HENRY CROFT 1861- 1930
The original history of the pearly kings and queens and our founder Henry Croft pearly king.
Henry Croft b.24th May 1861 (d. 1932),
the original pearly king
(After repeated vandalism, this tombstone has been
replaced by a marble slab bearing a photograph of this statue.
The original statue is now in the crypt of St Martins in the field church Trafalgar square.
One of the most striking monuments in the St Pancras & Islington Cemetery – until repeated vandalism caused its replacement – was the top-hatted figure of Henry Croft: the original pearly king.
Henry was born on the 24th May 1861 in a Victorian workhouse orphanage at Number 4 Kings road (Now St Pancras way) St Pancras workhouse (Now St Pancras hospital)
When he was fifteen he became a road-sweeper at the Barnaby street department of the St Pancras vestry. He remained in this employment for the vestry and subsequently for St Pancras metropolitan borough council, until the late 1920s (St Pancras gazette, 10th Jan 1930).
He got to know several costermongers and became fascinated by their 'flash boy' outfits. They had a row of pearl buttons, each the size of a penny, sewn to their outside trouser seams from the ankle to the knee, with more pearl buttons on the flaps of their waistcoat and coat pockets and the front of their caps.
Well suited Henry decided to go one better and made a suit totally covered in pearl buttons, and he used to wear this to collect pennies and halfpennies to help out the children in the orphanage where he had been raised. He and his suit became a great attraction, and he was approached by hospitals, churches and other organizations to collect for the poor, deaf, dumb or blind. Eventually he had more requests for help than he could cope with single-handed.
Coster living Henry's friends the costermongers had a tradition of organizing a whip-round for any of their number who had fallen on hard times, and Henry now asked them to help him with his charity work. They adopted the same style of costume, and so the pearly monarchy and its tradition of raising money for charity began.
When Henry died, in 1930, 400 pearly kings and queens attended his funeral in their costumes. There is fewer than that now.
Today there are many pearly kings and queens organisations with one aim of keeping the traditions alive and that is charity.
The London pearly kings and queens society can sometimes be seen around the steets of London still maintaining Henry's legacy of support for those charities.
We also hold our society harvest festival in the Guildhall yard in the city of London the last Sunday of September each year to say thank you to all of our supporters and mayors of our boroughs in London.
If you do go to Finchley cemetary you will see that me and my family still maintain Henry's grave to this day (Top middle photograph) as we as pearlies and proud Londoners will continue the legacy that he left us.
You can find more of our history at: