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Sir Peter Blake logo projected on to significant buildings throughout the country

UK Lights up to Celebrate First Day of Circus 250 Years Ago

On 9 January, 1768 equestrian, entrepreneur and showman Philip Astley drew out a ring and filled it with astonishing acts – tumblers, horses, acrobats, jugglers, clowns.

Newcastle-under-Lyme born Astley created the first circus and every circus, anywhere in the world, began at that moment.

Indeed, the 42ft-diameter ring that Astley created is still used today.

To mark 250 years on the day since the birth of circus the UK’s Cities of Circus – Newcastle-under-Lyme, Bristol, Blackpool, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, Belfast/Derry - are each projecting the Sir Peter Blake Circus250 logo on to a significant building on 9 January:

Here’s where and when:-

Newcastle-under-Lyme, the Guildhall, High Street – from 4.30pm

Blackpool Tower Building – 4pm to 7pm

Derry Walls, Opposite Guildhall Square, Derry -  from 6pm

Hippodrome Great Yarmouth - Britain's last surviving total circus building – from 5pm. 

Norwich Castle in the city centre, clearly visible from Castle Meadow, Norwich Market and City Hall – 4pm to 10pm

Bristol, We The Curious, Anchor Road, Harbourside – 11am

Andrew said: “When you consider what William Shakespeare has done for Stratford upon Avon, then what can Philip Astley do for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Astley is our Shakespeare.”

His father is Fred Van Buren, a noted illusionist now aged 85, who as a young boy actually ran away to join the circus in Sandbach and went on to raise awareness of Philip Astley locally in 1981.

It was through his father that Andrew not only learned to love the circus, but also developed a keen interest in Astley.

Andrew who along with Councillor Wenslie Naylon founded the Philip Astley Project said: “Newcastle is Astley’s home town and I am delighted that people are finally waking up to the fact and celebrating this with events not just here but also across the country and world. Both the Hungarian Budapest Circus Festival & Monte Carlo Circus Festival have agreed to celebrate Philip Astley this year”

 These Six Cities of Circus – Bristol, Blackpool, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, Newcastle-under-Lyme, London, Belfast and Derry – will glitter with bedazzling shows, amazing exhibitions, remarkable festivals and breath-taking events.

Contemporary and traditional circuses, museums, theatres and archives will celebrate the 250th anniversary of this spectacular born-in-Britain art form.

Sir Tony Robinson, actor, historian, broadcaster and Circus250 Champion, says, “It’s wonderful to see 250 years of circus being celebrated UK wide in 2018, including in my own city of City of Circus - Bristol. Circus doesn’t only happen in the ring. Actors like me are influenced by circus, alongside artists, filmmakers, comedians, mime artists and writers. It has a proud past, vibrant present, and, I’m certain, a fabulous future. It’s also huge fun.

“From Bristol to Blackpool and Belfast, we’re going to gasp, cry, laugh, whoop and be startled at 100s of events. Circus250 in 2018 isn’t only going to be the greatest show; it’s going to be the best fun.”

In Newcastle-under-Lyme, birthplace of Philip Astley:

Astley’s Astounding Adventures – specially commissioned for Circus250 year - opens at the New Vic Theatre in July.

NoFit State circus premieres their new in-the-ring show LEXICON under their big top in March and The Philip Astley Project will host a series of events and talks about circus’s founding father.


In Bristol, home to more circus companies than any other British city:

The Royal West of England Academy Circus250 exhibition ‘Sawdust and Sequins’ opens in March – an extraordinary collection of contemporary circus-inspired art, accompanied by performance from Bristol circus school Circomedia.


In Norwich, birthplace of famous 19th century black circus proprietor Pablo Fanque, and Great Yarmouth, home to the Hippodrome, Britain’s only surviving complete circus building:

The Lord Mayor’s Celebrations feature a circus parade with life-sized elephant puppets winding through the streets in July and ‘Famished’, the new show by Norwich-based Lost in Translation, opens. 

The Hippodrome is producing four world class circus shows, with its Summer Spectacular themed around the Circus250 celebrations. Its backstage museum is open throughout the year.


In Blackpool, home of the Tower Circus staging shows since 1894:

The town comes alive with circus celebrations, from the traditional Tower Circus to the cutting edge Grundy Gallery.


In Derry and Belfast, throughout the Troubles circus schools were places where the two communities met to create great work.

Derry’s flagship ​festival Carnival of Colours will celebrate vintage circus and Belfast’s own Tumble Circus will be performing in the big top.

Last updated 8 January 2018