In Search Of London’s Last Cockneys 

“We had to move away, Cos’ the rent we couldn’t pay.”

What does it mean to be cockney? Pearly kings and queens? Rhyming slang? Pie and liquor? It’s commonly believed that to be truly cockney, you must be born within earshot of Bow Bells, which peal from Cheapside’s St Mary-le-Bow church.

Noise pollution and a lack of maternity wards in the area have rendered this definition practically obsolete. The term ‘cockney’ dates back to the 1300s and was originally used as a pejorative label for the city’s toffee-nosed urban folk. It’s since become a term of endearment primarily referring to the working class, down-to-earth, East Enders of London.

But in 2010, Professor Paul Kerswill of the University of York estimated that the cockney accent would disappear from London “within 30 years”. 10 of those years have now elapsed. Is this native London breed really set to become brown bread? And what has triggered the mass exodus of these former city-dwellers to surrounding counties such as Essex and Kent?

“We’re still alive and kicking, but we’re hanging by a thread”

Think cockney and Pearly Kings and Queens often spring to mind. The tradition, dating back to the Victorian costermongers (street traders) of north London, was founded by Henry Croft, a former workhouse inmate, who — inspired by the style-savvy costermongers who sewed lines of pearls onto their clothes to mimic the rich — chose to go one step further by completely embellishing suits with pearl buttons [ . . . ]

Read complete feature story in THE LONDONIST: In Search Of London’s Last Cockneys | Londonist