Pearly Kings & Queens
Henry was born in the early 1860's and brought up in an orphanage in Somers Town, an area slightly north of, but nestling between Euston and St Pancras. At the age of thirteen, young Henry left the orphanage to make his way in life and became a street sweeper. It would seem that he spent a great deal of time around the markets, which at the time were populated by the Costermongers (fruit and vegetable sellers), who could be identified by the single rows of pearl buttons sewn on to their trousers and caps.
Although it is generally agreed that the Costermongers were a bit rough around the edges, they were a close knit community and would always look out for each other and if one Costermonger was down on his luck, the others would have a whip round to help him out. In a similar fashion, Henry Croft decided that he would like to somehow give something back to the orphanage that had helped him, so began to collect money. He also realised that he needed to draw attention to himself, so began collecting up all the pearl buttons he could find from the market streets and sewed as many as he possibly could to his hat and clothes.
When Henry Croft died in 1930, it is thought he had managed to collect £200,000 (in todays money) for charity, which is no mean feat for anyone, let alone an orphaned Victorian street cleaner. He was laid to rest in Finchley Cemetery, but unfortunately the accompanying statue of Henry Croft, the original Pearly King standing proudly in his button covered top hat and coat was vandalised in 1995. The good news is that it's been restored and he can now be found in the crypt of St Martins in the Field, just by Trafalgar Square.