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Plaque unveiled at childhood home of original Pearly King

'We all felt it would be good to mark his life - he gave so much to people around him'

06 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

A plaque has been erected in Phoenix Road

HE was the original Pearly King, a man whose button-covered suit helped begin the famous tradition of cockney “monarchs” working for charitable causes.

And now Henry Croft’s former home in Somers Town has been marked with a plaque to mark his life and works.

It has gone up in Phoenix Road ahead of the annual Somers Town Festival next month.

Pearly Kings and Queens in Somers Town

The event’s organisers Tina Swasey, Simon Wild and Barry Stilwell decided Mr Croft, who was renowned for a suit with as many as 60,000 buttons carefully stitched to it, should be honoured at his childhood home.

Ms Swasey told the New Journal she had been inspired after reading a history of the St Pancras pearlies, by Diana Gould, a member of the St Pancras pearly family.

She said:”I was at a street party a few years ago when I met Diana and bought her book, and it was here I read about Henry Croft.”

She realised he lived in a building on the site of her home – and set about organising a fundraiser to pay for a plaque to mark the spot.

Plaque organisers Simon Wild, Barry Stilwell and Tina Swasey

“We all felt it would be good to mark his life,” said Ms Swasey. “He gave so much to people around him and is a very inspiring person.”

The plaque was paid for by private donations and from pearly kings and queens across London. Unveiled on Friday, a number of pearlies came out to mark the event. Mr Croft was born in a workhouse in Somers Town in 1861.

A surviving photo of Henry Croft

As a youngster, he worked for St Pancras Borough Council as a road sweeper and rat catcher – but was destined to raise a fortune for the less well off of his community. He had long been interested in the stories of the costermonger street traders – and living in St Pancras he saw many barrow boys plying their trades.

Mr Croft was inspired not just by their suits covered in pearl buttons but also their life mission of charitable works.

His own suit became well known and he would wear it to raise funds for others. When he died in 1930, 400 pearlies came to pay their respects – and his funeral cortege from Phoenix Road to St Pancras Cemetery in East Finchley saw the streets lined with those who wanted to thank him for a life times work for good causes.

The Somers Town Community Festival takes place on Saturday, July 13.

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