Pearly Kings and Queens, also referred to as Pearlies, are a group of people in London, England, who work for charitable purposes. The members of this group wear outfits that are embellished with pearl buttons, a tradition that was started in 19th Century.
Henry Croft, who was an orphan and a sweeper, developed this idea. Since, he knew what are the hardships faced by orphan children, he thought of collecting funds to help them. He first collected money for charity, and during that era, most ‘Costermongers’ (or street sweepers) wore pearl buttons, usually on their trousers. Soon, these buttons started gaining attention of many, which inspired Croft to make a suit fully decorated with such buttons. And this helped him to raise more money for charity. ‘Pearly’ society was then formed in 1911, in Finchley, in northern part of London.
However, Croft died in 1930, at the age of 68 years. Till then he had collected over GBP 5000, which was not a small amount then, and surely not for a street sweeper. His funeral was attended by over 400 of his followers, and it also was a major media event.
Some of the money that he had collected as charity was used by his followers to create a statue of him in the cemetery. However, this statue was unfortunately vandalized in 1995. But it has been safely restored, and is kept for public display in St Martins Church in Field, Trafalgar Square.
The people who follow this tradition of wearing suits with pearl buttons and practice giving charity are known as Pearly Kings and Queens. This tradition has successfully survived and has been passed to generations since last 125 years.