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Pearly kings and queens are London's alternative royal family. They wear very ornate, pearl button-covered suits and flamboyant feathered hats. Originally pearly kings and queens came from East London, but now several pairs reign over different London boroughs. Pearlies inherit their pearly title from their parents. The children are known as pearly princes and princesses.
Pearly kings and queens raise money for charities and can often be seen around London participating in parades and fetes, dressed in their distinguished ornate buttoned suits. They are seen to be experts in cockney1 ways, talk and traditional London songs, such as:
- 'Roll out the barrel'
- 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner'
- 'Any ol' Iron'
- 'Knees up Mother Brown'
- 'Doing the Lambeth Walk'
Pearly Kings and Queens were founded in 1875, by a boy named Henry Croft. Henry grew up in an orphanage, then from the age of 13 he worked as a municipal road sweeper and rat catcher in the market of Somer's Town.
He got in with a tough group of market traders, the costermongers2. They wore highly decorated clothes to distinguish themselves from the other market traders and to make themselves look a bit flashier. This involved decorating their trousers and waistcoats with a row of pearl buttons down the seams. The costers looked out for one another and if another coster was in need, they would have a 'whip round' for him to get him some money.
Henry was reputed to be a kind sort of person. He was influenced by the caring attitude of the costers, and decided he wanted to raise money to help the poor and the orphaned. He thought that the best way to raise money would be to draw attention to himself. So taking the idea from the costers, he went a bit further and covered a suit entirely with pearl buttons.
He became an instant attraction and was approached by many hospitals and churches to help raise money for the poor, deaf, dumb and blind. Henry worked hard for these charities but he wanted to raise more money, so he asked the costermongers for help.
Eventually there was pearly family for every London borough and the Pearly monarchy began.
Henry Croft's family still carries on the tradition, his great-granddaughter is Pearly Queen of Somer's Town.