“The most beautiful shop in the world . . .” – that is how Esquire magazine described the wood-panelled splendour of the London premises of John Lobb, Bootmaker. In the shadow of the great gate-tower of St. James’s Palace, built by Henry VIII, and echoing to the stamping feet of bear-skinned guardsmen, St. James’s Street has been traditionally the home of coffee houses, gentlemen’s clubs and elegant outfitters; a mecca for the noble and the fashionable for centuries.
Here, where once aristocrats won and lost fortunes on the turn of a card; where Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron scandalized London; and where Beau Brummell turned dress into haute couture, it is still possible to find a firm where boots and shoes are made by hand to the exacting standards of the ancient craft. The current Lobb premises at number 9 is on the very spot once occupied by Lord Byron’s bachelor establishment.
The original John Lobb was a lame Cornish farmboy whose mastery of the Gentle Craft of last and awl brought him golden awards in the Great International Exhibitions of Victorian times. He became the proud holder of a Royal Warrant as Bootmaker to Edward, Prince of Wales. The Prince, as King Edward VII, was to give his name to a whirling Edwardian era of opulence and splendour; an era in which Lobb shoes became a synonym for quality and elegance.
Famous Past Customers
Where the Prince led the rich and famous followed: kings, maharajahs, actors, singers, politicians, business moguls and literati among them. An opera fan could visit Lobbs and hope to mingle with the likes of Enrico Caruso or Gigli, those of a more popular taste Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.
A business man might hope to glean tips from Aristotle Onassis or Guglielmo Marconi. An aspiring writer could see George Bernard Shaw or Roald Dahl. Lovers of the stage might spot Cole Porter, Lord Olivier or Rex Harrison and a young ambitious politician could rub shoulders with Prime Ministers of Great Britain like Harold MacMillan and Ted Heath or political leaders from around the world.
Despite the later social and economic vicissitudes which obliterated most hand-made bootmakers in the West End, Lobb’s has survived to ensure the present-day survival of the craft and of customers eager to follow in the footsteps of the famous. Neither the dark depression of the thirties nor the German bombs of the Blitz (when Lobb premises were blown to bits six times) could ultimately destroy the durability of the painstaking techniques passed down from one generation of craftsmen to another.
The firm today proudly holds two Royal Warrants to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. These have always been recognition of personal service of a high order. For more information see The Royal Warrant Holders Association website at www.royalwarrant.org