We love our Pearly Kings and Queens in London.
A tradition dating back to the early 1900’s
Claire took this image at the New Years Day Parade in Trafalgar Square.
Created as Wall Art, a delightfully smart Silk Scarf and this luxurious Duchess Satin 60cm (24″) Cushion.
This, and all my work, is proudly made in England.
Links to relating items;
A little history:
Pearly Kings and Queens.com;
Pearly Kings & Queens originated in the 19th century from the ‘Coster Kings & Queens’, who originated in the 18th century, who originated from the ‘Costermongers’, who originated from London’s ‘Street Traders’, who have been around for over a 1000 years… with that out of the way let’s get down to the nitty gritty!
Street traders, or ‘Costermongers’ as they became known, have been an important feature of London life since the 11th century – and for the best part of 900 of those years they were unlicensed and itinerant – at times hounded by the authorities & bureaucracy. They cried their wares to attract customers with vigour and panache – much to the annoyance of London’s ‘well-to-do’ society – yet they provided an essential service to London’s poor; mainly selling their wares in small quantities around the streets & alleyways – at first from baskets, then progressing to barrows – then permanent static pitches from stalls – until they finally evolved into today’s familiar and popular Markets. Oh yes, we owe a great deal to our ancestral costermongers – but like so many things we take for granted today, their fight was long and hard.
Because of London’s unique geographical position it grew and thrived as a trading centre – the City grew up not just around its financial market, but around its famous markets that provided the necessities of life – markets such as Billingsgate (where the fish were landed), Smithfield (for cattle & livestock) and Covent Garden and Spitalfields (for fruit, veg & flowers).
Although each Coster family traded independently, they remained loyal to other costers – collecting for those that fell on particularly hard times. Their philosophy of 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. They liked a gamble – be it on boxing matches, pigeon racing, dog fighting and even rat-killing matches! Most of all, of course, they liked to indulge in a tipple or two. Not because they enjoyed a good old booze-up and sing-song, you understand – ‘no guv’, more to do with being suspicious of water, what with cholera & typhoid and all that! Besides, the Ale Houses, Gin Palaces & the Penny Gaff Music Halls were warm & welcoming compared to their squalid lodgings. By now most of London’s poorer working classes were hoarded together outside the thriving City – dockers, sailors, immigrants & factory girls – all living in slum conditions with little or no sanitation.
As London grew beyond the boundaries of the walled City – costermongers in each Borough elected a ‘Coster King’ – they were chosen to fight for their rights – the first form of trade union, if you like. Coster Kings needed to be a hardy breed with leadership qualities, strong personalities, physical strength and also be loyal and quick-witted. And it wasn’t just the men – the female Billingsgate fishmongers were regarded as fearsome characters! Coster Kings and Queens brought up their ‘Royal’ children to follow in the tradition and inherit their titles.
Costers admired style & panache. They had evolved a showmanship and cheeky banter that boosted their custom. They also developed their own secret language – Coster back-slang – which pre-dated Cockney rhyming slang. They used this language to good effect, confusing their punters and the police when they wanted! With typical coster cheek they imitated the wealthy West End society who by early 19th Century had developed a fashion for wearing pearls – only the costers took it one step further by sewing lines of pearl ‘flashies’ on their battered hand-me-down waistcoats, caps and working trousers!
The transformation to the complete Pearly Costume as we know it today finally came in the 1880s when a road sweeper and rat-catcher by the name of Henry Croft completely smothered a worn out dress suit & top hat with smoked pearl buttons – incorporating patterns, symbols and slogans – one of which was ‘All For Charity’. Henry was a life long friend of the costers and he was particularly influenced by their outlook on life – which was all about helping one another and those less well off, even if you had little yourself. He joined the costers on their hospital fund raising Parades and Carnivals. It wasn’t long before all of the Coster Kings and Queens from London’s 28 boroughs produced their own Pearly Costumes- realising that their shimmering outfits delighted onlookers and worked wonders in raising funds for the charities. While Pearly Kings and their princes decorated their caps, Pearly Queens and their princesses wore ostrich feathers and bobby-dazzler earrings!
The Pearly attitude to life is one of pride – not just to raise money, but to dispense it in true Cockney spirit – good heartedly and without the recipient being made to feel humiliated. Money collected came from their own kind – well-organised self-help – collected in the traditional manner by providing a bit of good old Cockney entertainment in return. It is a tribute to The Pearlies that they have never been found wanting when their services have been called on. They have never looked for recognition but have been awarded countless medals, honourary memberships, hospital governorships, etc in appreciation of their achievements. The Societies & Organisations that The Pearlies have helped reads like a role call of our most famous Charitable institutions – with sums raised running into millions. But it is not just the direct fundraising that Pearlies are famous for – their unique and honourable traditions which have been built up over many centuries have enabled them to act as ambassadors at home and abroad – adding to both tourism and trade – visitors to our shores still expect to see something of our heritage, pageantry and costume.
Finally, we mustn’t overlook the fact that in today’s hustle-bustle world, Pearlies unselfishly give up their spare time whenever they can. Our ancestral Costers succeeded in fighting for our rights – which leaves today’s Pearlies free to concentrate on charitable and educational work – not forgetting, of course, spreading Cockney goodwill, spirit & cheer!
Full Collection; Staffordshire Dogtooth / Benches / Tea Cups / Wimbledon Strawberries / Telephone Box / Elizabeth’s Crown / Pearly Guild / Bearskin / British Bull Dog / Drag Queen / SexSexSex / SexVidsToysMags / Pigeons Dance / Bowler Hat / Pigeons Fly / Graffiti Heart / Bob the Cat / Collie Dog
The copyright on all the designs on this site belongs to Claire Swindale