Saturday, October 4, 2008

Buttons : London's Pearlies

(from wikipedia)

This week's button fact I want to share with you is about the Pearlies from London, also called the Pearly Kings and Queens. The Pearlies are raising money for charities and can often be seen around London participating in various Parades and Carnivals, and the most striking thing about them is that they wear clothing that is fully covered with mother of pearl buttons. The magnificent suits, hats and dresses, are handed down from generation to generation as well as the Pearly King and Queen titles.

(Photo from The London Pearly Kings and Queens Society)

The tradition started in 1875 with an orphan called Henry Croft, roadsweeper from profession, who wanted to help those who were more unfortunate than himself and realised that in order to collect a lot of money he needed to draw attention to himself which was quite difficult for the very small man as he was (less than 5 feet tall). So as Henry swept the market streets he started to collect all the pearl buttons he found that had fallen off of the clothes of people visiting the market, and when he had enough he started to sew them on his cap and then continued until his entire brown wool suit was filled. The idea he got from the clothing of the London costermongers that had pearl buttons sewn on the piped seams of their trousers and waistcoats. They distinguished themselves from the other market traders in this way. It is said to have sprung from a Japanese cargo ship that lost its cargo of pearl buttons in the Thames in the 1860's. The costermongers looked after each other if they were sick or in need by organizing a collection. Traditionally, costers elected "Kings" to lead them against bullies seeking to drive them from their pitches. Henry Croft was in so much demand for his charity work, as many of London's hospitals, workhouses and orphanages needed help, that he turned to the costermongers. Many of the costermongers became the first Pearly Families. There were 28 families, one for each of the London boroughs, one for the City of Westminster, and one for the City of London.

Carole Jolly, Pearly Queen of Crystal Palace, with the statue of Henry Croft, The Crypt at St Martins in the Field.

Each outfit can hold many tens of thousands of buttons on it and can weigh as much as 30 kilograms or more. There are two types of suit - a Smother Suit and a Skeleton Suit, the former having very little cloth showing and totally covered in buttons (those are the oldest costumes), and the latter having far fewer buttons, often decorated with mystic symbols, like stars, moons, suns, flowers, diamonds, Trees of Life, Eyes of God and fertility designs. Some of the early costumes are still worn today.

(from Citynoise)

Modern re-inventions of the pearlies concept:



Based on:
Wikipedia
The London Pearly Kings and Queens Society
Citynoise
The Button Lover's Book (Creative Machine Arts Series) by Marilyn V. Green

17 comments:

X by Leina Neima said...

Amazing. I really hear 1st time about that - thanks for sharing...

glasfaden said...

Woww!! Those costumes are stunning! Love the modern designs of the pearlies you show us here.

Carol Dean said...

What a great history lesson! Thank you :D

creationsbyeve said...

Awesome!I have not heard about the Pearlies before!Thanks for sharing :)

ingermaaike said...

That is such a great story, I love little snippets like that!

Star of the East said...

Never had heard of this before, very interesting!! Thank you for sharing!

antigoni said...

beautiful post!!!

Ravenhill said...

I never heard of this before. Amazing. Love your interpretion!!!

ArtMind said...

Interesting story & I love triciamckellar's work! :)

dindi said...

Great post!

Heli said...

Oooh-hooo! wow!
What a great story! :)

Aranwen said...

That's so interesting! I have a mother of pearl project in mind and I loved this information, thank you :)

kraplap said...

can't wait to see it aranwen !

MirthQuake said...

Ah this is interesting! I've always known them but now I know what they do and how they do it.
Nice!

ChichiBoulie said...

What a wonderful story and blog post. I really enjoyed reading this

fleurfatale said...

oh, Krap I dind't know the Pearlies, thanks so much for sharing this with us!!!!!!!!!!

Bigbluebed said...

You have told the story in a great way. And lovely photos too.