Lovely Lucy – the larger-than-life woman for whom size mattered
IN 1920, most people employed in the factories and offices of central Bristol worked on Saturdays. But things were improving for many, though. Those who only had to work Saturday mornings had more reason than usual for wanting to knock off at lunchtime on Saturday, October 2.
Despite the rain, which got worse as the day went on, they took to the streets. Large crowds gathered outside the Bristol Royal Infirmary, and on Whitson Street, close to the entrance to the hospital mortuary.
Thousands gathered at other vantage-points, particularly Lower Maudlin Street, and down on Bristol Bridge. When the motor hearse and funeral cars finally began their journey to Arnos Vale cemetery, they had difficulty getting through the huge number of sightseers.
In those days thousands would line the city's streets for the funeral of some wealthy businessman, or civic dignitary.
A big send-off was a major public spectacle, all part of the extravagant and complex mourning rituals which were observed when one of the great and good had died.
This was something very different, though. This was the funeral of a mixed-race American woman, one of the most remarkable – and mysterious – celebrities who ever lived in Bristol.
Lucy Moore, aka "The Jersey Lily", aka "The American Fat Girl" or, to use the stage-name the Bristol newspapers favoured, "Lovely Lucy", claimed to be the fattest woman in the world.
Lucy, who had made a career both on the stage and as a fairground sideshow, was said to weigh almost 48 stone. In a small biographical pamphlet she appeared to offer a reward of £1,000 to anyone who could produce a woman heavier than herself.
In fact if you read it carefully it's hedged with an escape clause.
It reads, "£1,000 will be given to any person or persons who can produce a female of my age and weight".
The people who gathered to watch Lovely Lucy's last journey were, then, viewing her final performance as a novelty act.
As they waited they speculated with one another as to how large, exactly, the coffin would be.
Lucy had died at the age of 43 following a long battle with cancer during which she had lost over half her weight.
Nonetheless, the coffin was wider and longer than most, and eight men were needed to carry it from the mortuary to the hearse.
The crowd were said to have been nonetheless respectful.
"There was an attitude of reverence, and hats and caps were doffed freely all along the route to the cemetery," read one report.
The burial records at Arnos Vale reveal Lovely Lucy's real name to be Eliza Elizabeth Moore.
During her career she also went by the name Alma Moore, while her original name might have been Anna Chelton.
She was born in Lexington, Kentucky, to a black American mother and white English father.
At birth she was normal size, but rapidly put on weight as a child. By the age of 12 she was said to weigh over 27 stone.
She was "professionally fat" by the time she was 17, appearing at circuses and freak shows throughout the United States.
Her weight was all the more remarkable considering that she was a very average (for a woman) five feet four inches tall.
The showman's splurge stated: "In a good many cases of fat people, you find the flesh soft and flabby, caused by disease – dropsy being the most common complaint.
"If you have not noticed the solidity and firmness of Miss Moore's flesh, pay a return visit and convince yourself that she is in reality a mountain of solid humanity"
According to that same pamphlet, she was touring Europe by the early 1900s, and appeared before many crowned heads.
She travelled, we are told, with her own specially adapted suite of rooms. Much of this may well be exaggerated, just old-fashioned fairground showmanship.
Her stage-name, The Jersey Lily, was also the nickname of Lily Langtry, the Prince of Wales' mistress.
Lucy's life is full of mysteries, not least why she settled in Bristol, at an address on Constitution Hill.
According to one press report, she wanted to retire from public life, and it may be that she came here to live with her sister, Annie Moore, someone the press described as, "a woman of colour".
Perhaps her weight had caused other health problems which pre-dated her final illness and she needed to be looked after.
In any event, it seems unlikely that she had much money left by the time she died as she was buried in a common grave.
She spent her final weeks at the BRI where her weight caused a lot of problems, but where we are told she endured her illness cheerfully and the medical staff were able to relieve some of her pain.
A rainstorm swept in as her coffin was lowered, watched by another huge crowd.
Amongst mourners was her sister Annie and her former manager.
The service was led by the Rev. J. Stern of St Peter's, Clifton, who had known Miss Moore during her time in Bristol. He said it had been a great privilege to minister to her.
Whether or not she genuinely was the fattest woman in the world at the time is uncertain, though if she was, her record has been beaten since.