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.
Building on the work of Andrew Van Buren and his family The Philip Astley Project was officially formed with Cllr Wenslie Naylon in 2015, bringing together local groups, organisations and individuals to celebrate Philip Astley in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and beyond. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, and sponsorship from businesses and individuals based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, local people are able to get involved in workshops, talks, exhibitions, and performances.
The Philip Astley Project is managed by Staffordshire University on behalf of the steering group of local arts, heritage, statutory and educational institutions. The initial project focus ran from May 2017 to December 2018, but is now continuing through present day and onward into the future.
2018 was the 250th anniversary of Philip Astley starting the process of creating the modern circus, performances, exhibitions and activities took place throughout the UK to mark this important anniversary. Newcastle-under-Lyme was proud to be one of six key locations identified by the national Circus 250 network. To coordinate activities, The Philip Astley Project continues working closely with local and national partners, including the V&A Museum and the New Vic Theatre notably with their Circus Past, Present and Future project, supported by Arts Council England.