Grand Order of Water Rats

The Grand Order of Water Rats is a British entertainment industry fraternity and charitable organisation based in London. Founded in 1889 by the music hall comedians Joe Elvin and Jack Lotto, the order is known for its high-profile membership and benevolent works (primarily within the performing industries).[2]

Grand Order of Water Rats
TypeShowbusiness charity
PurposeTo assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who are in need
King Rat
Duggie Brown[1]


Founder Joe Elvin c. 1890

In 1889, two British music hall performers, Joe Elvin and Jack Lotto, owned a trotting pony called "Magpie".[3] As the pony was a regular race winner, its owners decided that they would use the profits to help performers who were less fortunate than themselves.[4] One day, as Elvin was driving the pony back to its stables in the pouring rain, a passing bus driver called out, "Wot yer got there, mate?" "Our trotting pony!" replied Elvin. Observing the bedraggled, soaked condition of the pony, the driver shouted back, "Trotting pony? Looks more like a bleedin' water rat!" As Rats spelled backwards is Star, and vole, another name for a water rat, is an anagram of love, the name was deemed appropriate for the Order's agenda of Brotherly Love. Their motto was: Philanthropy, conviviality and social intercourse.

The charity raises money by organising shows, lunches, dinners and other events. The objectives of the charity are "to assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who, due to illness or old age are in need." When possible additional funds raised go to a diverse range of charities and good causes including hospitals, health charities and benevolent funds. A member of the public can become a Friend of the Water Rats.

The Water Rats originally held meetings in Sunbury-on-Thames in a public house called The Magpie. Their headquarters is now at The Water Rats pub in Gray's Inn Road in Kings Cross, London.


Newly inaugurated Bob Hope (right) emerges from ceremonies at the Hilton in London alongside grandson Zachary Hope – August 1991

Membership is limited to 180 male members of the entertainment industry plus 20 Companion Rats. Some Water Rats are household names but many are not, but all must be respected and trusted by their peers. Joining the Order is a complicated process that involves finding a proposer and seconder within the Order, consideration by the Order's Grand Council and finally a vote which needs a large majority for success.

Members of the order wear a small gold emblem shaped as a water rat on the left lapel of their jackets, and if one Water Rat meets another who is not wearing his emblem he is fined, with the money going to charity. Magician David Nixon wore his while appearing on television, explaining that as current King Rat he could be fined by any other member who saw him on screen without it.

There is also a small number of Companion Rats, distinguished men from various fields of business and influence who are not performers but who have achieved recognition for their support and friendship of the Order. These include Bob Potter OBE, the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, King Charles III and Prince Michael of Kent.

King RatsEdit

The first King Rat, who is the head of the charity, was the music hall singer Harry Freeman. The comedian Dan Leno joined in 1890 and was King Rat in 1891, 1892 and 1897.[5] The post is usually held for one year.

Previous King Rats include:[6]

World Upheaval – Lodge suspended until 1927

Grand Order of Lady RatlingsEdit

The Grand Order of Lady Ratlings (GOLR), a sister organisation for female performers and for wives, sisters and daughters of male performers, was established in 1929, when Fred Russell was King Rat of the GOWR. His wife, Lillian Russell, was installed as the first Queen Ratling. From 1965, membership was restricted to "recognised performers, those directly connected with the theatrical profession, wives of Water Rats and Companion Rats." In 1931, Minnie O'Farrell, the wife of Talbot O'Farrell, initiated the 'Cup of Kindness', which subsequently became a recognised charity.[7]


The Trap was the official publication of the Grand Order of Water Rats.[8]


  1. ^ "Duggie Brown : King Rat". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Elvin and the Grand Order of Water Rats". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  3. ^ Golden, George Fuller. My Lady Vaudeville and her White Rats. Published under the auspices of the Board of Directors of the White Rats of America, 1909. p. 31.
  4. ^ Charlie Chester, The Grand Order of Water Rats: A Legend of Laughter – W.H. Allen, London (1984) pg 12
  5. ^ "Leno and the Grand Order of Water Rats". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  6. ^ "List of Past King Rats – Grand Order of Water Rats website". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  7. ^ The Grand Order of Lady Ratlings: Our History. Retrieved 24 February 2021
  8. ^ "Inventory of the Thomas W. Sefton Laurel and Hardy Collection". OAC – Online Archive of California. Retrieved September 28, 2022. OCLC 874031253.

External linksEdit