Would you like to come into the crypt to see my Clown Collection?
This is probably the best and worst thing you could possibly hope to hear if you are a museum blogger. To be in one of the strangest of London museums in a church in Hackney is a real highlight, but my natural nosy nature means I am about to enter a church crypt, down ominous spiral stairs, with a man I have never met before.
It is ok, he is a clown, or ex-clown (do they ever become ex-clowns?) Don’t worry he is not dressed as a clown, after all he would never manage the steep narrow stairs if he had clown shoes on. I am not going into a church crypt with a man dressed as a clown, ha, that would be really stupid… I am just going into a church crypt with a man who ‘used’ to dress as a clown. Now that I say it out loud it doesn’t seem one of my cleverest ideas. There is a moment when I feel my way with tentative steps and I wonder if this blogging life is really leading me down the right path. Don’t worry though I have told people of my whereabouts, I am sure someone will come and find me if I don’t return home…
In the manner of all good horror films, let me take you back to the beginning. It all started in April 2017, my Dad, who follows my museum escapades via Twitter, gave me a scrap torn from ‘Time Out’ – “Here’s one you haven’t been to before…”
Always up for a challenge I was intrigued by the ‘Clown Egg Register’ and never having visited Dalson before I thought – Why not? On further investigation I discovered the museum only opens on the 1st Friday of the month between 2-5pm which made it a bit tricky for me to get to but as a bonus it is in a church so to be honest it ticked all my boxes. Weird museum, weird location. I just had to go.
I actually visited way back in October 2017, I am not sure why it has taken me so long to write about it. Maybe I was so disturbed by the whole experience I couldn’t bear to put pen to paper. In all honesty my visit didn’t quite turn out how I expected. The blog I had planned to write didn’t quite materialise. So why not start 2019 off with something a little different?
You forget that 2016/7 was the year of the ‘Killer Clown Craze’. Weird and frightening sightings of clowns were being reported all over the UK to such an extent that the Daily Telegraph produced a ‘Creepy Clown Craze’ timeline in 2016.
Stephen King’s ‘IT’ film with Pennywise the clown was re-hashed and in my mind I was going to write a horror blog for Halloween. Well that was the plan…
When you arrive at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston you have to walk round to the back where you find the blue door and small sign. Then you knock on the door and wait for entry. It is so exciting. When that door opens it is the most weird and wonderful experience, floor to ceiling crammed with mementos, memorabilia, props and costumes.
Mattie Faint, the genial host and gallery director is full of passion and compassion for his clowning heritage and it would be completely wrong of me to sell this one short as a horror story (although still a little bit tempting).
In truth I loved the completely bonkers Clown Egg Collection, originally begun by Stan Bult in the 1940s they are currently on their 3rd egg artist. Each egg records a member of Clowns International –
“The eggs are not just a record of the clowns facial makeup but an actual portraiture in miniature” In addition to paint, the artist uses samples of the clown’s costume material and wig hair to produce an eggs-act match (sorry). – Clowns International
Actually if you compare egg to clown, (or clown to egg, whichever you prefer) there is a striking similarity.
Mattie tells me all about Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) born in London to Italian immigrants, he is the father of modern clowning. Buried nearby, his grave is a popular site of pilgrimage. The Holy Trinity Church is in fact much more than simple host to this collection, it holds the annual church service in honour of Grimaldi on the first Sunday in February when clowns gather from around the country and beyond to honour his memory.
If there were any last vestiges of cynicism or wish to turn my blog into something of a cheap thrill it is totally gone with a knock at the door. In come two travellers, they are dressed in their clown gear and have travelled from Europe to honour Grimaldi. They have even brought a giant sunflower as a gift. I know what you are thinking, all this blog needs is more clowns. Cups of tea are offered round and this is honestly the weirdest afternoon I have ever spent in a museum.
I could go on to tell you more about Grimaldi, about his costume in the Museum of London, which is rather wonderful. But who wants to talk about proper accredited, “do it by the book” museums, when I can leave you with the deliciously mad, randomness of the Clown’s Gallery and Museum in Dalston.
A special thanks has to go to Mattie Faint, however much I started wanting this to be a horror show, your passion and enthusiastic custodianship means I just can’t do it. I have no qualms about encouraging you, dear reader, into the crypt, because sometimes all the best museums keep all their best things down in the dark.
***** Some of the Clown Egg Collection is currently on display at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle till 2nd June 2019 https://discoverymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/circus-show-of-shows ******
For more information on the Clowns Gallery and Museum including opening times please see the website – http://www.clownsgallery.co.uk/index.htm
Time Out – https://londonist.com/london/clown-gallery