The Tears of a Clown: the annual Clowns’ Memorial Service
Towards the end of The Eighteenth of November, Alice, one of the main protagonists finds herself back in Joseph Grimaldi Park, the tiny North London park, where she had encountered Fabriel, some hours after the fire. As she stands distraught by the railings round Grimaldi’s grave she becomes aware of shadowy figures gathering round her. These are the ghosts of clowns long gone. But their comforting presence is soon replaced by something much more sinister.
This scene was inspired by research into the life of Joey Grimaldi and the discovery of the Clown’s Church and the annual memorial service that was held there and that continues to this day, though in a different place. On the first Sunday in February each year a colourful and motley crew assembles in East London. Clowns from all over Britain, and even further afield, gather in Holy Trinity Church, Dalston, East London. They come to remember and honour friends and colleagues lost but not forgotten. And also to renew friendships, remember, perform and laugh together.
The tradition began in 1946 at the original Clown’s Church, St James on Pentonville Road when the first service was held in memory of the legendary Joseph Grimaldi, the ‘clown of clowns’, who is buried in what was once St James’ Churchyard, but is now a park named after him – Joseph Grimaldi Park. The church suffered bomb damage in World War II and was decommissioned in 1959, when the service was moved to Holy Trinity in Dalston.
Grimaldi was born in Clerkenwell in 1778 and lived in and around Islington until his death in 1837, aged only 59. His father had performed in pantomime and Joseph made his own debut at the Sadler’s Wells theatre when aged barely three. He continued to delight audiences at the theatre, and in Drury Lane and many other London theatres. Despite his fame, his life was not an easy one, with more that its fair share of tragedy. Sadly, this is rather fitting for a clown.
Next year the service will once again be held at Holy Trinity Church, Beechwood Road, London E8 3DY. As always, on the first Sunday in February. If you are going, be sure to get there really early to get a seat. After the service there is a performance in a nearby church hall. Altogether an experience not to be missed.