They are London's working-class royalty, and a popular part of the city's folklore. The Pearly Kings and Queens also raise large amounts of money for charity. Their annual Harvest Festival in September is a sight to behold.
The original Pearly King was an orphan, Henry Croft. He was brought up in an orphanage but at the age of 13 he had to leave and find work. He became a street sweeper in the London markets. Once he managed to start making a living for himself, Croft decided to collect money to help orphanages and other charities.
Henry was very impressed by the Costermongers, the families who traditionally made a living from selling their wares in London markets. Each family worked independently but they had a strong sense of solidarity and loyalty, and would always help a family in need. The Costermongers often decorated their trousers with a row of pearl buttons to stand out in the markets.
Henry wanted to draw attention to himself to raise money for charity. So, in 1875, he started collecting pearl buttons when he was sweeping, and started sewing them, first onto his hat, then the rest of his clothes.
This first "Pearly King" was such a success he couldn't help all the charities that asked for his assistance. So he asked the Costermongers to join him.
There were, and still are, 28 Pearly families, one for each London Borough. Traditionally, each member designs and sews their own Pearly costume.
They continue to fundraise throughout the year, raising tens of thousands of pounds, but the best time to see them en masse is at their annual Harvest Festival at St Mary le Bow Church. This year, it will be on 25 September.