September 21st. 2018.
Monday 1st October
· Coins in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus By Tim Everson.
Monday 5th November.
Monday 4th December.
· Winter Bourse and Member's Evening
Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.
It may seem early but please note the Christmas dinner will be on Saturday 15th December, details to follow.
The September talk was given by one of our own, Alastair after Derek was unable to attend due to ill health. His talk was on Jabez Spencer Balfour MP and the Liberator Permanent Building & Investment Society.
In the 19th Century finance was not as regulated as now and various irregularities could pass unnoticed. This affected the Building Society movement as well as Banking and one of the worst perpetrators was Jabez Spencer Balfour. He came from a family steeped in the Temperance movement (his father was a founder member of the Temperance Building Society) but was described by the Times as – ‘a man of cold-blooded villainy … one of the most impudent and heartless scoundrels on record’. In essence he was a con man.
He was born on 4th September 1843, the youngest of 7, with part of his schooling in France. At 17 he joined a firm of Parliamentary agents in Westminster and married five years later. He was involved with a failed financial scheme, the Alliance National Land, Building & Investment Society, which had been designed to appeal to the British Temperance Movement. He used the philanthropic ideas behind that society to build the Liberator Building Society, for example, recruiting agents from the Temperance Movement. It was actually his brother-in-law, Dawson Burns who had already engaged his father Rev Jabez Burns and his brother in law John Lucas who brought Jabez Spencer Balfour to the firm but once there, it was to be Jabez’s business acumen, charm and persuasion that was to be the Liberator’s biggest asset.
In addition to his business interests, Jabez was also MP for Tamworth, and Mayor of Croydon. When the Tamworth constituency reduced to one seat, Jabez tried unsuccessfully to win Croydon, eventually getting elected in Burnley Feb 1889 and re-elected in 1892. As a politician some of his views could be described as enlightened – Home Rule in Ireland, end to hereditary peers, and women to have equal voting rights as men, but still restricted to those owning property!
As part of his burgeoning empire, he was a director in many other companies, one part of which came to be known as the Balfour Group or the Budge Row Group from the address of Jabez’s City of London HQ. One of the group was the building firm Hobbs and Co., which would be the eventual catalyst for the collapse of the rest. All of this was effectively bankrolled by the Liberator. Jabez was known as the ‘Skipper’ and had a loyal team of Lieutenants who would crop up in his companies, 3 main groups: The Croydon Capitalists, the Temperance men, the City (of London) men. In addition to the ‘Balfour Group of Companies’, Jabez was also a director in eleven other companies and Chairman of Burnley Football Club.
From all his director’s fees Jabez was able to live very well, he bought Burcot House, and slowly acquired additional properties in the village including mills and farmworkers cottages. Other property included a farm on the IoW, a house & 30 acres near Reigate, as well as residences in Brighton, Derby, Tamworth and Doncaster. This was all based on the contributions being paid in to the Liberator, which in just 11 years (1879) had overtaken the Leeds Permanent to become Britain’s biggest building society. Its motto was libera sedus liberum facit – ‘a free home makes a free man’ though most of the money was used on grandiose schemes and not housing for the Society’s members. The Financial Times was one of the first groups to realise something was wrong and advised their readers as early as 1889 to avoid Jabez or any of the companies he was involved with. They had spotted that liabilities in the companies were being set against highly inflated assets a theme that would be repeated with the Liberator’s mortgage book. Recession in the early 1880s had left speculative builders Hobbs & Co badly exposed but the books were cooked and dividends continued to be paid, even though there were insufficient funds to cover them. Eventually Hobbs went under owing £2 million (£245 million adjusted) and the whole scheme unravelled. The Liberator itself was £3 million in debt and arrests were being made but Jabez escaped by going to Argentina, which although it had an extradition treaty, had never been ratified.
The UK Government found out where Jabez was and began Diplomatic moves to have him extradited but this failed to come about as there were disagreements between the UK and Argentinian sides. Eventually though, the pressure began to work and Jabez quit Buenos Aires along with his mistress and fled North to Salta a provincial town close to the border with Chile and 800 miles from the capital. Jabez, true to form, kept a diary of his exploits that was later printed in the Pall Mall Gazette as ‘The Diary of the Fugitive’. However for a time he remained hidden until a chance encounter led the UK Government to find him again. The British Press hounded him and once again diplomatic pressure was applied. However, he had begun to set up a business in Salta and had convinced the local dignitaries that he would bring great wealth to the area, so they would not let him go. Meanwhile the extradition treaty was at last ratified and at length Jabez was arrested. However, Salta would still not let him go and soon he was out of jail, most probably because of a bribe paid by his mistress.
By now, the UK policeman on the spot was so desperate he was advocating bribery as a means of getting Jabez out of Argentina. The law finally ruled against Jabez but he had one more card to play. In Argentine law anyone facing a criminal charge was forbidden from leaving the country, so a sucession of criminal charges could be brought about, one after the other, so that Jabez would remain indefinitely. In the event, a new officer arrived from England, Frank Froest and in five months Jabez was back in England. Froest organised a ‘snatch’, with help from the train companies and the Provincial Governor in Buenos Aries. The trial of all the Lieutenants took place in London where Jabez received a 14 year sentence. Prisoner V460 was to start his sentence in Wormwood Scrubs, before serving time in Pentonville, Portland & Parkhurst from which he was eventually released on 14 April 1906.
On his release he wrote about his prison life, publishing the book ‘My Prison Life’ in 1907 and continued to set up companies all ever the World. He died on-board a train to Newport on 23rd February 1916.
The fallout from the collapse of the Liberator was to have a pronounced effect on the Building Society movement and it was decades before confidence in them returned fully. Another development was the introduction of the Building Societies Act in 1894.
Thank you to Alastair for a very well presented and researched talk, at such short notice.
Be reminded that subscriptions are now due. It would be most appreciated if members yet to renew their subscription would please do so at the next meeting. Please see our treasurer Peter. Membership cards are now available for paid-up members.
· Baldwins Coin Auctions 10, Charles II St., - 20-22nd September
· COINEX, Grosvenor Square, London – 28-29th September
· Birmingham Coin Fair - National Motorcycle museum – 8th October
40 years ago, Mr. H. Dawson gave a talk on “Something on Coins”
30 years ago, Alison Barker spoke on “Love Tokens”
20 years ago, Barry Greenaway gave a talk on “They Call Them Tokens”
10 years ago Stuart Adams spoke on “A Token Tour of Essex”