North Staffordshire will come alive in 2018, with a year-long programme of exciting events in honour of Philip Astley. Who is he and why are we celebrating?

The Original Ringmaster

Newcastle-under-Lyme's Philip Astley is one of the world's greatest ever showmen - he's the man who came up with the modern circus exactly 250 years ago this year.

In 1768, a few years after returning from the Seven Years War as a decorated war hero, he embraced his love of horses and trick riding by opening a riding school to showcase his skills to a live audience.

Unlike other trick riders, he rode in a circle, and came up with the 42m diameter ring still used in today's circuses. It was the perfect size - big enough for horses to get to a gallop, but still small enough to everyone in the audience to see the action.

Developing the modern circus

His shows captured the public's imagination and he added clowns to keep crowds amused between displays.

He would later add jugglers, acrobats, tightrope walkers and other performers - now considered circus staples - to the bill. 

International success followed, with performances for royalty including Louis XV in 1772, global tours, and 18 other amphitheatres across Europe. His circus featured in the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and other renowned authors. 

No wonder he became known as the Father of the Modern Circus!

The 2018 celebrations

This year will see a host of film screenings, talks, exhibitions, and live theatre performances across Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Venues will include the Brampton Museum, the New Vic Theatre and Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre, which will host the huge AstleyFest arts extravaganza in August.

Keep an eye on our What's On listings for more details.

Images/video courtesy of the Van Buren Organisation, Clara Lou Photography and The Philip Astley Project.

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