The Cinque Ports Corps of Drums at the Pearly Kings and Queens Costermongers’ Harvest
Festival Parade & Service
Guildhall Yard, London, 27 September 2015
An apple brought to Britain by the Normans, an unruly group of market traders and
an orphan in Victorian London lie behind the Cinque Ports Corps of Drums’ appearance
each September in the Guildhall Yard. It’s the history of the Pearly Kings and Queens,
our hosts at the Harvest Festival, which combines these disparate objects.
The Pearly Royalty has its origins in 1875 when an orphan lad, Henry Croft, working
as a road sweeper in Somers Town market near St Pancras, London, decided to try and
raise money to help the orphanage where he had been brought up. He enlisted the help
of the costermongers, street sellers of fruit and vegetables, that he knew from working
Originally sellers of costers, a variety of apple introduced after the Norman Conquest,
by Victorian times costermongers had a fierce reputation. A writer in 1859 noted
their “low habits, general improvidence, love of gambling, total want of education,
disregard for lawful marriage ceremonies and extreme animosity towards the police.”
Nevertheless these toughs helped Henry Croft raise money each year for local orphanages
and hospitals for the poor. After a lifetimes collecting he was presented to the
King and Queen in 1907 and received a medal from the Lord Mayor of London for his
fund raising. This fund raising tradition is continued by today’s Pearly Kings and
Queens who, from April 2014 to January 2015, donated over £26,000 to charitable organisations.
The Costermongers’ Harvest Festival Parade and Service, the Pearly Kings and Queens
flagship event, was organised and hosted as usual by Mrs Doreen Golding, Pearly Queen
of the Old Kent Road and Bow Bells, and we were delighted to again be invited to
With Drum Major Geoff Fairfax MBE temporarily indisposed, we were lead on the day
by Acting Temporary Drum Major David Lear MBE. We obviously need to recruit a few
more Members of The Most Excellent Order of The British Empire – we’re in danger
of running out of them.
Our display followed its usual routine with a march on and then playing at the halt
for the majority of the performance. One feature missing this year was the parade
of the assembled Pearly Royalty around the Guildhall Yard to our ‘Londoner Medley’.
The St John Ambulance Band from Sheppey, on before us, had effectively ‘shot our
fox’ by playing their ‘Londoner’ and ‘World War One’ medleys containing all the tunes
in our medleys. The Pearlies weren’t up to ‘giving it large’ around the Yard twice
in one afternoon so contented themselves with sitting and singing along to our medley
We were the last ‘turn’ on, so at the end of our set we marched off and counter-marched
into place behind the Sea Cadets at the head of the street procession. The march
from the Guildhall to St Mary-le-Bow Church via the Mansion House gave us time to
play through ‘Children’s Love’, ‘The Adjutant’, ‘The Great Escape’, ’Prussia’s Glory
and our ‘Soldiers Selection’ before halting and falling out in front of the church
to the sound of the famous Bow Bells.
As we left we passed some donkey-drawn fruit and vegetable carts in the procession,
a nice reminder of the costermongers’ origins and young Henry Croft’s fund raising.
It was again a real pleasure to have been involved in the Pearly Kings and Queens
celebrations 140 years after Henry began the tradition.