Pearly Kings & Queens
For sufferers of Koumpounophobia they are the stuff of nightmares and for everyone else they are a London oddity; those jolly elderly folk with a penchant for covering their clothes in buttons and standing around collecting money for charity. I am of course talking about Pearly Kings and Queens. I happened to see some last Saturday, so if you're not sure what I'm talking about then, they look like this:
Or at least ... they do from the back. As with all these things, a phenomenon like this doesn't just happen over night, and in the case of the Pearly Kings & Queens it began back in the late nineteenth century with a street sweeper called Henry Croft.
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.
You would have assumed that the story might end there, but somehow, Henry Croft became a bit of a minor celebrity, and was so successful in his charitable endeavours that other organisations and especially other orphanages, workhouses and hospitals requested Henry's assistance in helping them to raise money too. He couldn't do all this on his own and that much needed help came in the form of the Costemonger families who, spread throughout Londons' street markets, chose one family in each Borough and also the City of London to become Croft's representatives and effectively gave birth to the Pearly Monarchy and what still today runs at the Pearly Kings and Queens association and registered charity.
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.
I sincerely apologise to any Koumpounophobia sufferers who may have inadvertently stumbled across this post.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.