ERIC LOBB was the Chairman and Managing Director of John Lobb - makers and retailers of the finest hand-crafted shoes available on the market today. His grandfather, John Lobb, opened his premises in St James's, central London, in 1866 and the firm has remained in family hands ever since.
Eric Lobb, son of William Hunter Lobb, was born in London in 1907. He attended University College School, Hampstead, and then went up to Pembroke College, Oxford, to study rural economy and agriculture. He returned to London where he undertook a series of sales jobs and enjoyed a small farming enterprise in his spare time at the family farm, at Radlett, in Hertfordshire. He joined John Lobb in 1939, when the international Depression had taken its toll on the business.
With the advent of the Second World War, and the business facing closure, he volunteered to join the Navy but was rejected on account of his red/green colour blindness. A successful application to the Air Force followed, but on the eve of his departure he received official orders that John Lobb was to remain open for the duration of the hostilities to maintain British business prestige.
Trade continued throughout the war in spite of suffering bomb damage on six occasions. The valuable store of wooden lasts (a blueprint of each client's feet) was moved to the safety of the country and individual pairs recalled as necessary. Today some 30,000 lasts are stored on ceiling-high racks in the basement of the shop, filed in alphabetical order of clients.
In the post-war years Eric Lobb was an energetic ambassador, touring Britain and the US to promote his product. He was also responsible for reviving the firm's royal warrant, which had expired with the death of Edward VII. Since 1956 Lobbs have enjoyed the custom of the Duke of Edinburgh (when, on the Duke's 50th birthday, Eric Lobb sent his congratulations, the Duke replied, 'One of the reasons I am still going strong is that I have always been so well shod'), from 1963 that of the Queen and, from 1980, that of the Prince of Wales. Other of their well-heeled customers have included Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Groucho Marx, Guy Burgess and Frank Sinatra.
A pair of Lobb bespoke shoes can take six months to make and involves the skills of as many craftsmen. The foot is measured by the 'fitter' and the skin or hide is selected by the 'clicker'. There is a choice of some 50 different kinds or leather, including python, ostrich, elephant and lizard. At least eight pieces of skin are used for each shoe and these are specially picked for colour, grain and weight. Wooden lasts are carved by the 'last-maker' from fine hornbeam, beech or maple to the exact size of the customer's feet. The 'closer' cuts the leather to the final shape and the 'maker' completes the operation by attaching the sole and the heel. The shoe is then polished. In an age of increasing mechanisation and changing fashions a pair of classic Lobb shoes remains a luxury few can afford (a pair of men's shoes costs about pounds 1,000), but one that all would appreciate.
Lobbs mainly cater for the male market and are particularly noted for their brogues, classic Oxfords and loafers, which are hand-sewn with twisted and waxed threads. The Victoria and Albert Museum selected a pair of navvy cut scroll brogues for their newly opened Gallery of Twentieth Century Design, and the recently donated wardrobe of the late Edward James revealed two fine pairs of Lobb shoes.
Lobbs' unique achievements were officially acknowledged in 1984 when they received the Queen's Award for Industry and the French award for Craftsman of the World in 1987.
Outside business Eric Lobb was an enthusiastic sailor. He retained his early love of farming, keeping Jersey cows and prize-winning chickens at home in Hertfordshire.