Tales of walking, eating, watching and playing. Vintage treasures and simple pleasures ... the things that make her happy.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Pearlies

 They went to London for a few days,
Standing on the street outside a bar in Hoxton,
VJ, her man and the Pearly King of Woolwich passed the time of day.
They laughed out loud at shared jokes and rhyming slang.
They were seriously impressed by the Pearly’s attire.
He sewed every single pearl button on himself. 

The first ‘Pearly’ was a young lad named Henry Croft.
Born in 1861, Henry was raised in the rough surroundings of the St Pancras workhouse.
At the age of 13, he took a job as a road sweeper and made friends with the local Costermongers (the fruit and vegetable street sellers).

The Costermongers hostility towards the police was as legendary as their loyalty to each other.  They looked out for one another financially and would collect donations for those who fell on hard times.  They had a nominated King and Queen for each area, to represent them and fight for their rights.  They had a simple philosophy on life … “some you win, some you lose – just pick yourself up and start over again”.

The Costermonger community and generosity inspired young Henry, as did their fashion of pearly buttons sewn on to the piped seams of their trousers.

Henry vowed to raise money to help the less fortunate around him including the children at the orphanage.  To do this he knew that he needed to stand out from the crowd and so he collected all the pearl buttons he could find and slowly fashioned himself a pearly suit.   His spectacular suit became quite an attraction, drawing the crowds and he collected an increasingly large  sum in half pennies and pennies.  London’s first ‘Pearly King’ was born.

Henry was soon in great demand by many cash strapped local institutions and helped many of London’s hospitals, workhouses and orphanages.  Henry turned to his Costermonger friends for help and they never let him down, fashioning their own pearly ‘smother’ suits and helping him with his charitable works.  
There were soon 28 ‘Pearly families’, one for each of the London Boroughs, one for the City of Westminster and one for the City of London, with succession through inheritance.  
   Henry died of lung cancer in 1930 – his funeral was a spectacular affair attended by all the ‘Pearly families’ and received national media coverage.

The charities he helped over the years clubbed together and helped to pay for a statue of Henry for his grave.  The statue was later moved and now stands in the crypt of the church of St Martins in the Field in a corner of Trafalgar Square.
Over 130 years later, the tradition continues strongly.  The Pearly suits are painstakingly sewn by hand, decorated with tens of thousands of tiny buttons and weigh up to 30lbs.

The Pearly tradition is summed up by the motto … “Anyone can fall on hard times.  What counts is making the most of the good times while they last, doing all you can to help others and having the support of your own kind when the going gets tough”.


22 comments:

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Wonderful to know this. And amazing photos~

The Custards said...

I like to have a few pearlies in my sky rocket just in case when I am going down the apple and pears some fall off. Mind you they can cost a knicker or more nowadays which doesn't leave much for a Ruby when I get a bit peckish and I am trying to save up for some Ones and Twos.....

Roll out the Barra....

Lovely Jubbly

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Hello there Jane! I love your world, here! What delightful treasures to stumble upon today as I try to write, as I find delightful diversions to help me back on course. Enjoy the day! Anita

KC'sCourt! said...

My grandmother Ivy born 1904 knew Henry Croft. When she was a little girl she used collect the pearl buttons for the Pearlies, and I still have a box of pearl buttons which I will not use for anything, I would rather invest in more vintage pearl buttons than use those!
Julie xxxxxxx

Lazy Daisy Jones said...

That is some serious button love for the sharing....superb!...and the history too much of which i was unaware of....
bestest daisy j xx

Roses around the door... said...

Such an interesting story, love those old fashion morals in helping one another. x

YeamieWaffles said...

This gentleman sounds like an absolute legend to me, he comes from a time that was far kinder and more gentle than this current world, massive respect to him from me at least and hopefully many others.

A Treasured Past said...

I've always known of the Pearly Kings and Queens, but never knew the back story... thanks you for sharing. I is really fascinating. Hope you are well, Tam x

vintageandart said...

How very interesting...love the "pearlie" outfits.

greenthumb said...

How wonderful that they still around today, I love there motto.

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

They are amazing aren't they, thanks for the little history lesson! :) x

Tammy Chrzan said...

I've heard of these people before, it's an amazing heritage!
And Cockney Rhyming slang always cracks me up! I love it!
Have a great weekend,
Tammy

The Cloth Shed said...

Fascinating story.... I had never considered the weight of their suits before. All those hand sewn buttons would be quite weighty.
A great motto for all of us to live by too.
Julie x

The Dainty Dolls House said...

This was so wonderful, loved it xx

The Faerie Factory said...

Oh my all those buttons, my only knowledge of the pearlies was picked up while watching Blue Peter as a child it's so nice of you to share their story ~ Sarah x

Jen said...

Wonderful story!

Madelief said...

Such a beautiful story Jane. I heard of the pearly kings and queens, but never knew the story behind it. Thank you!

Madelief x

nilly said...

Fascinating history lesson - I can't believe I'd never wondered before how the pearly king & queen tradition started. Thank you!

Kristie Franklin said...

Hi Marina,

I love this history lesson! How wonderful that Henry would go to such lengths to help the less fortunate. Nowadays, most people complain about having to help the less fortunate and instead of giving and helping they are only interested in taking what little benefits they have away from them. So sad...I never thought I'd live to see the day when people would turn their backs on their brothers and sisters in need. A little more compassion and empathy for people who are having it rough now sure wouldn't hurt.

Hope you are well and enjoying the summer!

In My Wild Eden said...

What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it and all the wonderful pictures. Oh, great post!

thesnailgarden said...

A lovely snippet of history - so interesting - thank you. Best wishes, Pj x

Barbara said...

I remember visiting London as a very small girl in the 50s and being fascinated by the Pearly Kings and Queens. It was interesting to find out about the history.