Wellesley Road, IG1

Place name

Takes its name from Wellesley House, the substantial Croydon property, that was home to Jabez Spencer Balfour, property magnate, MP, businessman and one of the biggest swindlers the country has ever seen. In the late 19thCentury Balfour, the son of a Congregational minister, was the head of the Liberator Building Society attracting Nonconformist’s deposits to make it Britain’s biggest building society. They were no doubt reassured by the society’s slogan: As safe as the Bank of England. He used these funds to fraudulently build a property empire with other interlocking companies and to entertain lavishly to further his interests. In September 1882 his Lands Allotment Company bought Ilford Lodge Estate for £52,000 but sold it a few months later for £60,000 to the House and Lands Investment Trust… which was also owned by him. This in turn was sold for £74,000 to JW Hobbs and Co, the builders who would lay out the roads and build the houses and another of Balfour’s interlocking companies. This scam went on for years all the while amassing combined debts of £7m, the equivalent of nearly half a billion pounds today, until eventually, in 1892, the entire edifice crashed. Balfour fled to Argentina to escape justice, where he was joined by mistress and her sister (his wife having been confined to a mental hospital). With no extradition treaty, Balfour considered himself safe but after 13 months on the run he was arrested and smuggled out of South America to stand trial. In November 1895 he was sent down for 14 years, of which he served 11, sewing mailbags in a variety of prisons including Wormwood Scrubs, Parkhurst and Portland. He died in August 1915, aged 71. Wellesley House was later converted into a women’s hostel by the Girls Friendly Society and demolished in 1966 to make way for a car park. Several other roads in the area are also named after Balfour and his business interests.

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