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?
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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.
London Street Views 1840
New to London? Here for business or perhaps a little shopping? Looking for a specific building? These days we might use the internet or our smartphones to find the right places and navigate around the city, technology of which the Victorian visitor to London could only dream.
Looking after London’s ghosts…
When I first started working at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive I was told there was a ghost in our metal store. More Casper than Blair Witch, the ghost allegedly helped you find objects that had been ‘misplaced’. Sadly, I’ve never seen this ghost, but with 200,000 boxes containing millions of fragments of London’s history, I think it fair to say the ghosts of London’s past sit on our shelves.