Nicholas If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned Barbon
(c. 1640 – c. 1698) was an English economist, physician, and
financial speculator. Critics of mercantilism consider him to be one
of the first proponents of the free market. In the aftermath of the
Great Fire of London, he also helped to pioneer fire insurance and was
a leading player in the reconstruction work—although his buildings
were planned and erected primarily for his own financial gain. His
unusual middle name, given to him by his strongly
Puritan father, is
an example of a hortatory name: religious "slogan names" were often
Puritan families in 17th-century England.
7 External links
Nicholas Barbon was the eldest son of
Praise-God Barebone (or Barbon),
after whom the
Barebone's Parliament of 1653—the predecessor of
Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate—was named. Praise-God's reputed
Christian name was
variant of his son's middle name. He became a religious separatist
with Millenarianist beliefs, with fervent views in favour of infant
baptism in particular.
Nicholas was born in London in either 1637 or 1640. He
studied medicine at the Universities of Leiden and Utrecht in the
Netherlands, and received his
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine qualification from
the latter in 1661. Three years later, he became an honorary fellow of
Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Physicians in London.
He soon turned from the medical profession to the building trade,
which suddenly became important in 1666 when the Great Fire of London
devastated the City of London—the commercial district of London
which at the time was still separate from Westminster, the seat of
Britain's government. Within a few years he was "the most prominent
London builder of his age". He worked on a large scale—building
swathes of housing and commercial developments to the west of the City
of London, where land was plentiful—and was ultimately responsible
for connecting the City and
Westminster for the first time as a result
of his work in the districts which became The Strand and
Bloomsbury. Barbon did this despite long-established
restrictions on new buildings associated with various Acts of
Parliament and royal declarations in the late 16th century: he often
simply disregarded legal and local objections, demolished existing
buildings without permission and rebuilt speculatively in search of a
On 11 June 1684, Barbon's continued aggressive expansionary
speculation brought him and his workers into conflict with lawyers
based at Gray's Inn. Barbon started his largest project yet, the
redevelopment of Red Lion Square, without being authorised to do so.
Gray's Inn lawyers, whose
Inns of Court
Inns of Court were adjacent, started and
won a physical battle with Barbon and his colleagues, and arranged for
warrants to be issued against him to stop the scheme proceeding.
Another setback came when cheaply built houses at Mincing Lane
collapsed because their foundations were inadequate.
Nevertheless, by the time of his death, Barbon had built or financed
developments to the value of £200,000 (£24 million as of
2018) according to Sir John Lowther, 1st Viscount Lonsdale.
At the same time, Barbon took an interest in the development of
insurance and the banking industry, and helped to pioneer both. In
1680–81, with 11 associates, he founded an "Insurance Office for
Houses" which offered fire insurance for up to 5,000 households in
London. Fires were a major danger in London at the time: the
Great Fire destroyed more than 13,000 houses and displaced about
100,000 people, and another conflagration in 1678 damaged the
Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court. In 1690, together with
John Asgill, he founded the National Land Bank. This was Britain's
first land bank—a financial institution which issued loans in the
form of mortgages against real estate. These were popular with
landowners because they could now raise money against the value of
their main asset. The bank was moderately successful, and even
threatened to usurp the
Bank of England
Bank of England in 1696. The government budget
deficit had grown to an unsustainable level; Barbon merged the
National Land Bank with another institution (founded by John Briscoe)
to form Land Bank United, and offered the government a £2 million
loan (£255 million as of 2018). The scheme foundered when
Barbon and Briscoe could not raise enough money, and Land Bank United
Barbon was also active in other fields during the 1690s. He was MP for
Bramber in Sussex in 1690 and 1695, which allowed him to take
Parliamentary privilege (immunity from
prosecution)—this helped him evade various court actions which were
pending against him. Another project involved trying to pump
drinking water from the River Thames, to be piped to his new building
developments. He patented a design in 1694, and tried to sell pumping
rights alongside fire insurance contracts. He built a house for
himself and his business interests in Fleet Street, but later moved to
Osterley House, a 16th-century manor house west of London. He died
there in 1698 or 1699: his will was written in May 1698 and his
executors received probate on 6 February 1699.
Discourse of trade, 1690
During the later part of his life,
Nicholas Barbon wrote extensively
on economic theory. His pamphlets and books on political economy are
considered important because of their innovative views on money, trade
(especially free trade) and supply and demand. His works,
especially A Discourse of Trade (written in 1690), influenced and drew
praise from 20th-century economists such as
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes (in
The General Theory of Employment,
Interest and Money) and Joseph
Schumpeter. He was one of several late 17th-century economic,
social and political theorists with a medical education background;
contemporaries included Benjamin Worsley, Hugh Chamberlen, William
Petty and John Locke.
His early writings sought to explain and advertise his insurance and
mortgage schemes and his building developments; for example, in his
Apology for the Builder: or a Discourse showing the Cause and Effects
of the Increase of Building of 1685—written in the aftermath of his
fight with the lawyers of Gray's Inn—Barbon justified (anonymously)
his expansionary building policy by describing the benefits it would
bring to London and Britain as a whole. His A Discourse of Trade,
written five years later, was much more significant, however. As a
broad explanation of his economic and political views, it brought
together all of his ideas and became the basis for his reputation as
an economic theorist.
