It was Laura Porter from @AboutLondon, that told me about the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields and the amazing cafe in its depths. Accessed by separate entrance from the church, you walk down into the crypt which now houses a rather good and well priced cafe – Cafe in the Crypt. It’s a great place to take a break and restore your energy levels and before Laura’s introduction, I hadn’t realised it existed. It’s beauty lies in the sweeping 18th century brick-vaulted ceilings above, whilst underfoot, you walk over historic tombstones. All the food is freshly prepared and locally sourced where possible and location wise, it couldn’t be better – just near Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square.
Wandering around the arches of St Martin-in-the-Fields beautiful crypt, I chanced upon a statue of Henry Croft, by day, a dustman and in his spare time, London’s first Pearly King. I have always been intrigued by the pearly tradition so have researched a little more.
Its routes seem obscure however Croft began to decorate his clothes with mother-of-pearl buttons which were mass-produced at factories in the East End of London. By 1880, Croft was wearing a “smother” suit completely covered with thousands of white buttons which drew attention to him when he participated in charitable pageants and carnivals to raise money for local hospitals – this at a time when the NHS of course didn’t exist. His work achieved royal attention and he was presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1907, receiving a medal from the Lord Mayor of London for his efforts in raising funds following the 1928 Thames flood. Indeed, he is thought to have received around 2,000 medals and ribbons to recognise his fund-raising efforts.
He died in the same St Pancras workhouse into which he had been born and his funeral cortege stretched for approximately half a mile and included 400 pearly kings and queens and representatives from all the charities he had supported. It was filmed by British Pathe. Musician Ian Dury requested the same hearse that drew Croft was used for his own funeral in honour of a true gentleman.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
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