Members of the Pearly Kings and Queens at a celebration at the Carpenters Arms Pub in East London, having just attended the largest crowning of new Pearly Kings and Queens in 100 years. The Pearly Kings and Queens are one of the most famous of Cockney traditions.
In the UK, the practice of wearing clothes decorated with pearl buttons originated in the 19th century. It is associated with Henry Croft, a street sweeper who was born at St Pancras Workhouse in London. After his father, a musician died, he was raised in an orphanage.
There was much poverty in London and Croft was impressed to see how many of the market traders helped each other out during hard times. This inspired him to spend much of his life participating in charitable pageants and carnivals to help raise money for a variety of charitable causes, especially for local hospitals, for which this was an important source of funding before the NHS.
The tradition carried on after his death and there are a number of associations of Pearly Kings and Queens in London. Each group is associated with a church in central London and is committed to raising money for London-based charities.