Pearly Kings and Queens are an iconic image of London, easily recognised by their distinctive suits and accessories covered with patterns of mother-of-pearl buttons. They’ve inspired fashion designers, costume makers, and been featured in everything from films to the London Olympics opening ceremony. We’re showing off some beautiful Pearly clothes ourselves, in anew display at the museum. But do you know the meaning and surprising history behind the costume?
Welcome to the Museum of London blog - insightful and interesting digital content from our team.
Browse the blog, join in the conversation, and if you want to know more about the museum visit the main site.
The story of London Tweed
So this is how the story goes. In 1826 a London merchant decides to buy some cloth from a weaver in Hawick, a town in the Scottish borders famous for its cloth production. Very happy with his order, he decides to get some more but – crucially – misreads the weaver’s dashed handwriting. Instead of ‘twill’ this Londoner reads ‘tweed’, and assumes this new cloth must take after the River Tweed which runs fast and clear through the textile areas of lower Scotland. ‘Tweed’ and not ’twill’ has been the term used ever since.
From saintly to saucy: the medieval badge that wasn’t as innocent as it seemed
Cataloguing the Museum’s collection of medieval pilgrim badges for Collections Online has been a great opportunity for me to look really closely at our objects and sometimes to find out that items are not at all what they appear to be. A great example recently has been a tiny little badge in the shape of a comb.
The Great Dock Strike – 125 years on
“The St. Lawrence is mere water. The Missouri muddy water. The Thames is liquid history.” So declared John Burns – a great advocate of London’s history – when asked to compare the Thames against those other great rivers in 1929. Forty years earlier in 1889 Burns had been a towering figurehead of the Great Dock Strike, thus sealing his own place in those murky waters. As the 125th anniversary of the strike approaches (14 August – 16 September) it feels an opportune moment to reflect on what this particular passage of liquid history might mean today.