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A Diamond "Geezer"!

A road sweeper from London and founder of the Pearly Kings and Queens.


The original Pearly King. Born in the St Pancras Workhouse. His mother was in and out of the workhouse, sometimes giving an address and sometimes not. His father was a musician but may have left, or died, since Henry was brought up in an orphanage - where he learnt to sew.

Henry Croft

He worked as a municipal road sweeper from around 1876, employed by St Pancras vestry and later St Pancras Metropolitan Borough Council until the 1920s. In the late 1870s, Croft began adorning his clothing with mother-of-pearl buttons, then a fashionable form of decoration produced in factories in London's East End. Popular accounts state that Croft took the idea from the relatively modest decorations worn by costermongers (market sellers). His reason for developing the pearly suit seems to have been philanthropic.


By 1880, Henry was wearing a "smother" suit completely covered with thousands of white buttons. He is thought to have made at least seven suits to wear himself, two of which he left in his will. He also made pearly clothes - suits, hats, belts, and ties - for others. The suit would have drawn attention to Croft when he participated in charitable pageants and carnivals to raise money for local hospitals, an important source of funding before the National health Service was started in 1948. The first surviving reference to him, in a printed source, is a photograph and accompanying letter in The Strand Magazine in February 1902, which describes "Mr Croft" as the "Pearlie King of Somers Town".

A Pearly Family

Croft was presented to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at the Horse of the Year Show at Olympia in 1907, and led a display by costermongers and their donkeys at the show in 1912. By 1911, all 28 boroughs of London (Districts of London) had its own Pearly King, Pearly Queen, and Pearly Family, often members of the local costermonger community. In July 1926, Henry Croft claimed publicly that he was the "original Pearly-King in London".


Croft raised money for a variety of hospitals and other charities. He received a medal from the Lord Mayor of London for raising £72 following the 1928 Thames Flood. He is thought to have received around 2,000 medals and ribbons to recognise his fund-raising efforts, which were estimated to have totalled around £4,000 to £5,000.


Croft died from lung cancer, tragically in the same St Pancras workhouse, where he had been born more than 68 years earlier. He was buried at St Pancras Cemetery in East Finchley. His funeral cortège stretched for approximately half a mile, with a procession that included a horse-drawn hearse, musicians, 400 pearly Kings and Queens, and representatives from the charities that he had supported. The event was filmed by Pathé News, which can be seen below. The funeral was paid for by the Pearly Kings and Queens. Incidentally, the singer and songwriter Ian Dury requested that the same hearse be used at his funeral in 2000.

In 1931 a full-size marble statue of Croft was commissioned by several of his favoured hospitals and collecting societies, though it remained with a Tottenham stonemason for more than two years while sufficient funds were collected. The statue depicts Croft (who stood no more than 5 feet in height) in a smother-style tail coat of 30,000 buttons, with top hat and cane, and bears the legend 'the original Pearly King of the world'

The Tomb of Henry Croft

The statue was vandalised several times and in the end removed to the crypt of St Martin-in-the-fields in 2002, where the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Society has held its harvest festival since 1956.

His Marble Head Close Up

So here is my little tip for you... Next time you are in Trafalgar Square pop into the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Hidden away in the crypt is a separate room with more tables for eating, which is normally very quiet.

Henry Croft's Head Stone in St Martin-in-the-Field

Here you will see the tomb of Henry croft and when you look at his statue it is hard not to be moved by a man who was born and died in a workhouse, was a road sweeper all his life and with what little he had, both in terms of time and money, he gave to help other less fortunate then himself. A real diamond "geezer"!


For my friends outside of the UK... "Diamond geezer" is London slang. "Diamond" means - "very special" and "Geezer" means - "man". So, a "diamond geezer" is a "very special man".


Details for a visit:


St Martin-in-the-Fields

Trafalgar Square,

London WC2N 4JJ

https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/


The Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association

http://thepearlies.org.uk/?fbclid=IwAR1bj-_eLZYqyUo3pnm3FjfHhdN3ZLay6SEyMYQE4-P1RgHGCvU3zNVozDs


#henrycroft #Pearlykingandqueen #stmartininthefields #cockneyrhymningslang #charity #poverty #tombs #statues #tourguide

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