A park was on the way between my hotel and King’s Cross. A park with a familiar name but one of those names that doesn’t ring a bell but that you still think you know what it is. The park I’m mentioning here is called Joseph Grimaldi Park, and it’s named after the person that many consider being the world’s most famous clown, the great Joseph Grimaldi.
The first time I walked through the park to get faster to a subway station, all I could see were the gravestones around a basketball court. I wondered about how weird that looked and took some pictures.
Once I returned to the hotel, I researched and realized the importance of this small park close to Pentonville Road in Islington, north London.
Some info about the Joseph Grimaldi Park
But, before there was a Joseph Grimaldi Park, the place used to be the former burial ground for St James’s Episcopal Chapel. Yeah, this park used to be a cemetery. This is why the gravestones are there.
Today, they create a weird combination of life and death that everyone can see while they play basketball or just sit down to have lunch in this green area in Islington.
The burial grounds date back to the 18th century when St James’s Episcopal Chapel came to be built. By the late 19th century, the grounds were converted into a public garden. A few decades after this, the church building became redundant and was demolished.
Today, there’s an office building where the church used to be.
When the graveyard was turned into a park, Joseph Grimaldi’s grave remained enclosed with railings and those masks popularized in theater plays. But most people don’t even know who Joseph Grimaldi was. Fewer people should be aware of a park in his memory in north London.
Who was Joseph Grimaldi?
Joseph Grimaldi was the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. He was an actor, a comedian, and a dancer, but he was more than all these things. Joseph Grimaldi is the person most people consider responsible for creating the clown that we know nowadays.
In the early 19th century, he expanded the role and functions of the clown in the British pantomimes. You could see his show at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Sadler’s Wells, and the cheaters around Covent Garden. Joseph Grimaldi’s character became so dominant in the London comic stage that the role of the clown became known as “Joey.””
He became so famous that his white make-up design is still used today.
His importance on the comic stage is still felt to this day, so every 31st of May, devotees of the world’s most famous clown go to Joseph Grimaldi Park to celebrate his memory. I won’t be in London on that day to take pictures of this peculiar gathering, but you can see some photos of the meeting in 2012 on Spitalfields Life blog.
To visit Joseph Grimaldi’s grave and the park with his name, you must find your way into King’s Cross and walk north on Pentonville Road.
The park can be seen on the left side of the road, between Cumming Street and Rodney Street.
Joseph Grimaldi Park in North London: where the world’s most famous clown is buried
11 Collier St, London N1 9JU, UK