Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love London so… the old ones are the best, especially if you remember your grandparents and their generation singing them when you were a child. So there I was on Sunday afternoon, at the Guildhall in the City, singing along to all the old music hall and 1940s classics as the Pearly Kings and Queens paraded around the square at their annual Harvest Festival Parade.
The ‘pearlies’ were brought together from among the ranks of the costermongers by a man called Henry Croft in the 1880s – one pearly family for each London borough, the City of Westminster and the City of London. The titles are handed down from generation to generation. Henry Croft brought them together to help him raise money for orphanages, hospitals and workhouses. And today they are still collecting for worthy causes in London.
The Harvest Festival is the biggest pearly event of the year with a parade from the Guildhall, through the City to the church of St Mary-le-Bow, the home of the Bow Bells which you should be born within the sound of to call yourself a true cockney.
This 125-year-old tradition is one that I took for granted as being a well-known part of London culture until I started asking friends who have come to live in London from all parts of the world about it and discovered that they had never heard of the pearlies and had never seen a pearly in decades of living in London.
Many of the pearlies, as you can see from the photos, are getting on a bit (and I’m not being rude here!). I hope that there are plenty of younger pearlies waiting in the wings to carry on a tradition that raises tens of thousands of pounds every year for some very deserving causes.