Clowning around in Staffordshire

Visitors to the Staffordshire market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, home of the man regarded as the ‘Father of the Modern Circus’, will have the chance to clown around at a host of family fun events this summer.

This year marks the 250thanniversary of the circus with commemorations right across the UK, but the modern version would never have happened without Newcastle-under Lyme’s very own Philip Astley.

Born in the town in 1742, this master equestrian and showman is regarded as the father of the modern circus after “inventing” the 42-foot diameter circus ring – which is still the standard size used today – and bringing together acrobats, clowns and trick riders for the first time in his show-stopping Astley’s Amphitheatre.

And as his home county continues a year of celebrations, this summer will see one of the highlights – a free family festival featuring a feast of hands-on circus treats.

Inspired by the astonishing acts, activities and acrobats that made Astley’s original circus so famous across the globe, AstleyFestbrings the circus home to Newcastle-under-Lyme. Coming to town on 4 August 2018, for one day only, AstleyFest will give thousands of people the chance to enjoy a free fun day out as well as bring Astley’s astounding story to life in Lyme Valley Park in the town.

Children and adults alike will love clowning around, trying their hand at circus skills and seeing awe-inspiring circus acts. Expect to be dazzled with a range of daring talent ‘entering the ring’ including circus performances, horse shows, military displays and hands-on activities. There will also be a tasty range of food stalls and stacks of fun ways to find out more about the man and the myth of Philip Astley.

Meanwhile during July at Newcastle’s New Vic Theatre – itself a famous theatre-in-the-round, reflecting Astley’s famous original circus ring – the extraordinary story of Philip Astley will take on new life in a theatrical extravaganza.

Astley’s Astounding Adventures (13 July to 28 July) is a brand new play, written by Staffordshire-born Frazer Flintham, which dramatises Astley’s journey from humble beginnings to international impresario. The New Vic’s most ambitious show ever, it will combine the thrill of the circus with the uniqueness of theatre-in-the-round. Filled with fast-paced action, humour, gripping drama and breathtaking circus spectacle, a large cast featuring faces familiar and new will bring to life this bold, colourful celebration of circus. (Tickets: £14.50 – £24,

And until 15 July, visitors to Newcastle’s Brampton Museum can discover more about Astley’s connection to Newcastle-under-Lyme and his early life during a free 12-week exhibition, Philip Astley – his life and legacy. Objects on loan include items from the V&A Museum’s Theatre and Performance Collection on public view in Staffordshire for the first time, while circus prints, posters and costumes reveal more about Astley’s life and how his career influenced the performing arts up to the present day.

As a mark of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s place in circus history, Britain’s first permanent circus monument now also welcomes visitors to the town, one of six “Cities of Circus” named for the anniversary year as part of Circus 250 celebrations.

It’s a story that is quite literally spreading across the world, with a memorial to Astley unveiled earlier this year by Prince Albert II and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco at the glittering 2018 Monte Carlo International Circus Festival.

Now, that tribute in Monaco has been joined by the UK’s first permanent monument dedicated to the circus. A series of bespoke 15ft metalwork sculptures featuring silhouettes of a ringmaster surrounded by two horses provides a lasting reminder of Astley’s circus legacy.

For more details on AstleyFest, see

And all other tourist information about the county is available at

[Astley’s Astounding Adventures Illustration by The Red Dress, Art Direction by Sam Charrington]