John Egington was born in 1857, in Kinver, Staffordshire, where his father Joseph worked as a bundler in the local iron works. The family later moved to Sheffield where John, by now more commonly known as Jack, worked as a puddler in the Brightside Steelworks. In 1877 he was obliged to marry local girl Clara Parkin and in early 1878 their first child, Alfred, was born.
Jack was a keen cyclist and had been a successful racing cyclist on the high ordinary, or penny farthing, bicycle in his time. Now with the help of his brothers, Jim and Joe, he made a tiny bicycle for Alfred. Before he was two years old Alfred was taught to perform simple acrobatic tricks and as soon as he was able to perform these tricks on the special bicycle without falling off he was whisked off to the Alexandra Music Hall on Blonk Street.
The manager, William Brittlebank, was so impressed that he immediately included Alfred in the 1879/80 pantomime. The stage name of ‘Lotto’ was adopted and Alfred became ‘Lotto, The Baby Cycling Wonder’. Jack’s next two sons, Walter and Ernest, joined Alfred and they appeared as Lotto, Lilo and Otto, ‘Cycling Marvels’ at one time enjoying an unbroken 32 week run on the London Syndicate halls that included the Tivoli, the London Pavilion and the Oxford.
Other children came along and appeared with the family in various troupes, permutations and guises and family legend tells of there being more than twenty children, but we do know that Jack had at least fifteen with Clara.
In 1887 John, by now known professionally as Jack Lotto, moved to South London and settled in Brixton where his neighbours included the black-faced minstrel singer Eugene Stratton and cockney comedian Joe Elvin. These three became particularly great friends and were known as ‘Old Joe’s Treble’ sharing a love of food, wine, horse racing and gambling etc.
They also shared a love and concern for their less fortunate fellows and in 1889 Jack and Joe, together with some other like-minded music hall folk formed the ‘Pals of the Water Rat’, later to become ‘The Grand Order of Water Rats‘. Jack became Rat No.2 in February 1890 and was elected as the first ever Prince Rat two months later at a meeting of the ‘Select Order of Water Rats’, as it was briefly known. He never became King Rat but was Musical Rat in 1899.
On 4th February 1892 he was among a trio of performers introduced to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry when, along with R. G. Knowles, the Canadian born vaudevillian who popularised baseball in England, and comedian Fred Harvey, he was initiated into Pimlico Lodge No. 1772 where his pals Joe Elvin and George Sinclair were already members. Under Jack’s guidance the Lotto family, and their special handmade unicycles, bicycles and tricycles toured extensively and to great acclaim throughout Europe, even as far as Russia, and as often as not to the sound of the ‘Post Horn Gallop’ which became their signature tune. When in London they played the music loudly from the top of their own horse drawn miniature omnibus to announce their arrival at a new venue and it featured in their act, particularly in the football finale; “advertisement is the soul of business” sayeth Jack in an article in the Era newspaper in 1891.
In the early 1900s, Jack was associated with the management of the National Palace Theatre of Varieties in Croydon, a venue more popularly known as the Croydon Empire. He worked as a variety agent on his own account from offices at No.11 Greek Street, in the colourful Soho district of London. He also owned a manufacturing silversmith’s business just behind the Oxford Music Hall where it was convenient for artists of the day to call in and commission his wares.
When the success of the family was at its zenith they all lived together in a grand villa near Croydon. Jack and Clara would host lavish parties for their contemporaries, and the children would practice their tricks and rehearse their acts on the front lawns, much to the enjoyment of their neighbours and passers-by. After he had amassed and then lost his fortune ‘his’ tailor in Savile Row continued to clothe him free of charge until his death in August 1944.
As had been previously agreed, Jack was buried in between his old pals Eugene Stratton and Joe Elvin at Bandon Hill Cemetery in Beddington, Croydon. Following his death the Lotto’s limelight slowly faded but his son Ted and Ted’s daughter Connie continued with a cycling act as ‘Lotto and Constance’ until their own farewell performance as a support act for The Temperance Seven at the Royalty Theatre, Chester in 1963. So ended the Lotto ‘family business’ as Jack always referred to it, some 84 years after ‘Lotto, The Baby Cycling Wonder’ first found his balance.