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Lynn Morris, 2008
Jesse & Peggy Bird
Peggy Bird celebred her
90th birthday in 1975

(we later found out that
this was actually her
91st, because she was
born in 1884 not 1885).
Vic & Biddy
Peggy Bird in 1975
Brother & sister Vic Bird & Biddy Morris c1963

No 26 High Street South in the 1920s
Peggy Bird outside Jinny's shop
No. 26 High Street South in 1916
Jesse & Peggy Bird will be best known by the older people of Rushden for being the Pearly King & Queen. This tradition within their family started in 1906, when, as a young courting couple, grandma persuaded her boyfriend to enter St Neots carnival with her in Pearly King and Queen outfits made from old theatre costumes that Aunt Jinny had. Aunt Jinny (Jane Wells) had a wardrobe shop at 61 High Street South at that time, and before that her family had a travelling theatre, which since at least 1871 travelled around the midlands and home-counties putting on plays and shows.

The theatre followed the fairs to various towns and put up a make-shift tent, known as the ‘Tilt’. Under the tilt were seats and plush boxes and the stage was built up on the backs of wagons. Here they would put on various types of performance throughout their stay, including Shakespeare, tragedies, comedy and musical items and all of the family took part in some way. One of the favourite plays of the time was ‘The Lady of Lyon’. They came to Rushden in June 1890 and stayed for a month when they reputedly “closed Sangers Circus” who were performing in Rushden at the same time. The younger children of the family went to Alfred Street School while they were here.

Maggie Wells
When the theatre folded following the death of grandma’s grandpa, Joseph Wells, the family settled here in Rushden. The reason for this was more than likely because grandma’s uncle, Sam Denton had family here. Sam was a musician and he had married her mother’s sister Maggie Wells the ‘darling of the theatre’, so the family settled in Rushden with a wardrobe business (second-hand clothes) first at 91 then 61 and finally 26 High Street South. The family lived there for many years and so it was in those premises, a shop and house, that my father and his siblings were all born and grew up. The shop was primarily a clothes shop but later went into selling sweets as well. My dad and his brother and sisters all attended South End School. Some of the family photographs that I have were taken in the back yard of this house.

My memories of granddad are a bit patchy because I was only 3 when he passed away in 1960, but the many photographs I have help to bring him back to me. The main thing I remember about him was snuff, he took snuff (a fine-ground tobacco product designed to be sniffed up the nose) and it used to make me giggle because the snuff often made him sneeze, but his hankies were horrible! I remember as a very young child going to visit the house that they lived in at 19 Robert Street. Playing in their garden and sometimes collecting apples from the tree that grew there. I recently found out that he served with the 5th Bn Northamptonshire Regiment in France during WWI as a stretcher bearer, gained several medals including the Military Medal and was mentioned in dispatches. This makes me very proud of him.
Lynn & Trevor Morris 2003
Lynn & Trevor Morris in modern Pearlie costumes made for the Party in the Park 2003, where we raised money for the British Lung Foundation.

But most of all I remember grandma, a grand lady. She always had a story to tell whether real or imaginable, we were told about the theatre and how she used to dance on the stage when she was little. She would proudly knit our winter hats, scarves, mittens and my favourite, woollen house slippers. So cosy to slip your feet into after playing out in the snow or when you’d walked home from school in the rain. I grew up in Wellingborough and she’d often come to our house to stay for the weekend when I was young, after granddad had died. She wore a fox fur stole still with its head on, that she knew I didn’t like, and would tease me by putting it around my shoulders, the thought of that still makes me shudder. She was staying at our house when my sister (who is 6 years younger than me) was born. She made us all wait on the stairs in age order, oldest nearest the top, until the midwife told her we could come up and see the baby. I used to think that my grandma was a real queen when I saw her dressed up in her Pearly Queen costume.

There were so many occasions when the pearly outfits were worn that are two numerous to mention but one in particular was 12th May 1937, when grandma and my dad Vic, were in the carnival for the Coronation of King George VI. They had decorated a cart pulled by a pony and titled ‘Arry & ‘Arriett up for the Coronation, I believe they won a prize for that. There is a photograph of this in “A Pictorial View of Rushden Part 3 by Eric Fowell”. That year my dad took granddads part because granddad was the standard bearer for the Royal British Legion.

