Grand Order of Water Rats

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Grand Order of Water Rats
The gold Water Rat emblem worn by members
TypeShowbusiness charity
Purposeto assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependants, who are in need
  • 'The Water Rats' public house in the Gray's Inn Road, London
King Rat
Duggie Brown[1]

The Grand Order of Water Rats is a British entertainment industry fraternity and charitable organisation with some claims of freemasonry,[citation needed] 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]


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. (Motto: 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 now 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.

Current members include Kev Orkian, Derek Martin, Con and Dec Cluskey of The Bachelors, Engelbert Humperdinck, Lionel Blair, Tom O'Connor, Frank Bruno, Frazer Hines, Barry Cryer, Billy Murray, Brian May, Jimmy Osmond, Steve McFadden, Rick Wakeman, Robbie Sherman, Chas McDevitt, Andre Vincent, Joe Pasquale, Alfie Boe, Chris Emmett, Andrew Van Buren, Richard Joy, Ian Lavender, Roy Wood, David Myers and Si King (The Hairy Bikers), Kaplan Kaye and Jess Conrad.[5]

Past members include Bob Holness, Frank Carson, Max Bygraves, Charlie Chaplin, Peter Lorre,Michael Robbins, Peter Sellers, Don Smoothey, Danny Kaye, Davy Kaye, Ken Dodd, Laurel and Hardy, Maurice Chevalier, Bob Hope, Will Hay, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Cooper, Ted Ray, Fred Kitchen, Les Dawson, George Martin, John Mills, Billy Butlin, David Nixon, Howard Keel, Harry Secombe, Arthur English,[6] Charlie Chester, Jimmy Perry, Arthur Haynes, Jimmy Wheeler, Bill Pertwee, Jon Pertwee,[7] Norman Wisdom,[8] Paul Daniels, Bert Weedon, Roy Hudd and Nicholas Parsons,.

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, Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gosling (now deceased), the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince Michael of Kent.

King Rats[edit]

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.[9] The post is usually held for one year.

Previous King Rats include:[10]

World Upheaval - Lodge suspended until 1927


  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. ^ "List of members of the GOWR". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  6. ^ English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 166
  7. ^ David J. Howe; Mark Stammers; Stephen Walker (1994). Doctor Who: The Seventies. Dr Who. p. 16. ISBN 978-1852274443.
  8. ^ The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia by Glen Mitchell (2008) (Reynolds & Hearn) ISBN 978-1-905287-71-0, (Page 124)
  9. ^ "Leno and the Grand Order of Water Rats". Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  10. ^ "List of Past King Rats - Grand Order of Water Rats website". Retrieved 7 October 2019.

External links[edit]