This Sunday 27 September will see London’s Guildhall Yard at Mansion House festooned with glistening pearls, and cacophonous with the sound of clopping shirehorses and rousing traditional songs, courtesy of the cockney masses who will descend to celebrate heartily. The occasion? The Pearly King and Queen Harvest Festival.
The Pearly Kings and Queens – affectionately known as “the pearlies” – are a highly decorative charitable tradition of working class culture in London, which can be traced back to one Henry Croft. The archetypal street urchin of the 19th century, though an orphan himself, he collected money for charity. To help draw philanthropic eyes in his direction, he adapted the street vendor’s habit of decorating trouser seams with pearl buttons, instead covering his entire outfit with the scavenged-for gems. When he died in 1930, Croft left behind an official pearly society, and a lasting legacy; 400 people attended his funeral, to pay respects to the man who had raised some £5000 for patients in London hospitals. A statue of him now stands at St Martin-in-the-Field, whose inscription simply reads: “In memory of Henry Croft who died March 16th 1930 aged 68 years. The original Pearly King.”
The free annual event features Morris dancers, maypole dancing and a marching band, the latter of which will parade from the City of London to St Mary-le-Bow Church, home of the Bow Bells (which any official cockney was born within earshot of). The event is non-ticketed, but donations of non-perishible goods will be gratefully received.
Dick Van Dyke eat your heart out.
For more info on the pearlies, visit www.pearlysociety.co.uk