Freemasonry And The Pearly Kings And Queens?

How do you account for that which at first sight appears a paradox? However, there is a connection and this extends, not even tenuously, to the Province of Middlesex. Through W. Bro Peter Swatton ProvJGD, PProvGstwd who is a member of Temple of Uxbridge Lodge No 7660 and Prince Michael of Kent Stewards Lodge No 9120. His wife Liz had a grandmother who was the Pearly Queen of Uxbridge until her death in 1991. Peter’s wife herself would have qualified to take on the title of Pearly Princess if she had wished. But this is to jump ahead.

The internet does give a bit about the origins and it appears that a certain Henry Croft who is said to have been a street sweeper and an orphan covered his suit with mother of pearl buttons. This was done to draw attention to himself when collecting money for orphanages and hospitals. He lived in Somerstown, which today would be in the London Borough of Camden. Somers Town in the 1870s would have been in the County of Middlesex. Indeed, it would have been situated in the Ossulton Hundred and there is reference to this Middlesex connection by way of Ossulton Street off the Euston Road. Somers Town was originally within the medieval Parish of St Pancras, Middlesex. It was in this neighbourhood that we find the first so called Pearly King, Henry Croft, an orphan and street sweeper –

Henry Croft – see Henry Croft


This is taken from the internet and describes an association with Croft and the Royal family. “Henry Croft was presented to 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 of the metropolitan boroughs of London had its own pearly king, pearly queen, and pearly family, often members of the local costermonger community. The Original Pearly Kings’ and Queens’ Association was established that year. South of the River Thames, the pearly families were associated into a Pearly Kings’ and Queens’ Guild. In July 1926, he claimed publicly that he was the “original Pearly-King in London.

Croft raised money for a variety of hospitals and other charities, including St Dunstan’s, the Hospital Saturday Fund, and the Sons of Phoenix temperance society. 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”.

There is a history of how the tradition started and can be found using various internet links which will provide a fuller story –

A Google search will provide additional links.

Apart from the familial link of our Middlesex freemason, there seems to be a common ethos in term of charity and doing good works in the community. There is much more behind the QR Code we now find on our masonic summonses and , indeed, the notion of charity is part of the foundation of our Institutition –

Whether the original Pearlies “cocked a snoot” at freemasonry, or indeed did the costermongers where the tradition emanates, we will have to leave to conjecture. Certainly, charity was not the preserve of the “upper classes” which would have included prominent persons who were also freemasons. This would be the subject of a different article. However, there seems to be a correspondence between the two “traditions” in that welfare and charity was very much to the forefront.

The Middlesex Connection

As mentioned above W. Bro Peter Swatton’s wife Liz, had connections with the Pearly world through her grandmother and grandfather. Her grandmother Nellie was born in Wood Green 1897 and died 1991. Grandfather Arthur, known as Tom, was born in Finchley in 1889 and died in Hillingdon 1974. It is not known precisely the date she became a Pearly Queen, but it was a role she continued in even after her husband’s death. Her granddaughter, Peter’s wife, might have acceded to the role of Pearly Princess. In Pearly culture there is the familial link and the titles can pass down through family members. If not taken up, then others can take on the role.

Nellie and Tom moved to Middlesex from Wood Green during the second world war because the house they lived in had been bombed. They lived in temporary houses (huts) at the top of Hercies Road somewhere close to the Uxbridge Bunker and the T.A. centre.

Nellie and Tom with Norman Wisdom.

Middlesex had its own Pearly King and Queen situated in Uxbridge. Who knows what might have happened had the regal titles been handed down to Nellie’s descendants. Perhaps our own Middlesex Mason Peter would be a masonic Pearly Prince or King even?  Whatever, the ethos of both the freemasons and those who would organise themselves into Pearly Kings and Queens is in good deeds and charity. This may be done in a different manner from each other, but the end result is the same.

See also –

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