Burly pearlies in Brick Lane
This fine gentleman is the Pearly king of Upminster and the chap behind is the king of Highgate. On the first Sunday of every month, the Pearly monarchy gather at the corner of Cheshire Street and Brick Lane, between the oriental slipper stall and the men chanting “Cigarettes, tobacco” under their breaths.
Carole Jolly, Pearly queen of Crystal Palace, told me how it began in the nineteenth century with one Henry Croft (pictured below on the right) who was brought up in an orphanage. Adopting the style of the Costermongers who sewed pearl buttons on their bellbottomed trousers, jackets, waistcoats and caps, Henry made himself an entire suit covered in pearl buttons as a means to collect money for charity.
Over time, others joined Henry’s enterprise and many Costermongers (who already had a charitable code of looking after their own) became Pearlies, until there was one family for each London borough. Thus began the dynasty of Pearly kings and queens still in existence today and still collecting money for charity. The big event of the Pearly year is the gathering of all the London Pearlies for the Harvest Festival at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, coming up next week on 12th October.