On 5th September, Hungerford Lodge member Ken Phillips and a troupe of guests including myself, visited the Pimlico Lodge no 1772, which meets at the Royal National Hotel near Russell Square in London. We were there to hear Ken present a talk on the members of the Pimlico Lodge who were among the Noble 600. You can read some of Ken’s biographies in our Entertainer Freemason series.
The Noble 600 is the name given to the 600 people who each gave £2 10s 0d in 1911 (approximately £205 today) to pay off the mortgage on Brinsworth House which would serve as a retirement home for “old performers of both sexes”.
As Ken pointed out in his presentation, there were a number of illustrious names in the 600 who could pay the entire sum by themselves. However, the idea was to make it a group effort to avoid it being portrayed as an individual act of benevolence.
In total, twenty four of the Noble 600 were members of the Pimlico Lodge, including Ken’s great grandfather John Egington, known professionally as Jack Lotto. Jack was instrumental in the formation of the Grand Order of Water Rats becoming Rat no 2.
The Pimlico Lodge members and guests sat listening intently to Ken’s presentation on each member, with the Secretary taking down particulars when Ken enlightened him that several had joined the Lodge using their professional rather than birth names. The Secretary joked that he would write to each brother to admonish them for their wrong doing.
Among Ken’s supporters were Alan Ware MBE who describes himself as having a lifelong interest in theatre and variety and is a member of the Friends of Water Rats and Keith Wrate, the great grandson of William Arthur Rhodes, professionally known as Arthur Forrest. Arthur was initiated in to Pimlico Lodge in August 1891, six months before Ken’s great grandfather Jack Lotto. Arthur was Water Rat no 7.
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.
George Sinclair was born in Old Kent Road, South London in December 1858. He was an actor, author, agent and accident prone.
As a youngster George first worked as an office boy before joining the merchant navy. With his seafaring days behind him he embarked on his music hall career and made an early stage appearance in 1882 when he was noted with ‘The Royal Victoria Minstrels’ at the Victoria Coffee Music Hall in Waterloo Road in London.
George was initiated into Freemasonry at Pimlico Lodge No.1772 on 3rd October 1889 and made such rapid progress in the craft as to be installed as Worshipful Master in 1895. In between times, on January 25th 1891, proposed by comedian Fred Harvey and seconded by agent Will Oliver, George was made Water Rat No. 27 on the register of the Grand Order of Water Rats.
It was while George was having a training kick-about with the Water Rats’ football team in March 1891 that he stood on the ball, twisted awkwardly, and ended up with a broken ankle and a broken femur. He was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital and it was to be June that year before he returned to his office. In December, to round off an already bad year, he broke his left thumb by accidentally slamming it in a door.
George was no stranger to mishap; he had been shipwrecked twice, had two railway accidents and there were several calamities in his pony and trap, one of which had nearly cost him his life. There was more to come. In 1897, shortly after he returned from an unsuccessful business venture in Australia, he sprained his ankle and was confined to his house and in November 1898 he succumbed to paralysis of the legs and was admitted to King’s College Hospital, South London.
In 1895 George had set up a variety agency and sought acts both in the UK and on the continent. He began to make a name for himself as a ‘strong’ agent specialising in athletes, strongmen, weight-lifters and wrestlers. On his books were, among others, Greek strong-man and wrestler Antonio Pierri, strongwoman Victorine Veidlere, a young Milanese wrestler known as Milo and the strongman Carlo August-Sampson. George was also agent for the illusionist and hypnotist ‘Professor’ Charles Morritt who was credited with providing Houdini with some of his more spectacular tricks including how to make an elephant disappear.
George was always keen to assist fellow performers in distressed circumstances but perhaps two incidents in particular may have stuck in his mind and might be cited as reasons why he was an early subscriber to the Music Hall Benevolent Fund & Institution. He was visiting Belfast in 1889 and witnessed the cold-hearted burial of actress Nelly Farrell without ceremony or respect, very indecently interred or “buried like a dog” as he put it. It was left to George to motivate the local vicar to pray for her soul, albeit after the burial, and invite some fellow performers to attend the grave the next day and pay their respects.
Then, in 1893, he and Will Oliver initiated a fund to support the widow of the Manchester music hall proprietor Edward Garcia. George and Edward had known each other during their early careers when Edward was managing the Canterbury Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road. Edward had been made bankrupt in 1890 and spent the last unhappy months of his life in Grove Hall Lunatic Asylum in Bow, East London, and died leaving his wife destitute. George himself died in December 1921.