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The costume of a Pearly King

Pearly Kings and Queens are a well-known feature of traditional London life. But how traditional are they?

Although Cockneys have had their ‘earls’ and ‘dukes’ since Shakespeare’s time, Pearlies did not appear until the late Victorian period, in the 1880s.

Pearlies originate from the members of clubs who collected money for London hospitals. These fundraisers often wore fancy dress, at a time when the craze for decorating costume with pearl buttons also began. The acknowledged founder of the Pearlies was Henry Croft, who covered the costume he wore for fundraising in pearl buttons.

This costume belonged to Frederick Booth, the Pearly King of Dulwich. For more than 30 years Fred was a familiar sight at fundraising events, dressed in his Pearly suit and with a microphone in his hand. He sewed all the buttons on himself, as well as the badges from the groups he supported.