...the year modern circus began

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Bringing together acrobats, clowns and trick riders in a 42-foot diameter ring, for over 40 years, Astley entertained both high society and the general public with a series of acts that combined risky and tense displays of skill with comic relief. Astley himself was at the heart of these performances, simultaneously riding up to three horses whilst performing ever more daring tricks.

In 1768, Astley acquired “Ha’Penny Hatch” a small piece of land on the south bank of the Thames between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge. In 1770, Astley established the first of his amphitheatres. Astley’s Amphitheatre – and his promotional skills – captured the public’s imagination. Building on his success, Astley toured across Europe and had particular success in Paris, performing for Louis XV at Versailles.

How did he do it?

What is The Philip Astley Project?

Collaborate to celebrate

The Philip Astley Project was formed in 2015 to celebrate Philip Astley in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and beyond. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, and sponsorship from businesses based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, local people will be able to get involved in workshops, talks, an exhibition, and performances.

The Philip Astley Project is managed by Staffordshire University on behalf of a steering group of local arts, heritage, statutory and educational institutions. The project runs from May 2017 to December 2018.

250 years of circus

Circus 250 logo2018 is the 250th anniversary of the modern circus. Performances, exhibitions and activities will be taking place throughout the UK to mark this important anniversary. Newcastle-under-Lyme is proud to be one of six key locations identified by the national Circus 250 network. To coordinate activities, The Philip Astley Project is working closely with local and national partners, including the V&A Museum and the New Vic Theatre’s Circus Past, Present and Future project, supported by Arts Council England.

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Upcoming Events

Circus Film Season: The Greatest Show on Earth

Ray Johnson MBE presents ... The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Director Cecil B De Mille). Cecil B De Mille's multi-Oscar-winning epic filmed in the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey 3-Ring Circus. Starring Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Gloria Grahame, ...

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Circus Film Season: La Strada

Ray Johnson MBE presents ... La Strada (1957, Director Federico Fellini). Described by the American Film Institute  as "one of the most influential films ever made", come and watch Federico Fellini's Oscar-winning classic, Starring Anthony Quinn, Richard Baseheart, Guiletta Masina. Mingling elements of biography, metaphor ...

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Circus Film Season: The Van Buren Story

  A story of magic and illusion spanning the decades - packed with photos and rare film footage - produced by Ray Johnson. From creating the act in a circus, through touring all types of venue in the 1950s to the international and ...

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Talk: Son of Newcastle-under-Lyme, father of the modern day circus

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742... or was he? Since 2015, staff and volunteers at the Brampton Museum have been researching Philip Astley's early life and his family's link to North Staffordshire. The dedicated research team have followed in ...

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