Barbon observed the power of fashion and luxury goods to enhance
trade. Fashion demanded the replacement of goods before they had worn
out; he believed this directed people towards the continuous
purchasing of goods, which therefore created constant demand. These
views were contrary to standard moral values of the time, influenced
by the government and the church. He was one of the earliest writers
to draw this distinction between the moral and economic aspects of
His views on interest were praised by Joseph Schumpeter. Barbon
described as a "mistake" the standard view that interest is a monetary
value, arguing that because money is typically borrowed to buy assets
(goods and stock), the interest that is charged on the loan is a type
of rent—"a payment for the use of goods". From this, Schumpeter
extrapolated the argument that just as rent is the price paid for the
use of what he called "unwrought stock, or the natural agents of
[economic] production", interest is the price paid for "wrought
stock—the produced means of production".
One of the main arguments in A Discourse of Trade was that money
did not have enough intrinsic value to justify a government's hoarding
of it; policies intended to help accumulate supposedly "valuable"
commodities such as silver and gold were not appropriate, because the
laws of supply and demand were the main determiner of their value.
Such criticism of mercantilism—the view that a country's prosperity
can be measured by its stock of bullion—helped to lay the foundation
for classical economics, and was unusual at the time. Along with John
Locke, with whom he debated his theories, Barbon was one of the first
theorists to argue that money's value was principally symbolic and
that its main function was to assist trade. These views were expanded
upon in his 1696 pamphlet, A Discourse Concerning Coining the New
Barbon was influenced by populationism; he identified a country's
wealth with its population. He also advocated the use of paper and
credit money, and postulated the reduction of interest rates, which he
thought impeded the growth in manufacturing and trade. He
discussed these issues in his 1696 pamphlet, which also considered the
effects of the Recoinage of that year, in which the Royal Mint
recalled large quantities of silver coins, melted them down and
reminted them, resulting in a temporary fall in the supply of
Despite the importance of some of his theories, Barbon's work
(especially A Discourse of Trade) has been criticised for an excess of
"definition and classification" instead of analysis and a disjointed
style which lacked rigour. This has been attributed to the
early period in which he wrote, when economic thought was not yet
Apology for the Builder; or a Discourse showing the Cause and Effects
of the Increase of Building (1685)
A Discourse of Trade (1690)
A Discourse Concerning Coining the New Money Lighter (1696)
Barbon Close, opposite Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, is
named after him.
^ a b c Ash 2008, p. 254.
^ a b c Letwin 2003, p. 48.
^ a b c d e f Letwin 2003, p. 49.
^ Wright, Stephen (September 2004). "Oxford DNB article: Barbon
(Barebone), Praisegod". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1335. Retrieved 16
February 2010. (subscription or UK public library membership
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Sheldon, R.D. (September 2004).
"Oxford DNB article: Barbon, Nicholas". Oxford Dictionary of National
Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1334.
Retrieved 16 February 2010. (subscription or UK public library
^ a b Letwin 2003, pp. 50–51.
^ a b c Letwin 2003, p. 51.
^ a b UK
Retail Price Index
Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from
Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for
Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 6
^ Dickson 1960, p. 7.
^ Porter 1994, pp. 87–88.
^ a b c Letwin 2003, p. 54.
^ "Will of
Nicholas Barbon of Osterley, Middlesex" (fee usually
required to view pdf of probate copy of will). DocumentsOnline. The
National Archives. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
^ a b c Letwin 2003, p. 61.
^ a b Ullmer, James H. (March 2007). "The Macroeconomic thought of
Nicholas Barbon". Journal of the History of Economic Thought.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 29 (1): 101–116.
doi:10.1080/10427710601178336. Retrieved 16 February 2010.
^ Letwin 2003, pp. 48–49.
^ Letwin 2003, p. 55.
^ Letwin 2003, p. 56.
^ a b c Letwin 2003, p. 63.
^ Letwin 2003, pp. 62–63.
^ Letwin 2003, pp. 63–64.
^ Letwin 2003, p. 60.
^ Letwin 2003, p. 57.
Ash, Russell (2008). Potty, Fartwell and Knob: Extraordinary but True
Names of British People. London: Headline Publishing Group.
Dickson, P.G.M. (1960). The Sun Insurance Office 1710–1960: The
History of Two and a half Centuries of British Insurance. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Letwin, William (2003) . Origins of Scientific Economics:
English Economic Thought, 1660–1776.
Routledge Library Editions. 9.
Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31329-5.
Porter, Roy (1998). London: A Social History. Harvard University
Press. ISBN 0-674-53839-0.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barbon, Nicholas". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Parliament of England
Member of Parliament for Bramber
with John Radcliffe 1690–1695
William Stringer 1695–1698
Sir Henry Furnese
ISNI: 0000 0000 8145 9374
BNF: cb12314369x (data)