The VAF and Water Rats

Between their extensive touring engagements James Allison kept up his interest in the social and political life of the music hall community. James was one of the earliest members of the Variety Artistes Federation and amongst the group known as the founders. He was also an early member of the Water Rats, being inducted in 1891. Despite a hectic schedule that took them away from the UK for months, and sometimes years, The Allisons’ embedded themselves in this community.

Variety Artistes Federation

James Allison was active during the establishment of the Variety Artistes Federation (VAF). Established in 1906 to unionise the Music Hall and Variety performers against the unfair conditions imposed by theatre managers. It gained a surging membership within weeks of its launch and that gave VAF the strength to lead the Music Hall Strike and demand better conditions. In 1967 VAF was incorporated into the British Actors Equity Association or Equity as we now know it.

James Allison was elected Vice Chair of the Variety Artistes Federation in 1909.

Cropped postcard, Hana Studios (personal collection) Photo montage presented to Water Rats in 1908

The Grand Order of Water Rats

The Grand Order of the Water Rats, began informally around 1889/90 and was, and still is a charitable organisation made up of entertainers to raise funds for those in need. Run along the lines of a Lodge, the first chairman, or King Rat, Harry Freeman was installed in 1890. James Allison was initiated into the Water Rats in April 1891 making him a very early member and lifelong supporter. He was an active member of the Water Rats attending social gatherings, sporting events and meetings. He was Treasurer, or Scribe Rat in 1899. Like so many others in music hall, James and Lucy Allison lived in Brixton when not touring. When the Rats’ had their headquarters at Ye Old White Horse pub on Brixton Road, the Allisons’ lived just a short walk away.

King Rat

In January 1907 James became King Rat, the chairman, a leadership position voted on by his peers. Past holders of this role had included such luminaries as Dan Leno, Fred Russell, Harry Tate and Little Tich. This was a period fraught with difficulty and political challenges for the musical hall community as they battled through the Music Hall Strike of 1906-7. It says something of the character of James Allison that he was nominated to hold this position at this time. For more details about the Water Rats click here.

Music Hall Artistes Cricket Club (MHACC)

James Allison was an early member of the Music Hall Artistes Cricket Club and The Allisons’ regularly promoted this on their advertising ‘cards’ in the trade papers in the 1890s.

MHACC batting averages 1890 (from The Era newspaper)