On 4th August 2018 Newcastle-under-Lyme saw the first ever AstleyFest – a new festival celebrating the father of the modern circus in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. The festival started with a bang at 11:30am in Newcastle town centre where people proudly paraded their Astley themed flags, which had been made by community groups, schools and organisations getting together and sharing their skills in the weeks leading up to the festival. These eye-catching flags paraded through the town alongside the antique jesters did just the trick that they did back in Astley’s day – people’s curiosity was piqued, and they started to join the parade heading through the town centre and towards Lyme Valley Park to join in the circus themed fun.
Approximately 7,000 visitors came AstleyFest learning something new about the local heritage of Newcastle-under-Lyme and being wowed by the spectacles on offer. The acts included Andrew Van Buren’s Magic of Astley magic show, interactive walkabout Jesters by Acrojou, The Stilt Ringmaster by Artizani , The Coldstream Guards 1815 and 5/60th Rifles, Circus Sensible, Thingamabob PanGottic Circus-Theatre and an array of Astley inspired workshops that saw big kids and little kids alike trying their hand at juggling, plates spinning and hula-hooping – just to name a few. Mixing within the crowds was the cast of Astley’s Outstanding Adventures who delighted festival goers with their comedic acting, and some visitors even bumped into Philip Astley himself. The brand-new theatre production Roll up Roll up, produced by The New Vic Theatre for AstleyFest, had two sell out shows that were both received very well. There really was something for everyone as these amazing acts were topped off with street food, art stalls, and even a blacksmith. Visitors could also find the Heritage Lottery Fund stall and Philip Astley information stall which ensured that people wanting to dive deeper into the heritage of Newcastle-under-Lyme, the circus and the Philip Astley Project could.
The event attracted people from the circus trade, or with a specialist interest in the circus, along with locals looking a good family day out. It was a huge hit and a festival the likes that Newcastle-under-Lyme has never seen before, it was great success that we hope will continue year on year. Thank you to our sponsors and The Heritage Lottery Fund for helping us to make this happen.