The Pearly Kings & Queens

Harvest Festival

Guild Hall Yard 2015

Scribe Mike Boxall

 

An Apple, Some Unruly Traders and an Orphan

 

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 the market.

 

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 take part.

 

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 instead.

  

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.

 

Mike Boxall

 

 

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