Celebrating 250 years of Circus

Jenny Parker

By: Jenny Parker | Date: 16/02/2018

Street performers

Say the word ‘circus’ to any one, even a young child, and they immediately know what you’re talking about. Even if you’ve never been to one, we all have our own idea of what a circus is. It’s a common theme found in stories from Dickens to Disney and is a form of entertainment that’s been around for ages, but just for how long exactly?

250 years to be precise and it all started right here in England. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the circus as we know it today and the chap credited with creating this worldwide phenomenon is Philip Astley, a showman, entrepreneur and accomplished horse rider.

Hollywood might have you believe with their recent movie release “The Greatest Showman” that P.T Barnum was the impresario behind it all but his version of the circus didn’t appear until 1871.

It all began way back in 1768 when Astley opened his own riding school near Westminster Bridge in London. There he would put on displays of trick riding where he rode in a circle rather than a straight line as his rivals did. A couple of years later he brought in jugglers, acrobats and clowns to fill in the pauses between the riding displays and so the circus was born.

To celebrate the anniversary of this British born art form there will be a UK wide celebration focused around the Six Cities of Circus – Bristol, Blackpool, Norwich & Great Yarmouth, Newcastle-under-Lyme, London and Belfast & Derry. To find out more visit the Circus250 website.

Circus250 events will be happening throughout the year and we’re doing our bit to celebrate over February Half term from 10 – 25 Feb. Most modern day circuses focus on the amazing agility and skills of its acrobats, trapeze artists and jugglers and we’ll be doing just that by testing our visitor’s physical skills such as balance, hand-eye coordination, concentration, strength, stamina, spatial awareness, fitness and flexibility as they try out a range of circus skills.

We’ll have live performances too from fire juggler, street performer and entertainer extraordinaire, ‘The Great Mandavi’ from 12 – 23 Feb and Circus Sensible will be here on 10/11, 24/25 Feb with their entertaining family show blending circus skills, audience participation and silliness!

So ‘roll up, roll up’ and join us this half term and be a part of a 250 year long tradition.

Quick circus history facts:

  • Astley’s London amphitheatre used a 42 foot diameter arena – the standard size of circus rings around the world today.
  • When he retired from performing, Astley created the role of Equestrian Director – or Ringmaster.
  • The word ‘circus’ comes from Latin where it was adapted from the ancient Greek work ‘kirkos’ meaning circle

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