26 Aug 2011
Pearly Kings & Queens of London
Pearly Kings & Queens of London
The city of London has always been a trading centre with unique and famous markets that have laid the foundations for its commercial growth and thriving economy. Markets like Covent Garden, Spitalfields, Portabello, Borough, Billingsgate, Smithsfields all supplied a lifeline to the city by providing the basic necessities for every household. The Pearly Kings and Queens or “The Pearlies”, played an important role in daily London market life from as early as the 11th Century.
Having originated in the 18th Century from the “Costemongers’ or street vendors, these traders used to sell fruit, veg and a variety of wares from their barrows to the poor and faced a gruelling fight for survival in the marketplace usually harassed by authorities. Business was never easy, so in an effort to stand out from the other market traders, the costermongers wore a distinctive style of attire that involved decorating their trousers, seams and waistcoats with rows of pearl buttons that, at the time, arrived by cargo from Japan (so it is believed). It was these “flashie” costumes along with their cheeky banter and infectious flamboyance that won them custom. As the city grew, costermongers began to choose leaders of the pack or “Coster Kings & Queens” who were elected to stand up for their rights and safeguard their territory. This new class of royalty were highly regarded for their strength and endurance and continued their legacy by passing on their inherit titles to their children.
However The “Pearly Suit” of the Costermongers really underwent a complete transformation when it was discovered by Henry Croft, a road sweeper and rat-catcher in the 1880s, who was inspired by the crowd pulling power of the accessory clad outfits and used this inspiration to create a costume completely adorned in pearls to raise money to help the poor and underprivileged. It was an instant success and combined the goodwill gesture of helping others with the pearly spirit and hearty entertainment.
The Pearlies went on to raise funds for many more institutions and honourable causes and are today fondly admired for being one of London’s long standing traditions, having contributed significantly to society, tourism, heritage and fashion. Pearly Kings and Queens are often seen fundraising around Covent Garden Market in Central London. Covent Garden Market is in the heart of the city moments away from top attractions like Trafalgar Square, London Eye and The National Gallery.
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