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A Wapping celebration of cockney heritage – Wiggy Marriott

A Wapping celebration of cockney heritage – Wiggy Marriott

“Growing up in a family of Pearlies, I always knew it was something special”.

“It was special to me because my grandad was a King, not just a king in pearl buttons, but my king, my hero”, says lifelong local resident, Toni Davey.

Pearly Kings and Queens, known as pearlies, are an organised charitable tradition of working class culture.

To mark the start of the Cockney Heritage Festival in Tower Hamlets tomorrow, we’re honoured to share a guest post from lifelong local resident and East Ender, Toni Davey whose grandad became a Pearly King in 1952.

Toni  tells us why she is so proud of her Pearly King grandad, Wiggy Marriott and explains:

“Harvest Festival was always a big occasion, Much preparation went into shining medals and unruffelling feathers and gathering the biggest basket of fruit as the family offering.

Crowds would gather outside St Martin’s-in-the-field to watch royalty turn up in their finest, a procession of shiny buttons filing into the packed church.

Reverend Austin Williams would conduct the proceedings and voices would sing out in pride, thankful for all that was given and for those that give. For that’s what a true Pearlie does best, he gives, he gives of his time and commitment to those less fortunate.

Although I was very fortunate as a child, my grandad gave to me, he gave me a life of wonder, happiness and pride.”

Toni Davey and her nanny, Nell Marriott, Pearly Queen of Lambeth

Toni Davey with her nanny, Nell Marriott, the Pearly Queen of Lambeth

Wiggy Marriott – Pearly King

Wiggy Marriott, I am proud to say, was my grandad.  The most wonderful, gentle, kind, quirkiest man you could ever want to own.  His pockets always jingled with broken watch pieces, and treasure that he would share with me and my brother.  A faint smell of Victory V’s always wafted from him, making him smell warmer.

We would tease him rotten about his ways, always encouraged by our minx of a nan, Nell.  Nan was in the habit of robbing the gas metre (I used to love putting in the two bob, turning the knob, hearing the money clunk as it hit the metal drawer), but Wiggy was honest to the core, so we could never let on that it was her that did it, although I think, deep down he knew.  We always aided and abetted Nan, and backed her up in her concocted tales of how she left the street door open and a stranger walked in and robbed the metre.  Of course we would back her up, she always spent the money on us!

Wiggie Marriott followed by little Toni Davey and Nell Marriott

Wiggie Marriott followed by little Toni Davey and Nell Marriott


What was maybe not so unusual about Wiggy, but defied how he led his life, was that he had a very bad start.

The youngest of seven brothers born to Henry Marriott  and his Italian wife Amelia, a very gifted opera singer.  Wiggy was born during the first world war, and his dad was away at war.  On hearing of the birth of his seventh son, he asked for and was denied leave, so went AWOL in a bid to see the baby.  He was punished for his crime by being sent to the Soame and to a certain death.

Left a widow with seven mouths to feed, Amelia took to the streets singing for their supper; singing arias on street corners for a few coins thrown her way, cleaning and teaching the gentry’s children to play the piano.  The older brothers were also sent to work and poor Wiggy, just a baby, would be left tied to the railing whilst everyone was out trying to earn their keep, under the watchful eye of friendly neighbours.

After the death of his mother, aged 11, Wiggy, so named because of his mop of auburn hair, stayed with his brothers, until one by one, they went off to make a life of their own.  He joined the army and trained as a first class mechanic.

Upon catching rheumatic fever, Wiggy was cared for by a kindly neighbour, Mrs Graves, whose pretty and witty daughter, Nell, caught his eye.

My grandad’s family, the Marriotts, had a long history within the Kingdom of Pearly Kings and Queens, and encouraged my grandad to put on the buttons and join them.  In 1952, in an official ceremony at Mansion House, and with Al Martino providing the entertainment, the Pearly King of Lambeth, Wiggy Marriott was crowned.

He lived and breathed the Pearlies, earning thousands for charities with his Queen Nell on his arm.  Nell became the original face for Mother’s Pride bread in their first TV advert, and both starred beside Tommy Steele in his movie Half a Sixpence, doing the Lambeth Walk.  The flamboyant and pristine Liberace once borrowed my grandad’s pearly suit for a performance, not before insisting that is was first lined with white silk!  He also became great friends with Lady Elwyn Jones (Pearl Binder), who featured him in her book about the Pearlies.  Apart from his work for many charities, Wiggy and Nell also fostered six children, as well as bringing up my dad and my aunt Dawn.

I could write for hours about all of the exceptional, wonderful and interesting things that my grandad did during his lifetime, but these are the things that made him special to me.  Watching the wrestling with him on a Saturday afternoon.  Checking his pools coupon with him and getting excited over his conviction that one day he would win; he never did.  The tricks me and my brother played on him…he hated jam and would never eat it, so we would bake things with the help of my nan and hide jam in it, and giggle uncontrollably whilst he ate it (wicked, I know).  His love for his scruffy and snappy dog Tessa, and the way he fell asleep tickling her belly.  Sometimes, if we had gone too far with the teasing, he would get angry and say that we shouldn’t do it as he only had one lung.  Haha, I once made up a song to the Max Bygraves hit, You Need Hands, something along the lines of, ‘You need two Lung…’

Wiggie Marriott with little Toni Davey and Nell Marriott

Wiggie Marriott with little Toni Davey and Nell Marriott


My grandad died in 1980, and the Pearly King of Lambeth died with him.  My nan became successor to the title, but she died the day he died even though she still took breath for two years. Now the title is mine.

Many pretenders to the throne have approached us for Wiggy’s crown, but no one is fit to wear his pearl buttons.  Besides, he lives on.

Toni with Mrs Morris, Jack Marriott snr, Rt Rev Austin Williams, Beat Marriott, Jon Marriott jn, Marie Marriott, Wiggie marriott, Toni Davey nee Marriott, Jean Marriott, Danny Marriott, Rose Marriott, Linda Marriott

Toni with Mrs Morris, Jack Marriott snr, Rt Rev Austin Williams, Beat Marriott, Jon Marriott jn, Marie Marriott, Wiggie marriott, Toni Davey nee Marriott, Jean Marriott, Danny Marriott, Rose Marriott, Linda Marriott

Thank you Toni Davey

Toni may not be an official Pearly Queen today, but the Pearly spirit is deep in her bones as she works tirelessly on endless initiatives with the local communities of Shadwell, Wapping and beyond.

It is no surprise then that Toni is the official Community Liaison Officer for the SaveKemp campaign and if you’ve been involved in local community initiatives and projects, you’ll be sure to have met our little Toni who always shines with East End spirit and when everyone else is talking nonsense, you can always count on her to tell it exactly how it is!

Please join us in thanking Toni for sharing her story and helping Wapping to celebrate its East End history.


  • geoff marriott

    Lots of my family I have never met…Wag’s (Wig’s brother) grandson..god blessx