One of Ilford’s first developers, Jabez Spencer Balfour, was involved in a shocking 19th century financial scandal. Yet he and his fellow fraudsters left their mark in Ilford development and names of local roads.

Ilford Recorder: Balfour Road, IlfordBalfour Road, Ilford (Image: Archant)

Balfour was son of a Congregational minister but rose to become a Liberal MP. He headed the Liberator Building Society attracting Nonconformist’s deposits to make it Britain’s biggest building society.

Unfortunately he used Liberator funds fraudulently to build a property empire with other interlocking companies. Balfour’s lavish spending and judicious philanthropy fooled others into thinking him a financial genius.

His Lands Allotment Company bought Ilford Lodge Estate for £52,000 in September 1882, then it sold to his House and Lands Investment Trust in January 1883 for £60,000 and to the linked J. W. Hobbs and Co also of Croydon for £74,000 soon after. These transactions solely within the Balfour group loaded debt on to Hobbs and Co.

Ilford Lodge was near Heron Mews and survived until demolished in the 1970s for a car park. Hobbs and Co set out roads on the estate and began building. Surviving rate books in Ilford Library show early Thorold Road houses were owned by Hobbs and Co.

Ilford Recorder: Benjamin Bailey was a 'positive influence on Ilford's development'. Picture: Redbridge Information and Heritage ServiceBenjamin Bailey was a 'positive influence on Ilford's development'. Picture: Redbridge Information and Heritage Service (Image: Archant)

Jabez Spencer gave his name to Balfour Road. His house in Croydon gave the name to Wellesley Road and Granville Road comes from H. Granville Wright, solicitor to the Balfour group. Morland Road was where Hobbs and Co had their Croydon offices.

Coventry, Myrtle and Thorold Roads names are probably associated with the Balfour group too. Thorold Rogers was an economist and Liberal MP involved in similar land activities who died before the scandal broke.

Instead of lending to home buyers, the Liberator loaned to property companies to buy Balfour owned properties at inflated prices. They began speculative projects including the Hotel Cecil near Embankment. Thousands were ruined in the group’s 1892 bankruptcy. Depositors lost over £7million, equivalent to more than £500m today.

Directors including J. W. Hobbs and H. Granville Wright served jail sentences for fraud. Balfour fled to Argentina with his mistress. Despite no extradition treaty Scotland Yard Det Insp Froest brought him back for trial. Balfour then served 13 years in prison.

On his release the Ilford Recorder (20th April 1906) noted “his name is perpetuated in Balfour Road”, though the name’s origin was then lost. Perhaps Ilford people wanted to forget the association.

Like many fraudsters Balfour considered himself a victim of bad luck. After release he described his experiences in Portland and Parkhurst prisons for the Daily Mail. Unbelievably he then styled himself as a mining consultant, despite no experience. He died on a Swansea train in 1916 while going to start a mining job.

David McKie’s excellent biography, Jabez, the rise and fall of a Victorian scoundrel, says little about Ilford connections.

Ben Bailey had worked for Balfour and came to Ilford to sort out the local mess. He was a positive influence on Ilford’s development. As a councillor he promoted Ilford’s tramways and raised funds for Ilford’s Emergency Hospital.

But who now in Balfour Road realises their road name originated in the fraudulent activities of a gang of crooks?