University of Aberdeen Celebrates Centenary of Chair in Economics

University of Aberdeen Celebrates Centenary of Chair in Economics

The University of Aberdeen is today celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of its most prestigious Chairs, as well as the life of Sir Thomas Jaffrey who established the Chair.

The Jaffrey Chair in Political Economy was set up following an endowment by Sir Thomas, who was one of Aberdeen’s most respected businessmen and philanthropists.

The Ordinance that instituted the Chair was signed on October 22, 1920, and there have been seven holders since then, the current being Professor Catia Montagna who is the first female Chair and was recently given the award of Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

The University’s SIRE Professor of Economics, Keith Bender, is writing a biography of Sir Thomas, and each of the Chair’s holders to mark the Centenary.

“Thomas Jaffrey is a forgotten figure in Aberdeen’s past, which is both surprising and unfortunate given that at the turn of the 20th century he was one of the city’s most respected businessmen and philanthropists,” said Professor Bender.

“A banker by trade, Jaffrey led a long and productive life, serving the city he loved. As well as being a leading businessman, he gave back a great deal to his hometown, including the endowment of the Chair in 1920 at a cost of £20,000.

“Later, he donated £25,000 to the Aberdeen Joint Hospital Fund for a Hospital for Sick Children and a Maternity Hospital in 1927.”

Born on February 6, 1855, Thomas Jaffrey was raised in Aberdeen. He was first employed with the North of Scotland Bank in 1877. Soon after, he moved to the up-and-coming Aberdeen Savings Bank (ASB), ascending to the post of Actuary of the bank in 1892, a position he held for 37 years until his retirement.

During this time, Thomas was known for modernising and growing banking operations at the ASB, making it the fifth largest Savings Bank in the UK. In 1896, he oversaw the building of a new headquarters on Union Terrace, designed by William Kelly, the architect who designed the leopards on Union Bridge.

He was also generous with his time, serving as a committee member and then Chair of the Aberdeen Art Gallery Committee from 1928-1951, where he oversaw both an expansion of the building and of the collection. 

Jaffrey’s contributions were recognised locally with an honorary LLD from the University in 1922, and Freedom of the City in 1928, and nationally with a knighthood in 1920 and a baronet in 1931. He also met a number of political dignitaries when they visited Aberdeen, including hosting US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy (father of US President John F. Kennedy), and Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill during their visits to Aberdeen.

Jaffrey passed away on 23 July 1953, but left a lasting legacy for his city and the University.

Seven people have held the Jaffrey Chair in Political Economy since 1920:

  1. Professor Sir Alexander Gray (1921-1934) is known for his research on Adam Smith though he is more broadly recognised for his poetry in Scots.
  2. Professor Lindley Fraser OBE (1935-1944) made contributions to economic thought and rhetoric but is best known for heading up the German language service of the BBC during WWII.
  3. Professor Henry Hamilton (1945-1965) was a long time academic at Aberdeen and known for his research on Scottish economic history – particularly during the Industrial Revolution.
  4. Professor Maxwell Gaskin (1965-1984) was known for his research on banking and the early history of North Sea Oil, but was also a decorated WWII veteran.
  5. Professor Peter J. Sloane (1984-2002) is known for extensive research on labour and sports economics.
  6. Professor Tim Barmby (2004-2016) is also a labour economist known for his work on absenteeism, tournaments and labour history.
  7. Professor Catia Montagna (20017-present) is the first female chair and known for her theoretical work on labour markets, international trade and the welfare state.

Professor Bender will deliver a talk on the life of Sir Thomas as part of the University’s Little Lectures series next month in celebration of the University’s 525th anniversary. For more information, go to: