Tweet Follow @PlanetSlade

Lobby Lud: continued

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
View as single page
Secret London
Murder Ballads

Mr FH Watkins of Tooting wrote to the Gazette saying he'd been stopped “every few minutes” by Lud-hunters, and ended their pursuit only when he thought to remove his hat. He had enough of a sense of humour about the incident to sit for a Gazette photo, posed and dressed exactly as Lobby himself, and this appeared as the first in a series of Lobby doubles whose pictures the paper ran. Any one of them could be the real thing.
By Tuesday, August 9, someone at the paper was evidently starting to worry that Lobby would never be found, and that people would therefore lose interest in the promotion before it had properly begun. That day's paper carried a much more detailed description of Lobby's planned itinerary than had previously appeared, announcing that he would be passing Eastbourne's Wish Tower at about mid-day, and would be on the pier at 3:00pm. Lobby himself seemed glad people were being given this information, lamenting his solitary progress round Hastings and its people's infuriating inability to find him. “This is a lonely life,” he wrote. “If only some really charming seaside girl would approach me and say 'You are Mr Lobby Lud, I claim the Westminster Gazette prize,' I believe I should propose to her on the spot.” (9)
In fact, that's slightly misleading. Lobby's reports were always phrased to suggest he travelled alone, but he actually had two regular companions on the tour. Elfreda Heywood and Trevor Allen, two other Gazette employees, went everywhere with Lobby, Heywood to deal with any successful claimants and Allen to help him keep notes throughout the day and write up his adventures for the paper. Heywood, then in her early 20s, would sometimes stroll around town on Lobby's arm, providing a useful distraction for anyone assuming he'd travel alone.

‘It has been the most astonishing day of my life,’ Lobby told his Gazette readers

Even with Allen's help, Chinn knew that he's sometimes need a moment's peace to take some discrete notes of his own, so he took to studying each new town's map in advance to seek out quiet spots where this might be possible. “There's a library there, there's the Post Office there,” he later explained. “If a cemetery was anywhere near the ground I was on, just for a few minutes to get my memory into print as it were, I'd use a cemetery. I reckon I've been in more cemeteries in this country than any other journalist.”
Prompted by that extra bit of detail about Lobby's movements, Eastbourne's holidaymakers turned out in the biggest crowds yet, packing the area round the Wish Tower and the pier at noon and 3:00pm respectively. “It has been the most astonishing day of my life,” Lobby told Gazette readers. “Everyone went about challenging everybody else. Some innocents who bore a resemblance to me were pulled up six times. Every few seconds, someone would be mobbed by a crowd which scuttled and surged this way and that with every false alarm. Some men were heavily mobbed, and I saw one sitting in despair on the grass in the midst of a challenging crowd, because he could not convince them he was not the elusive Lobby Lud.”
It was the same story on the pier, where Lobby witnessed “sensational scenes unparalleled in the history of Eastbourne”. His doubles were now not only being hunted, but pursuing other doubles themselves. “Possible ‘Lobbies’ who were themselves searching for me were followed about by huge crowds,” Lobby wrote. “One fellow who bore a resemblance and wore a type of hat shown in my photograph had to take refuge in the Skeeball alley and then on the tier balcony. [...] Another little fellow, in a waterproof cape at 4pm, when he had a very rough hour, had to solicit the assistance of a police sergeant to extricate himself from the crowd - which he did laughingly.” (10)
So, we were off and running at last. Lobby spent two hectic days in Brighton, fending off challenges there only by seeming to join the hunt himself. “Fifty times today, I escaped by seconds and inches,” he writes. “A tall fellow on the pier went about challenging everybody, saying ‘I mean to get him’. When he fixed me with a glare, I hurried off and challenged the first small man I could find. I am convinced that I only contrived to survive today's inquisition by searching diligently for myself.”
Lud lookalikes were having a rough time of it in Brighton too, with one man reporting he had been accosted seven times in just 20 minutes - despite the fact that he was nearly a foot taller than the real Lobby. “The road outside Lyons chief branch is practically impassable,” he complained. “I shall have to adopt a disguise to reach home safely.” Another Lobby double boarded the bus, where the conductor promptly seized his left hand to show that he - like Lobby - wore a ring on its middle finger. It was only when the inspector grabbed this innocent's face and discovered no mole on his cheek that he was allowed to escape. (11)
The weariness Lobby had felt in Hastings was now forgotten, replaced by his evident exhilaration at the fuss he was causing and some relief at escaping Brighton in one piece. “My two days in Brighton - the most exciting of my life - are over,” Lobby reported. “When I came off the Palace Pier this afternoon, I did not know whether to laugh or weep. I was in a state bordering on collapse. [...] The psychology of this man-hunt was beginning to grip me like a drug.” (12)
The Gazette's August 13 issue took an opportunity to sum up the scheme's first fortnight, boasting that about three million holiday-makers had now had a chance to find Lobby, and that not a single one had succeeded. “Professional detectives, even the intelligence departments of local police forces, have joined it,” the paper claimed. “Municipal authorities await eagerly a visit from the Mystery Man who will bring such crowds to their holiday towns.” Local councillors in Blackpool, Scarborough, Harrogate, Torquay, Aberdeen, Llandudno and a dozen other towns had all realised that the influx of Lud-hunters meant extra income for the town, and couldn't wait till their turn came for his attentions. Letters poured in too from individual residents of the towns round Britain's coast, anxious to have a crack at the prize themselves.

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10