Pearly Kings and Queens, known as the Pearlies, hold traditional harvest festivals, giving thanks for the crops, once a year. I went to my first one yesterday at the Guildhall Yard in London and it was brilliant! It was a fun atmosphere full of colour, British traditions and good humour.
When I first arrived there was an organ playing old fashioned, fun songs and the crowds gathered in anticipation of the Pearlies appearing centre stage. The Sheriff of London introduced Pearly Queen Doreen Golding who opened the festivities by saying how honoured the Pearlies were to host the festival at the Guildhall Yard for the 20th year running.
The attending dignitaries wore traditional red fur edged robes and heavy gold chains that gleamed in the sun, however they were outshone by the sparkly buttons on the Pearlies’ outfits!
The Pearly King of Mile End introduced himself to the waiting audience, telling jokes that were so bad they were good! He was very funny and made everyone smile - a real cheeky chappy!
The celebrations commenced with a lady wearing a rainbow coloured dress inviting a Chelsea pensioner to dance. A maypole was centre stage and the dignitaries were invited to dance around it with the Pearlies, which produced a riot of colour… and very bad footwork!
A group of young Morris dancers were then introduced who used scaffolding poles as sticks whilst a dancing bull twirled around the courtyard. When dancing finished one of the hosts announced that the dancers needed to return their scaffolding poles to the builder’s yard on their way home!
The Pandemonium drummers were next to perform a Suffragettes routine and the audience lapped up their outstanding performance. The drummers were part of the opening ceremony at the London Olympics and after watching them I can see why. They are all volunteers and perform at a variety of events on a non-profit charitable basis.
Another colourful group of Morris dancers were next to perform and this time a playful sheep was their accomplice in dance. The Pearlies then sung some traditional London songs, including “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” whilst parading their iconic outfits around the Yard. Each outfit can have as many as 30,000 buttons sewn onto it and can weigh as much as 30 kilograms, which in ‘old money’ is approximately 66 pounds. The buttons are sewn into words, patterns and symbols that have different meanings, for example, a heart means a charity, a wheel is the circle of life and a donkey is vital for pulling a costermonger’s cart to the market.
When the event finished everyone who took part walked from the Guildhall Yard to St Mary-at-Bow in Cheapside for a church service - it was a lovely surprise for the public along the route. It was a wonderful day to be a tiny part of and I would highly recommend supporting the Pearlies as they volunteer tirelessly for charities. I will definitely be joining them in “rolling out the barrel” next year!