Jabez Balfour

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Balfour as caricatured by "Spy" in Vanity Fair, March 1892

Jabez Spencer Balfour (4 September 1843 – 23 February 1916) was an English businessman, British Liberal Party politician and fraudster.


Balfour was born in Marylebone, London to James and Clara Lucas Balfour.[1]

He was Member of Parliament for Tamworth from 1880 to 1885, and for Burnley from 1889 to 1893.[1] Balfour was also interested in local politics in his home town of Croydon, Surrey where he regularly topped the poll for the school board.[2] When Croydon was awarded borough status in 1883 he was selected as charter mayor and re-elected for a second term. In 1885 he stood as Liberal candidate in Croydon at the general election but lost to the Conservatives. He also stood unsuccessfully for the Liberals at Walworth in 1886.

In 1880 he was appointed chairman of the Northampton Street Tramways.

Together with City financiers Leopold Salomons and Sir John Pender, Balfour founded the investment underwriting firm the Trustees, Executors and Securities Insurance Corporation, Limited in December 1887.[3][4]

In 1892, he was at the centre of a scandal over the failure of a series of companies which he set up and controlled, starting with the London and General Bank and culminating in the Liberator Building Society, leaving thousands of investors penniless.[1] Instead of advancing money to home buyers, the Liberator had advanced money to property companies to buy properties owned by him, at a high price.[5] After the swindle was discovered, Balfour fled the country. He was arrested in Argentina by Inspector Frank Froest of Scotland Yard in 1895; with extradition proceedings held up by legal wrangling, Froest simply bundled Balfour into a train and then a boat sailing for England, The Tartar Prince.[6] The captain of the ship, Thomas Hesketh, later received a letter from Balfour thanking him for the kindness and hospitality shown during the trip back to England. Balfour was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to 14 years penal servitude, most of which was served in harsh conditions in Portland prison,[7] and he was released in 1906.[1]

After his release from prison in 1906, his memoirs were serialised by Lord Northcliffe's Weekly Despatch newspaper. Balfour died aged 72 on 23 February 1916, on a train from London to Wales, heading for a job as a mining consultant.[1]

He married Ellen Mead in 1866.[1] By 1880 her mental condition had deteriorated and she became a patient in the Priory Hospital, Roehampton.[8] They had a son, James, in 1868 and four grandchildren.[9]


Present day South Norwood, in the London Borough of Croydon, has a Balfour Road which is named after Jabez Balfour.[10]

So does Ilford, Essex, where Balfour Road is on the former Ilford Lodge estate, bought for development by Balfour's group. In the same area Wellesley Road is named after his Croydon house and Morland Road after the road where Hobbs and Co, the builders, had their offices in Croydon. Also nearby is Granville Road: Granville was the middle name of the group's solicitor.

His name has, however, been erased from the memorial plaques at Croydon University Hospital (formerly Mayday Hospital).[citation needed]

Croydon Road and Tamworth Road in Arthur's Hill, Newcastle upon Tyne, were built using funds invested in the Liberator Building Society and named in tribute to Balfour.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bythell, Duncan. "Balfour, Jabez Spencer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/46588. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ David McKie, 'Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Rogue', 2007
  3. ^ Hawkins RA (2007). "American Boomers and the Flotation of Shares in the City of London in the Late Nineteenth Century". Business History. 49 (6): 802–822. doi:10.1080/00076790701710282.
  4. ^ Mira Wilkins (1989). The history of foreign investment in the United States to 1914. Harvard studies in business history. 41. Harvard University Press. p. 492. ISBN 0-674-39666-9.
  5. ^ Youssef Cassis, City Bankers, 1890-1914, Cambridge University Press (1994), page 164.
  6. ^ Ethan Avram Nadelmann, Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement, Penn State Press (1993), page 59.
  7. ^ John Briggs, Crime and Punishment in England: An Introductory History, Routledge (1996), page 227.
  8. ^ Ed Wright (2006). History's Greatest Scandals: Shocking Stories of Powerful People. Pier 9. p. 23. ISBN 1-74045-809-5.
  9. ^ "Thomas Wilson: Theft: simple larceny, 27th June 1887". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. 7.2. 27 June 1887. t18870627-730. Retrieved 28 January 2018. James Balfour: I am the son of the last witness [...]
  10. ^ Backhouse, Roger (August 2012). Ilford Historical Society Newsletter (109): 3. Missing or empty |title= (help)

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Robert Peel and
Hamar Bass
Member of Parliament for Tamworth
With: Hamar Bass
Succeeded by
Philip Albert Muntz
Preceded by
John Slagg
Member of Parliament for Burnley
1889 – 1893
Succeeded by
Philip Stanhope