Recently we did an article for an in flight magazine called Wizz Air a smaller Airline company who have a section called Tribes which showcase local groups of interest from varied cultures.
It is always a pleasure for us to be part of keeping our History and tradition alive and reaching a Global audience.
is all about charity and community”
Meet the Pearly Kings and Queens of King’s Cross and St Pancras: the shining icons of a unique London tradition
One might feel uneasy in the presence of royalty, but when the Queen is serving you cheese sandwiches and endless cups of tea, it’s hard to feel intimidated. Ok, it’s not Her Majesty the Queen – not the one on the banknotes – but a queen nonetheless. Our generous host is Diane Gould, also known as the Pearly Queen of St Pancras. But what exactly is a Pearly Queen (or King)? Pearlies, dressed in elaborate costumes covered in hundreds of hand-sewn pearl buttons, are an iconic image of old workingclass London. But the Pearly tradition is about much more than fancy dress. “It’s all about charity and community,” explains Diane. “It dates back to the 11th century when street traders – known as costermongers – would elect a coster king and queen, paying them money each week to create a fund to help anyone in their area who fell on hard times.” By the 19th century coster men had taken to wearing rows of mother-of-pearl buttons – which shared the shine, but none of the expense, of real pearls – on their trousers, while women would mimic the gentry with elaborate feathered hats. Their evolution into the dazzling Pearly costumes
you see today is all down to a boy who admired the costers’ attitude and style: Henry Croft. “Croft was born in the St Pancras workhouse [an institution where the poor received board and lodging in return for work] in 1861,” says Diane. “At 13 he became a street sweeper in the area. He loved the costers’ approach to helping one another, so, having learned to sew in the workhouse, he made himself a smother suit – an outfit covered from head-to-toe in pearl buttons. Then he’d go to charity events and raise money for the cause.” The costers loved Henry’s idea, and in turn copied him, using their increasingly elaborate dress to raise money for the poor despite not being wealthy themselves. The Pearly Kings and Queens were born, becoming trustworthy symbols of charity and community. At one time there was a different Pearly family in 28 of London’s 32 boroughs. Today, many of the original Pearly families live outside London, but their hearts are still very much in the city – Diane’s home is filled with London memorabilia and images of her dad Alf Dole’s famous pearly black cab. And you can still see Pearlies in London, attending charity events, in schools teaching children about the city’s
THE PEARLIES OF KING’S Cross and St Pancras (right) represent a unique part of London’s social history
history, or at their annual Harvest Festival or New Year’s Day parade. But wherever and whenever you find a Pearly King, Queen, Prince or Princess, they’ll be raising funds and awareness. They’ll also be using Cockney rhyming slang – another famous London tradition where rhyming phrases replace the usual words. For example, as Diane explains her pearly outfit she points out her tit for tat (hat), barefoot blues (shoes) and almond rock (sock). Pearly culture is still a family affair. Diane’s royal entourage includes “my husband, Alistair, who’s the Pearly King of St Pancras, and my son Simon Dole, who is Pearly King of King’s Cross. Sheri Mears is Pearly Queen of King’s Cross, and her children, Cain and Trinity, are Pearly Prince and Princess of King’s Cross.” Like real royal families, many Pearlies are born into the tradition. Diane’s great grandfather, George Dole, was one of the three original Pearly Kings, alongside Bert Matthews, Pearly King of Hampstead, and Henry Croft himself. Her son, Simon, is only just taking on the role of a King, because he knows it’s not something you take lightly.