Clowns have had an “official” church in London since the 1940s, starting with St James’s Church in Islington, the burial place of Joseph Grimaldi, who is regarded as the father of modern clowning. Every February the Grimaldi Memorial Service is held, where clowns attend their church in full motley and slap, giving thanks for the Gift of Laughter, and paying respects to clowns who have passed away in the previous year.
After subsidence and fire lead to the deconsecration of St James’s, the clowns moved to Holy Trinity in Dalston in 1959, which has been London’s clowns’ church ever since (though the annual Grimaldi Memorial Service is now held in All Saints Church in Haggerston, which can accommodate a larger troupe). Holy Trinity is still home to the Clowns’ Gallery and Museum, which is open to visitors on the first Friday of every month.
The museum in squeezed into three small rooms at the back of the church—the vestry, the former organ room, and the vault. Various additions and donations have been made to the collection over the years, which includes photographs, clown memorabilia, props, and costumes. In fact, the collection at Dalston grew so large that in 2007 the majority moved to Wookey Hole in Somerset. What has stayed at Holy Trinity though is still well worth a look, and comes with the added advantage of a guided tour from one of several friendly and welcoming clown custodians (out of makeup).
Highlights of the museum are a suit owned by the famous Coco the Clown, a collection of awards for clowning (Best Whiteface, Best Auguste, Outstanding Services to Clowns International…) and part of the Clown Egg Register, ceramic eggs painted to record each clown’s personal makeup design. In the main church itself is a stained glass window of Joseph Grimaldi, complete with an appropriate biblical quote reminding visitors that there is “a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance”—just what one would expect at a clown’s church.