They were very keen on helping to raise money for local charities and this was the driving force for them wearing their Pearly King and Queen costumes for so many years. Granddad and grandma entered all of the local carnivals for over fifty years together and grandma for a bit longer because she got my dad to be her Pearly King after Jesse died. He in turn entered parades with his sister Biddy. I too, wore the outfit in 1975 in Wellingborough Carnival. Biddy and her sister Jessie entered a fancy dress competition at Pontins in the 1990’s and won a prize. The costumes are very fragile now and some parts of it were loaned to the local museum and Jessie has the rest. We all loved the carnival and dressing up, it must be in the blood, so much so that my husband Trevor Morris (Biddy’s son) and I made new outfits for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen at the ‘Party in the Park’ in 2003. We had a stall with competitions and, still keeping the family tradition alive, we raised money for the British Lung Foundation. We’ve also appeared in local carnivals and other charity events. Trevor is now not well enough to carry on so we’ve hung up our costumes but we have a lot of fond memories of The Pearly King and Queen.

Here follows a poem that I wrote about it.

The Pearly King & Queen

Granma’s granpa, Joseph Wells
A rite lung time ago,
In the reign o’ Queen Victoria
‘Ad a travlin’ theatre show.
The stage wer’ built on wagons
Maggie Wells wer’ the top billin’,
A seat in the gods wer threpence
An’ plush boxes wer’ a shillin’.

When Granma’s Aunty Maggie
Wer’ n’actress on the stage,
The Pearly Kings an’ Queen’s
In the East End wer’ all the rage.
The’d copied a lad frum Somers Town
An orphan called ‘Henry Croft
‘eed covered a suit in buttons
An’ ‘e dint arf luk a toff.

Aunt Maggie wer a looker
And folks cum frum miles aroun’
Ta see the latest shows on stage
When the theatre cum to town.
Aunt Maggie med a costume
Like the costermongers wore,
An’ she put an act tagether
An’ she med th’audyence roar.

Well Aunty Maggie met a fella,
Sam Denton wer’ his name
‘Is fam’ly wer’ in shoes
But mekin’ music wer’ ‘is game.
Next thing ya know thev fell in love
An’ Sam arst fer ‘er ‘and
So Maggie lef’ the stage ta wed
And Sam ‘e lef’ the band.

The theatre folded, time wore on
An’ granma met ’er beau
Thay entered in a p’rade one day
In costumes frum the show.
T’wer’ nineteen six a pair a’ toffs
In St Neots town wer’ seen
Thay wun fust prize in the Carnival
As the Pearly King and Queen.

Thay settled down an’ married
An’ thay ’ad sum kids ta rear,
But that di’nt stop tha couple
Ent’rin’ carnivals ev’ry year.
The’d decorate a cart wi’ fruit
An’ the’d dress the kids up too,
’Arry, ’Arriet an’ the nippers
In their fancy pearly suits.

There were Coronations, Carnivals
An’ ’Ospital Day Parades,
Jesse an’ Peggy Bird turned out
F’r’all the celebration days.
But time alas it dun’t stan’ still,
The old folk passed away
An’ their suits ’r far to precious
Ta be worn by us today.

For Madge’s Jub’lee celebrations
We’d mek new suits ta wear,
With appeals on local radyo
Buttons cum frum ev’rywhere.
We started work in earnest
Three weeks wer all we ’ad,
We sew’d on 6,000 buttons
Folks though that we wer mad.

We ’ad the Jub’lee celebrations
At the Party in the Park,
We turned up in air finery
An we really ’ad a lark.
We get air picture in th’ paper
At the places we’ve bin seen
Since we followed in the footsteps
Of the Pearly King & Queen.

High Street South
High St South, about 1906
61 showing the High Pavement, with my grandma leaning out of the upstairs window. Jane Wells had her shop here sometime between 1903 & 1910.
Could this be Empire Day celebrations 24th May?
Margaret - later "Peggy" Bird
My Grandma Margaret Eveleen Young aged about 18 (c1902) to become Peggy Bird
Jesse Bird in uniform 1915
Jesse Bird - mobilised to France July 1915 with 5th Bn Northamptonshire Regiment
Bird Family 1916

In garden of 26 High St South 1916
Granddad on leave from France - his uniform is Pioneer Corps - a stretcher bearer

Bird Family in Pearly outfits
1929 - the family won 2 first prizes at Irthlingborough Hospital Parade
Jesse Bird 1959

Jesse Bird
President Knights Chapter R.A.O.B. 1959

Biddy & Jessie

Sisters Biddy Morris & Jessie Barrett at Pontins in the mid 1990’s, winning a prize in a fancy dress competition, wearing most of the original 1906 costume.

The original fireplace at 26 High Street South was uncovered during refurbishment after
George Moore had closed the shop.
Thought to have been Thomas Cuff's grocers.

Golden Wedding

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