Pearly Kings and Queens dazzle St Martins

pearly kings and queens
city royalty: the Pearlies were out in all their splendour

London’s ‘other’ royal family, the Pearly Kings and Queens, descended on their spiritual home at St Martin-in-the-Fields for the association’s annual Harvest Festival at the weekend.

The ‘Pearlies’, known for their pearl button-encrusted suits and hats, have raised millions of pounds for charitable causes throughout the Capital over the last 125 years.

Sunday’s festivities saw dozens of Pearly Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses attend a service at St Martin, dressed in all their finery, to collect for the church and deliver traditional fruit baskets to the elderly.

Hundreds turned out to witness the tradition, carried on by descendants of the original Pearly Association, which was founded by street sweeper Henry Croft in 1875 to raise money for the orphanage that took him in. Each holds the title for a different area of the city – primarily around central and East London. It is usually passed down via birthright, though people who have campaigned hard for charities can also be ‘crowned’ a Pearly.

Pearly Queen of Shoreditch Linda Murphy says the event is like a family reunion. “It’s the one occasion where we’re all together, and it’s a huge part of upholding the traditions that keep the association going,” she says.

Linda can trace her Pearly lineage back to her great grandfather, George Hitchen, a former Pearly King of Dalston and the City of London in the late 1800s. Her three children are all Pearly Princes and Princesses, and her eldest daughter will inherit the Queen of Shoreditch title. She said: “It can be difficult to keep the tradition going, younger people are becoming less interested in being part of it all, but at some point they do come back to it – well, mine don’t really have a choice!”

The Pearly Association is not to be confused with the Pearlies of Kings Cross & St Pancras or the Pearly Society, which held its annual parade through the City on 28 September. The two groups originated as part of the same organisation but Linda says they split decades ago for reasons nobody really remembers. “Our paths often cross but there’s nothing in it anymore because at the end of the day, we’re all working towards the same goal – raising money for charity.”