London Pearly Kings and Queens Society
Carole (Pearly Queen of Crystal Palace)
The London tradition of the Pearly Kings and Queens began in 1875, by a small lad named Henry Croft.
Henry was born and raised in an orphanage in Charlton Street, Somers Town, London, NW1. His first job was as a Municipal Road Sweeper in the market of Somers Town. Henry worked hard in the market and soon made many friends, he was particularly drawn to the Costermongers who were a tough breed of market traders. He got to know more about their way of life, their generosity and their fashion of smoke pearl buttons sewn on the piped seams of their trousers, jackets, waistcoats and caps. This showed their status as they worked the market stalls from day to day. The Costermongers were caring and looked after each other if they were sick or in need.
Henry was so fascinated by this way of life and decided he would like to help those who were more unfortunate than himself, including the children back at the orphanage where he had spent his early life. He knew that in order to collect a lot of money he needed to draw attention to himself. So as Henry swept the market streets he started to collect all the pearl buttons he found that had fallen off of the clothes of people visiting the market, and when he had enough he started to sew them on his cap and then continued until his entire suit was filled, the very first smother suit.
Because Henry was an orphan he had no one to help him with his suit so he had to learn how to sew. It was this that started the tradition, which is still carried on by descendants of original Pearly Families, that the Kings do all the designs and sewing. Each outfit can hold many tens of thousands of buttons on it and can weigh as much as 30 kilograms or more. There are two types of suit - a Smother Suit and a Skeleton Suit, the former having very little cloth showing and totally covered in buttons, and the latter having far fewer buttons.
The Pearly tradition has survived for over 125 years and hopefully it will continue for many more to come. We still have a few families who can be traced back to the original generation of Pearlies. Henry Croft's family still carries on the tradition with his Great-Granddaughter wearing the title of 'Somers Town'. The London Pearly Kings and Queens Society is still a very active organisation, collecting for many charities in the Greater London area.
Association or society