"Gringalet Theatre" Clock
Spelter (bronzed zinc) clock with two separate figures (27 h)
‘THEATRE GRINGALET / THIS EVENING / GRAND REPRESENTATION’ (on a sign above the stage)
The central section and its two figures Bought by Richard Bebb from J. Webb, an antique dealer in Waldon Road, Gospel Oak, London, 1958; the two side figures [since stolen] were found some two years later in an antique shop in East Finchley.
The replacement side figures were the property of Alfred Denville and were presented to the Garrick Club by Terence Denville Esq., 2001
The collection of Alfred Denville, until his death in 1955; Illustrated in Elizabethe Corathiel, "Beginnings of English Repertory; the Work of Alfred Denville", in 'Theatre World', date unknown
The piece takes the form of a theatre, with a chained monkey sitting on the notice above the proscenium. In front, on the ‘stage,’ the clock itself is in the form of a drum balanced on two costume boxes. A showman in eighteenth-century dress - probably Gringalet - shouts to attract the public, while he clashes cymbals and raises a stick to beat the drum. Opposite him, Colombine beckons, holding a tambourine. The two independent side figures are Harlequin with his baton and Pierrot ringing a bell, who also invite us to ‘roll up.’ Three steps lead down from the planked stage. A pendulum, suspended from the mechanism of the clock, suggests that it was intended to be mounted at a height, on a wall. There is a key to wind the clock.
A farceur who adopted the name Gringalet - meaning puny or scrawny - performed at the Hotel de Bourgogne in the early part of the seventeenth century. The appellation became a generic term for a farceur of this type. The Gringalet of the clock is a clown who played on the Boulevard du Temple in the last years of the French Empire. The monkey is probably an allusion to a famous sketch ‘Academy of the wise monkeys.’ See the “Grand Dictionnaire Universal Larousse” and Victor Fournel “Les Spectacles populaires et les artistes des rues” (1863).
On his presentation of the replacement side figures, Terence Denville provided a copy of the article about his grandfather, Alfred and his clock:
"In a long-disused attic over the Cock Tavern in Fleet Street… a little curiosity was unearthed… a bronze clock, set in a frame representing a curtained façade, over which appeared the words: 'Theatre Gringalet: This evening, Grand Representation.'"
This clock of which both the Bebb Collection version and that of Mr Denville are replicas, takes the form of the barker's drum perched on trunks with four figures and a monkey perched above.
Mr Denville is quoted in the article saying that "the Gringalet Theatre, according to the tradition in my family… came to England in the 18th century and was the first 'travelling theatre' in this country - that is to say, it started the fashion for booths, which used to follow the country fairs around, giving performances on village greens.
"The figurines belonging to the clock are the dramatis personæ of what was, until the beginning of the present century, a most popular entertainment known as 'The Dumb Ballet'. The characters were Columbine, her father (the 'barker'), her lover, the sailor, and the Simpkin, or Country Bumpkin, who provided the comic relief. Sometimes the monkey also played a part - he would crack nuts, for instance, and the fun arose when the human characters, in the following scene, had to give an exact imitation of the monkey's motions. Everything was done in dumb show to dance rhythm - not a word spoken - and the audience was kept in fits of laughter from beginning to end. It was really from this entertainment that the word 'pantomime' was derived, and the four characters were undoubtedly the originals of Clown, Pantaloon, Harlequin and Columbine."