The Pearly Throne was designed and embroidered with pearl buttons by Ruth Eaton to attract support for the work of the London Pearly Kings and Queens Society. It was upholstered by Ruth and Sarah Bolton, Tutor/Lecturer in upholstery at Merton Adult Education and John Walters, Pearly King of Finsbury, acted as advisor for the project.
It was created during the summer of 2013 for completion by Sunday 29th September when the Pearly Kings and Queens celebrate the Harvest Festival.
The Pearly Kings and Queens have been a familiar and much-loved feature of London life since the 19th century. The first Pearly King, Henry Croft, was an orphan and a road sweeper in Somers town market. He collected large sums of money for charity, drawing attention to his cause by wearing an elaborate costume covered in buttons he’d picked up in the streets. Similarly, London’s ‘Pearlies’ still devote their lives to raising funds for charity today.
The Pearly Throne contains many traditional Pearly symbols. These include a variety of triangular patterns representing the ups and downs of life, playing cards because life’s a gamble, a dove for peace, flowers for the flower-selling girls and women, hearts for charity, horseshoes for luck, bells for St Mary le Bow, the cockneys’ church, and wheels for the costermongers’ donkey carts and the circle of life and friendship. It also includes some personal touches –the lucky numbers 3 and 7 for Ruth’s children, one button (different to the others), which belonged to a longstanding family friend, in memory of loved ones who’ve passed away and three stars especially for John Walters because ‘he’s a star’. Finally, as ‘Three pots of flowers’ were sold for one shilling in the traditional song of the same name, Ruth has incorporated a Victorian shilling coin dating from 1875, the year when, aged 13, Henry Croft left the orphanage and started to sweep the streets of London.