Clowns aren’t having much fun right now. Not only did everyone get freaked out by those idiots in scary fancy dress last year, but, these days, kids just want the characters from ‘Frozen’ at their birthday parties, not some joker in face paint with a squirty flower.
But despite numbers being on the wane, London’s clowning community is alive and well – and hanging out in Dalston. The Holy Trinity Church behind Dalston Junction hosts the annual commemorative service for Joseph Grimaldi (the godfather of modern clowning) on the first Sunday in February, plus it’s also home to the relatively undiscovered Clowns’ Gallery-Museum. Behind a blue door on a quiet street at the back of the church, you’ll find a hidden treasure trove of colourful memorabilia dedicated to the art of clowning. The lovely Mattie Faint aka Mattie the Clown has been the director and curator of the museum for the last 30 years, looking after the comic collection of photos, paintings, costumes, books, cartoons, props and – most importantly – the enchanting Clown Egg Register. When each clown settles into their face, their unique look is documented by being carefully painted on to an egg (originally a real eggshell, now a ceramic one) for Clowns International, the oldest established clowning organisation.
The tradition was started by enthusiast Stan Bult in 1946, revived in 1984 and continues to the present day; there are around 240 of the joyful little beauties in total, 45 currently on display in Dalston (the others are on show alongside the rest of the archive at Wookey Hole in Somerset). But despite being a key part of the clowning community, not many people know about – or have seen – the sacred eggs.
Now, to change all that, there’s a stylish new book out this week by photographer Luke Stephenson and Helen Champion, ‘The Clown Egg Register’, which documents each oeuf and gives you an insight into the people behind the make-up. But nothing really beats the eggs (pun intended) in real life, and you’re in luck as the Clowns’ Gallery-Museum is open this Friday between noon and 5pm. Real-life clowns will be on hand to share their happy and sometimes poignant stories of the men and women who dedicated their lives to making people laugh. Forget the Easter chocolate glut, these are the only eggs you really need in your life this April.
The Clowns' Gallery Museum is open on the first Friday of every month between noon-5pm or by appointment at Cumberland Close, Dalston. Admission is free.
Get your hands on a copy of 'The Clown Egg Register' here.
Photos: Rob Greig.
Check out pictures from the last Grimaldi Clown Church Service.