Henry Croft, the original Pearly King and founder of the movement, was an orphan who later became a street sweeper
The tradition began more than a century ago as a way to raise money and add a dash of cheer and cheekiness to ordinary London life.
Pearly Kings and Queens have become icons of working class culture with ‘royal families’ now in every borough in the capital.
Henry Croft, the original Pearly King and founder of the movement, was an orphan who later became a street sweeper.
He got the idea for the decoration of Pearly outfits after working alongside apple sellers who festooned their suits with buttons down the sides of the legs and on the waistcoat and cap.
He designed his own bright outfit with pearl buttons he found during his job as a street sweeper.
He became a local attraction and used his popularity to collect money for his old orphanage.
His success meant other charities called on him to help raise funds for them, and so he asked the market traders to help him – and the Pearly Kings and Queens were born.
Today, about 30 ‘royal families’ – one for each London borough – are still active.
They usually pass the titles down through the generations but people who have raised a lot of money for charity can be ‘crowned’.
Croft’s great-granddaughter is the Pearly Queen of Somers Town.
A statue of Henry Croft in the crypt of the St Martin in the Field’s church.
It was donated by the hospitals, societies, and other charitable organisations Henry helped in his lifetime.
Two very colourful events in the year are the Pearly Memorial service held on the third Sunday in May and the Harvest Festival service, which took place today.