Bob Paice, Warden Of The Jewel House & Pearly Pride
Bob Paice, in his livery as Warden of the Jewel House at the Tower of London
Bob Paice, in his suit as a Pearly Pride
On Friday, Bob Paice’s last day as Warden of the Jewel House at the Tower of London after seventeen years, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went down to witness Bob’s transformation as he swapped the livery of his former employment for the attire of his new identity as a Pearly Pride. Yet, although the metamorphosis was seemingly accomplished by the simple matter of a change of clothing, we discovered that this was actually the culmination of an evolutionary process which began years ago.
Overseeing Bob’s emergence as a Pearly were Larry & Doreen Golding. “We’re his mentoress and his mentor,” explained Doreen proudly, “We’re the Pearly King & Queen of Bow Bells and we’re Freemen of the City of London.” Larry & Doreen revealed that ,throughout his years at the Tower, Bob organised social events for the residents – discos, barbecues and Christmas parties – raising hundreds of thousands for St Joseph’s Hospice and so, when the Pearlies came to collect the cheques as patrons of the hospice, they recognised Bob’s potential.
“People ask us why do you dress up like this?” Doreen queried rhetorically, “The reason is, ‘We’re charity workers.’” Originating in the nineteenth century as a self-help organisation for deprived families of costermongers, these days the Pearlies devote themselves to fundraising for a wide range of charities.
“When Larry invited me to the Pearly Harvest Festival, I did the parade in my Jewel House Warden livery,” Bob recalled fondly, “After the service, we always have something to eat and drink at the pub, and I was having a cigarette outside when he said, ‘It’s about time you joined us.’ So I said, ‘Once I’ve finished this, I’ll be in,’ but he said, ‘No, I meant become a Pearly.’ That was about three years ago and then, at last year’s Pearly Parade, he said, ‘You’ve got no excuse because you’re retiring.’ I said, ‘Where do I get the buttons?’”
“People like the idea of dressing up as a Pearly , but you can be standing outside for hours in the cold and you can’t put on a coat, it’s not glamorous,” admitted Larry, speaking as the voice of experience at eighty-six years old, “You can’t clean the suit either and it can get quite sweaty and smelly in the summer. You have to sponge it down, dry it with a hair dryer and hang it out.”
“I bought this suit in Stratford for a hundred quid,” confessed Bob, “And it has four thousand, three hundred and fifty buttons. It took me six months to get this far and already it weighs eight pounds. I sewed them all on myself with a little bit of help.”
Yet, in spite of Bob’s eager anticipation of his new role, it was also a moment to look back. “I was born and bred in Stratford, and I’ve lived my whole life there,” he confided to me, “My first job at fifteen years old was at Clarnico Sweets in Waterden Rd. When you started you got free bags of sweets but then you got sick of them. I don’t have a sweet tooth. I remember my first pay packet, I got one pound and fifty pence a week. So I gave a pound to mum and had fifty pence spending money, but I always had to ask her for a sub on Wednesday to get me through ’til Friday. Then I worked for the Bass Brewery in Silvertown, I worked on the vat floor and I went out as a van boy until I was made redundant after sixteen years.
I applied for this job when I saw an advert in the evening paper. I remember the interview, there were five of them on one side of a long table and an empty chair on the other side with a glass of water, so I thought, ’That’s where I’m sitting.’ I got the job and, over the last seventeen years, it has become a way of life – so this is a day of mixed feelings for me.”
By now, it was time to photograph Bob wearing his Jewel House Warden’s livery for the last time and then in his Pearly outfit. I could not avoid noticing a certain melancholy in Bob’s visage as he posed in his former working outfit, an emotion that was dispelled once he donned his new suit bespangled with buttons. Within moments, tourists were requesting pictures with Bob, Doreen & Larry. “There’s no retiring when you’re a Pearly King,” Larry whispered to Bob with a grin, offering good humoured reassurance as they posed for another photograph, “you don’t retire, you just die!”
Friday was Bob’s last day as Warden at the Jewel House
Bob relaxes with his Pearly pals
Bob with Doreen Golding, Pearly Queen of Bow Bells
Cap of Larry Golding, Pearly KIng of Bow Bells
Bob with Larry & Doreen Golding, Pearly King & Queen of Bow Bells
Larry, Doreen & Bob giving the Cockney salute outside the Tower
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
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