Clowning History

Clown Museum

The Clowns Museum / Exhibition Was founded in 1960 by Clowns International to house a display of pictures and artifacts relating to clowning and its history from earliest times. Now it has expanded to include props, costumes and a plethora of clown related items plus a literary Archive. It has been described as a jewel box and the next best thing to visiting the circus. A prime exhibit is the famous collection of painted eggs which record the facial make up of hundreds of clowns thus registering the designs in Britain.

The Clowns Museum / Exhibition now housed as part of the Wookey Hole Experience in Somerset it is the place to visit if you enjoy the antics of the clowning profession and would like to see what and who lies behind the greasepaint. It is the place to visit if you are interested in design of the performing arts and entertainment.

The Clowns Museum / Exhibition  can also assist with projects involving clowning or clown related events. Such matters can be discussed with our museum manager in London. Please contact Mattie Faint, (Mattie the Clown).


Clown Church

A highlight of Clowns International’s calendar is the Joseph Grimaldi Memorial Service; a unique Church Service, annually held on the first Sunday of February at the Clown’s Church, the Holy Trinity, Beechwood Road, Dalston, London.

Clowns started meeting annually for divine worship in 1946.  These reunions began informally and initially took place at St James Church, Pentonville Road, Islington; the connection being that Joseph Grimaldi was buried in the Churchyard.  February was the chosen month as performers were generally in the London area, Circuses, such as Bertram Mills at Olympia, Tom Arnold’s productions at Haringay Arena or Jack Hylton’s shows at Earls Court.  Alternatively, many circuses had their winter quarters in the locality.  Increasing numbers of Clowns attended.

St James Church has since been demolished, but Grimaldi’s grave preserved, with the graveyard transformed into a Memorial Garden.  A summer celebration has been inaugurated by the residents of Islington.  This occurs during the children’s half term (either the last week of May or the first week of June).  The date also coincides with Joey’s death and burial, but is far from a gloomy affair; the sum usually shines on a festive outdoor occasion, full of fun and laughter.

The Clowns transferred to their present spiritual home, the Holy Trinity in Dalston in 1959.  It is here that the occasion has grown to its present proportions; the Church packed to bursting point and the proceedings covered by all the media.  The event really came into its own when in February 1967 Clown Smokey succeeded in gaining permission for Clowns to attend in full motley.  Clowns from all over the World, irrespective of religious convictions, attend in full ‘motley and slap’ (make-up and costume).  They give thanks for the gift of laughter and honour the father of present day Clowns, Joseph Grimaldi.  After the Service it is traditional for Clowns to entertain the public in the adjacent school. In 2001, a special BBC edition of Songs of Praise filmed the Grimaldi Service, and it was fittingly transmitted on Sunday,1st April, 2001, April Fool’s Day!

On 11th October 1985 Holy Trinity was devastated by fire.  Luckily, the Clowns’ Gallery, which was also housed there, did not go up in flames.  However, smoke damage and years of neglect and subsequent flooding from burst pipes, all took their toll.  After two years, Holy Trinity re-opened its doors for worship.  A beautiful stained glass window was installed; it was commissioned by Clowns International as a tribute to the life of Joseph Grimaldi.  It was designed and made by Susan M Cook and depicts scenes from Grimaldi’s career.  Over the following years Clowns International refurbished the Gallery and exhibits.

The Clowns’ Gallery remained at Holy Trinity until July 1994, when, because of plans to redevelop the Church Hall into a Community Centre, a new home at No. 1 Hillman Street, Hackney, London was found.  The premises had generously been provided by Hackney Council.  The Gallery and Archive was officially opened on 4th November 1994 by Clowns International’s Honorary Life President, Ron Moody.  Due to financial restraints, however, the Gallery was relocated to The All Saints Centre, Haggerston Road, Haggerston on 17th October 2002 and it officially re-opened to the public at the Grimaldi Memorial Service day on 2nd February, 2003.

Now it has had to move once more.  Due to redevelopment plans the museum needed to find a new home and on the 25th and 26th February 2008 the museum was moved to Wookey Hole in Somerset.  Run by former Circus proprietor and Honorary Vice President of Clowns International, Gerry Cottle, the museum has become a major exhibition within the Wookey Hole experience.