181 years ago today the most famous clown of them all, Joseph Grimaldi, died at his home in Pentonville.
Every year on this day, Clowns International lays a wreath at his grave - it's in Joseph Grimaldi park on Pentonville Road, once the burial ground of St James, Pentonville - in tribute to the man who devised harlequinade, donned the white face paint, and started the tradition of the comic/ melancholic clown.
Grimaldi was the biggest draw of his era, performing particularly at Drury Lane and at Sadlers Wells, He was a stage clown not a circus clown, and the injuries he sustained in his act - alongside a quarrelsome nature and incipient alcoholism - brought an early end to his stage career.
In the 1830s he moved to Southampton Street (now Calshot Street) on the north side of Pentonville Road. Grimaldi popped in most evenings to his local, the Marquis of Cornwallis, and when he lost the use of his legs, the landlord carried him to and fro on his back.
On the evening of May 31st 1837, Grimaldi was carried home as usual. The next morning he was found dead in his room.
There were just five clowns (still sometimes known as Joeys, after Grimaldi) at the graveside today to lay a wreath, raise a laugh, blow a whistle, do a conjuring turn and perform a comic shuffle.
In another corner of the former burial ground there's a curious coffin-shaped (really!) musical installation in tribute to Grimaldi - though it turns out that neither this, nor the gravestone, marks the precise burial spot:
Hot Codlins, Grimaldi's top tune, were baked apples which, 200 years ago, you could buy from street vendors.
Did I say there that no one around today knows how Hot Codlins goes? Wrong!!
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