Head along to the Guildhall Yard and see this authentic element of London’s history in all its glory.
There are some things that are just quintessentially London and Pearly Kings and Queens are among them. If you have never had the opportunity to learn more about this splendid tradition and are staying in a serviced apartment in The City, then now’s your chance.
Every year the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival takes place in the Guildhall Yard, keeping a 140-year-old tradition alive. See all of the participants in all their Pearly finery and get involved in the celebrations.
Who are the Pearly Kings and Queens?
Pearly Kings and Queens are organised charitable groups that are centred around a church in central London. They come from an old working class tradition that started with Henry Croft in the 19th century and has continued to this day, with his great granddaughter being the Pearly Queen of Somers Town.
Croft used to collect money for charity and adopted the Costermongers’ custom of sewing buttons onto their clothes to mark them apart. He attached so many pearl buttons to his smart suit, that Croft became instantly recognisable and collected a lot of money for charities.
This put him in great demand and more people followed suit, creating the first Pearly Families. The original Pearly titles of City of London, Westminster, Victoria, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch, Islington, Dalston and Hoxton remain occupied to this day and continue to raise money for charitable causes.
Nothing compares to seeing Pearly Kings and Queens in real life and the annual harvest festival sees them come out in force. Things kick off in the Guildhall Yard on September 25th at 1.30pm, where there is traditional entertainment to give thanks for the bounty that nature delivers at this time of year.
In the spirit of the Pearly Kings and Queens, the event raises money for charities. It features Morris and maypole dancing, marching bands and drummers, but the main attraction is the Kings and Queens themselves. They are instantly recognisable from their dark outfits, decorated with buttons. Many of them spell out words or have been arranged into pictures.
Among the simplest ways to join in the festivities is to show up and sing along to tunes such as Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner. It’s also good to bring some non-perishable foods that are donated to the Whitechapel Mission, as part of the traditional harvest festival offerings. To go one step further and become a Pearly King or Queen, you have to marry into one of the original families – titles are exclusively hereditary!
At 3pm, the Pearly Kings and Queens set off from the Guildhall to St Mary Le Bow Church, marching the same streets that their forebears have done for generations. This incredible processes ion shows off their splendour and ends with a service of thanksgiving in the church.
A Permanent Memorial
And if you’re not in The City for the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival, you can still pay your respects to Henry Croft. There is a statue dedicated to him and his incredible suit in the crypt of the St Martin-in-the-Fields Church.