- a circus by another name
The circus as we know it was created in 1768 by cavalryman turned trick horse-rider Philip Astley. From humble beginnings giving open air performances on a patch of land south of Westminster Bridge, Astley built one of London’s most celebrated venues - Astley's Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts, later simply known as Astley’s - by mixing horse-riding stunts with clowns, acrobats, strongmen and other acts that make up the traditional circus bill. Astley established the still-standard size of the circus ring at 42-feet in diameter.
But although regarded as the father of the circus, Astley didn’t name his entertainment as such.
The first circus to use the name, in 1792, was the rival Royal Circus and Equestrian Philharmonic Academy in nearby Blackfriars Road. The Royal Circus was popularised by showman and star rider Charles Hughes who made important contributions to the history of circus in his own right. It was Hughes who introduced circus to Russia, and a pupil of his, Bill Ricketts, who founded the first American circus.
But the man credited with resurrecting the word circus from its Roman origins, when it graced amphitheatres such as the Circus Maximus, was Hughes’ partner in the Royal Circus, Charles Dibdin, a theatre manager and composer best remembered for writing Poor Tom Browning which is still aired at the proms today.
For the full history of the circus, plus interviews with acrobats, clowns, sword-swallowers, tiger trainers, clowns and showmen about their lives, culture, superstitions and secrets, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus by Douglas McPherson
Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.