Pearly Kings and Queens

gothgirl

Wallasey, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

We met these Kings and Queens collecting for charity in Brighton in the south of England

A Pearly King (feminine form Pearly Queen) is a person dressed in a traditional cockney costume covered in mother-of-pearl buttons. These costumes were treasured heirlooms, hand made and sometime representing much of a family’s material worth.

According to one account, the pearlies derived from London costermongers who sewed pearl buttons onto their clothing. An orphan costermonger named Henry Croft collected any pearl buttons that had fallen off others’ clothes and covered his clothing with them. 1 Another story claims that in the 1880s a cargo of Japanese pearl buttons was salvaged from the River Thames after the boat carrying it foundered. One of the salvagers, Henry Croft, decorated his suit, hat and stick with pearl buttons, making him the first pearly king.

The pearlies were originally elected by costermongers to safeguard their rights from rivals. Modern pearlies no longer have this role, but tend instead to devote their time to charitable activities. Each individual area of London once had a king and his ‘donna’ (from the Italian for woman), as their wives / queens are sometimes called — one for each of the London boroughs, one for the City of Westminster, and one for the City of London.

The patterns used on pearly coats, which sometimes run in families, have special meanings

Artwork Comments

  • SylviaHardy
  • Barry Norton
  • JanG
  • mariarty
  • Colin Tobin
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