As a new exhibition opens to celebrate the life of Redbridge’s first and only Pearly Queen, reporter Lara Keay takes a look at how the tradition started nearly 150 years ago.

The concept of Pearly royalty came about in the 19th century when an orphan street sweeper called Henry Croft made a suit out of pearl buttons to wear while he collected money for charity.

The outfit, made from buttons he collected from market traders, quickly became famous, and inspired the establishment of the Original London Pearly Kings and Queens Association in 1875 in Chalton Street, Kings Cross.

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Peggy Oliver's pearly suit on display at Redbridge Museum

When Mr Croft died in 1930 he became known as the original Pearly King, and the organisation went on to crown several other members of the Pearly Royal Family to continue his legacy and do good across the capital.

From Westminster to Tower Hamlets Pearly Kings and Queens are still going strong today, doing their charity work dressed in their pearl-encrusted attire.

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Peggy Oliver in all her pearly finery (Photo: Joyce Hampton)

Redbridge lost its first and only Pearly Queen Peggy Oliver in a car crash two years ago.

The 84-year-old tragically died alongside her sister-in-in law Joyce Carr MBE, who was the Pearly Queen of Southwark.

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Redbridge Pearly Queen Peggy Oliver with her fellow members of Pearly Royalty at Ilford Palais in 1980 (Photo: Joyce Hampton)

Mrs Oliver, of Parkes Road, Chigwell, helped raise over £1 million for various good causes throughout her life and was presented with a Redbridge Civic Award for her services to the borough in 2002.

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Pearly Queen Peggy Oliver's civic award on display in Redbridge Museum

Paying tribute to her, her friends called her “the most kind, warm-hearted and generous person you could know”.

Her family have donated her two and a half stone pearly suit and purple sash to Redbridge Museum for a new exhibition to celebrate her life.

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Wanstead's own Pearly Queen of Bow Bells and the Old Kent Road Doreen Golding

But despite not being the borough’s own Pearly Queen, Doreen Golding is still flying the flag for the cockney tradition in Wanstead.

The 76-year-old Pearly Queen of Bow Bells and the Old Kent Road has lived in Gardner Close for almost 50 years but is originally from Whitechapel.

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Doreen's husband and Pearly King Larry Golding

She met her late husband and Pearly King Larry at a charity ball in 1975 and their shared love of voluntary work lead to them to their Pearly crowns 20 years later in 1995.

They went on to raise thousands of pounds together for charities across London and even met the Queen Mother on her 100th birthday and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

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Pearly King and Queen Larry and Doreen with East End legend actress June Brown

Doreen vowed to continue her Pearly duties on her husband’s behalf after his death in 2011 and can still often be seen in all her finery at community events in the area.

Redbridge Royalty is on display at Redbridge Museum and Central Library in Clements Road, Ilford until October 28.