If you ever need cheering up and you happen to be in Redchurch Street, pop into number 45. Here you’ll find the proprietor, Jude, and his collection of sometimes beautiful, sometimes quite odd furniture (can you see the denim couch just behind him?).
‘Tell me something good that happened to you this week… tell me a story,’ he might say, and even though he doesn’t know you it’s very easy to settle in for a bit of a chat with him – or just to listen to whatever he’s got to say.
Jude has been noted for his fashion sense, and when I visited he was wearing a modern-day Pearly King jacket. I hadn’t heard of Pearly Kings before, so forgive me if you already know the story – as I imagine most born-and-bred Londoners probably do.
They originated in the 19th century when street traders, or costermongers as they were called back then (I love that word) hawked their wares from barrows on the streets of London. They developed an earlier form of Cockney Rhyming Slang, both to confuse the authorities and flog their goods with a bit of wit, and elected Kings and Queens – an early form of trade unionism. These leaders took to wearing pearly buttons on their clothes in imitation of wealthier Londoners, who mostly sneered at them and were annoyed by their brash presence.
And then, in the 1880s, a road sweeper and rat catcher caled Henry Croft covered his entire suit and top hat in pearly buttons, with the message All for Charity spelled out. Soon all the Kings and Queens were wearing such costumes, which attracted the attention of crowds, as well as donations for hospitals and health care.
You can read more about the Pearly Kings and Queens London here. And for a glimpse of a modern-day one, stop in at 45 Redchurch Street and say hi to Jude. You’ll also see one on this bit of graffiti on Leonard Street, just near the newly opened Book Club, which looks to be running poetry nights as well as the usual drinking, DJs and cocktails – has anyone been along yet? I am going to check it out soon….