Pearls & Rough Diamonds


Street traders, or Costermongers have been a feature of London life since the 11th century – and for the best part of 900 of those years they were unlicensed and itinerant – at times hounded by the authorities & bureaucracy. They cried their wares to attract customers with vigour and panache – much to the annoyance of London’s ‘well-to-do’ society – yet they provided an essential service to London’s poor, selling their wares in small quantities around the streets from barrows, then stalls.

They finally evolved into today’s familiar market traders, and their lives are celebrated every year at the Guildhall. This year’s bash happened on Sunday. Every borough has its own King & Queen – mine is clearly also a taxi driver – because every borough has a market.

And as for the pearly buttons – it’s yer actual working-class diamonds, innit?

Thanks to Matt at the brilliant Londonist, the only source I could find today with any pics of the event.

8 comments on “Pearls & Rough Diamonds”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    What about potential customers without vigour and panache? I was just reading a G.A. Henty story (written about 1920, I think) about two boys in the Covent Garden area trying to earn money by holding horses, helping to unload wagons, and then in the evening calling cabs for people coming out of the theatre. That had to be as shaky as any living could be and the coster and other mongers must have been only one step up. Had to look up coster and it turns out to be from costard apple, so the apple carts must have been the early ones.

  2. Terenzio says:

    Oi….I want one of those big things…I am talking about the taxi of least in this case, however, I am an open minded sort of bloke just for future reference. Of course in my case it would probably say Queen instead of King, nonetheless it does suit my personality….and would definitely complement my purple dressing gown and my Oscar Wildesque slippers. I shall retire to the boudoir to ponder the wonderful traditions that still go on in the world. To live in London and walk down Piccadilly with a green carnation in one’s button hole and then hop into such a taxi to be whisked off to a concert at the Albert or an opera at Covent Garden…..alas The Café Royal is gone, still there is always the River Café in Hammersmith for F&W. And yes I am being serious, there is nothing wrong with being flamboyant and having a unique and fun loving personality. The world would be such a boring place without eccentric individuals now wouldn’t it and as they say…don’t judge a book by its cover…people are individuals first and members of society second.

    À bientôt….

  3. Sparro says:

    I could not agree with you more, Terenzio!
    Sadly and similarly, I feel I cannot saunter out swinging my cane, one of various that I have, for fear of it now being judged a lethal weapon. There is certainly not enough flamboyance today, but it does not have to be the perquisite of eccentrics; it is the out-going display of individuality and free-thinkers, those that feel that can caparison themselves without the say-so of such that produce ‘brand-name’ clothes, festooned with logos. If you want a brand, chose Ede & Ravenscroft, or Swaine Adeney Brigg. They don’t require shouty logos. The clothes speak for themselves…
    …Pearly Kings and Queens at least demonstrate an ability to create their own individuality, even if the reasons are as much tourist-driven as philanthropic.

  4. Terenzio says:

    One reason brand names are probably so successful is people feel more comfortable around others who look the same in appearance…especially these days with the threat of terrorism and economic uncertainty. If you notice a group of friends hanging out together generally the style of their clothes are quite similar. If someone looks or acts different people become afraid and usually this ill rational fear is expressed by the person who is different being laughed at, shunned, insulted or worse. People also like to socialize with other like-minded individuals because they feel more secure. Personally I think this is a mistake. I have no problem socializing with people who have differing views as long as those same people are open minded and willing to change their views and opinions. None of us are right all the time. One of the best ways to do this is in a situation where there are opposing views and debate the “facts” in a logical and civilized way.

    I shall retire to my local café for a cappuccino and a scrumptious pastry and ponder conformity in society. Perhaps I will take along that excellent novel by Alberto Moravia…The Conformist to peruse while enjoying my afternoon treat….

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I have been known in certain quarters for my fondness for hats. Women don’t wear them much here, not even to weddings, in fact especially not to weddings, but I have no fondness for summer sun, which gives me headaches and sunburn, so I have worn wide brimmed *noticeable* hats, especially one which I trimmed with bright red lace and droopy clusters of white beads for Canada Day. People enjoy oddities if they don’t threaten. I guess the cane would be deemed a threat, Sparro, but what a shame.

  6. Terenzio says:

    Hats are wonderful. They can really jazz up an outfit. In France a few miles north of Uzes in Languedoc there is a little village called St-Quentin-la-Poterie famous for its pottery , but there is also a shop they sells lovely hats for women. In a small village like this you wouldn’t expect to find such a shop.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    But if I ever make it to France you can be sure that it will be on my itinerary. In the meantime I was at the local fantasy convention and bought a tiny red hat with two black plumes and a red rose. Looking to wear that to church!(I also bought a blue & silver corset and a black pinstripe skirt that goes up and down like a Roman blind, but that is another matter.)

  8. Terenzio says:

    Stay away from clergy who have poor eyesight…you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a window especially on Sunday…people would see more than the light…..

Comments are closed.

Posted In