The Crazy Clown Church Service That Happens In Hackney Every February

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago
The Crazy Clown Church Service That Happens In Hackney Every February
Two grinning clowns talk to one another
2023 marks the 77th Annual Grimaldi Clown Service. Image: iStock/AmandaLewis

Sniggering during a memorial service is usually frowned upon, but not so at the Annual Grimaldi Clown Service — where cracking up during the sermon is all part of the experience.

Since 1946, the country's clowns have put on their best slap, slipped into a pair of shoes that are nine times too big, and waddled their way to east London for the Annual Grimaldi Clown Service.

Born in 1778, Joseph Grimaldi popularised the role of clowns in traditional British pantomimes, as well as their slapstick capering, catchphrases, white make-up, and the traditional clown nickname "Joey". So indebted are modern day clowns to Grimaldi's antics, they still pay their dues to him every year (as well as to those in the clowning fraternity who've recently gone to that Great Circus in the Sky).

Grimaldi as "Joey" the Clown - a wine glass in one hand, a decanter in the other
Grimaldi as "Joey" the Clown. Image: public domain

The 77th Annual Grimaldi Service takes place on Sunday 5 February 2023, and, following two years of online services, is back at its usual haunt, All Saints Church in Haggerston. Members of the public are welcome to join, and it doesn't cost anything to attend.

If you've never been, you really should (unless 'It' really effed you up as a child, in which case you are excused). Prepare to watch a motley crew of jokers parade down the aisle, blowing bubbles, spraying water out of plastic buttonholes, and making balloon poodles while they do readings. Anarchic as it sounds (and it is), there's an oddly sober and respectable element to it all. The service is followed by a clown show, and photo ops.

Councillor Sade Etti, Deputy Speaker of Hackney Council, is welcomed to the Annual Clown Service by Bluebottle, also known as Tony Eldridge of Clowns International. All Saints Church, Haggerston, where clowns are holding a memorial to Joseph Grimaldi, known as the King of Clowns.
Anyone can attend the service, and it's free (just beware anyone who asks you to sniff their buttonhole). Image: iStock/AmandaLewis

For a better idea of what to expect, check out our video of a service from a few years back. And word of advice: don't go along with a rotten hangover; for some reason a church full of clowns make for an... intense experience.

Oh, you can also dance on Grimaldi's 'grave' in Islington — but that's another story.

77th Annual Grimaldi Service, All Saints Church in Haggerston, Sunday 5 February, starts 3pm (arrive sometime earlier — especially if you want to nab a pew), free.

Also on in London at the moment is DRÔLE: An Exhibition of Rare Clown Costume & Ephemera, at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, 11 January-11 February 2023.

Last Updated 11 January 2023

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