The tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens originated in 19th Century Victorian London. They evolved from Coster Kings and Queens, who were elected as leaders of London’s street trading Costermongers, costard being an apple, monger being a seller.
Although each Coster family traded independently, they remained loyal to other Costers, collecting for those that fell on hard times. Their philosophy to life was one of fate, some you win some you lose, when things went bad you just had to pick yourself up and start all over again.
Costers admired style and panache and with the typical Coster cheek they imitated the wealthy West End society, who by the early 19th century had developed a fashion for wearing pearls and parading in their finery on Sundays in the fashionable London parks – the Costers took it one step further by sewing lines of pearl flashers on their battered hand -me down waist coats, caps and working trousers and started doing their own parade – the ‘Lambeth Walk’.
The transformation to the complete pearly costume as we know them today finally came in the 1880s when a road sweeper & rat catcher by the name of Henry Croft came across a discarded ship load of pearl buttons on the mud banks of the Thames. He set about completely smothering a worn out dress suit & top hat with the smoked pearl buttons 60,000 of them and incorporated patterns, symbols and slogans such as:
all for charity and pity the poor
Henry was an orphan and was brought up in a rat infested workhouse. He was particularly influenced by the Costers outlook on life, of helping those less well off, even if you had little yourself. Henry caused such a stir in his pearly suit that when he joined the Costers on their hospital fund raising parades and carnivals his shimmering outfit delighted onlookers and worked wonders in raising funds for the charities.
Today the Pearly Kings and Queens of St. Pancras give up their spare time whenever they can to help a good cause, carrying on the work of their ancestors spreading goodwill with cockney spirit and cheer!