis, Joel Gray.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on April 26, 2013

> Others of them imply that Scottish names were actually used.

Sure, and why not? We have American names in America.

Just as a point of interest, the highlighted name in the section of ads that interplanetjanet linked to up there is R. Hurwitz, which is clearly a Jewish name.
posted by languagehat at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2013

Just as a point of interest, the highlighted name in the section of ads that interplanetjanet linked to up there is R. Hurwitz, which is clearly a Jewish name.

The exception that proves the rule?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on April 26, 2013

I actually searched through "The Money Lender Unmasked" before I posted it above because I was afraid it would be antisemitic but it only says that both Jewish and Christian money lenders were equally bad. At least as far as I could find in a quick search.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:52 PM on April 26, 2013

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