2018 is the 250th anniversary of the creation of the modern circus by Staffordshire's own Philip Astley, and there are a host of events this summer to help celebrate our greatest showman!

Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742, Astley was the man who came up with the 42ft circus ring, added clowns and acrobats to the bill, and, in his red military regalia as a former Sergeant Major, became the very first ringmaster.

His hometown is one of the six Cities of Circus for 2018, and the setting for great days out throughout the summer, including these highlights:

The Homecoming

The annual outdoor circus extravaganza, The Homecoming, will return to the streets of Newcastle town centre on Saturday 30th June.

From 10.30am, the town will be a hive of activity with entertainment from the likes of Merry Maker, the poet regaling passersby with personal raps, The Giant Balloon Show packed with laughs, and Avanti Display's performance art with buckets.

And for the first time this year, Homecoming by Night extends the celebrations into the evening, with entertainment at venues across town from 6pm.

Performances include Down Up by Arron Sparks, a show about yo-yos, and Pub by Molly Orange, featuring a landlord and landlady duo and the most amazing bar room tricks you've ever seen!

Image courtesy Clara Lou Photography.

Philip Astley: His Life & Legacy

A free 12 week exhibition, Philip Astley: His Life and Legacy continues its run at the Brampton Museum until Sunday 15th July.

Through fascinating displays of circus prints, posters, costumes and archive material from the Victoria & Albert Museum's Theatre and Performance Collection, it reveals all about the great man and his journey from Newcastle cabinet-maker, to war hero, and how he became the world's greatest showman!

There's also a recreation of Astley's Amphitheatre, his Lambeth venue which featured in works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and other literary heavyweights of the time.

This excellent exhibition explains Astley's connections to Staffordshire, and how the county shaped his early life and amazing career.

Astley's Astounding Adventures

Billed as the New Vic Theatre's most ambitious show ever, this brand new production opens on July 7th and runs until the 28th.

Combining breath-taking action, hilarious comedy and gripping drama, Astley's Astounding Adventures tells the story of Astley and his wife Patty, on their journey from humble beginnings in Staffordshire to entertaining royalty around the world.

There are regular performances throughout July, with some matinees and interpreted shows, and a special event on July 21st which includes a behind-the-scenes tour with directors Theresa Heskins and Ellie Taylor.

Tickets are available from the New Vic Theatre website.


An outdoor photography exhibition curated by the Victoria & Albert Museum, in collaboration with the New Vic Theatre and Appetite Stoke, CIRCUS! opened in April and will be available to see in Newcastle's Red Lion Square until Tuesday 7th August.

An engrossing look at the 250-year history of the modern circus, the exhibition features prints, drawings and photographs from the museum's collection, focussing on the most remarkable acts and characters of the artform.


Celebrate Astley's life and legacy with circus performances, workshops, equestrian shows, military enactments and more at AstleyFest, a brand new free event at Lyme Valley Park on Saturday 4th August (12pm-5pm).

Admire the astonishing live magic of Andrew van Buren, enjoy the feel-good comedy of Circus Sensible, and witness the internationally-acclaimed mayhem from intrepid inventor PanGottic.

Learn plate-spinning, juggling, and a host of other circus skills in the workshops at the Astley Activity Circle.

Recharge watching one of the walkabout acts like The Stilt Ringmaster and The Jesters or with a bite to eat from one of the tasty food stalls.

Image courtesy of Clara Lou Photography.

More Philip Astley events

There are also loads of talks, film screenings, and a new town trail featuring artworks and sculptures dedicated to Newcastle's favourite son.

Further details are available at The Philip Astley Project website.

Things to do in Newcastle-under-Lyme

The historic market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme has plenty to offer including peace and tranquility at the Dorothy Clive Garden, heritage trains at Apedale Valley Light Railway, local artists exhibiting at Trent Art and great live music at the Lymelight Music Festival and the Newcastle Jazz & Blues Festival.

You can find out more about things to do in Newcastle-under-Lyme, plus accommodation and great places to eat in our Ideas & Inspiration section.

How to get to Newcastle-under-Lyme

Newcastle-under-Lyme is close to Junctions 15 and 16 of the M6, so it's easy to get to by road. It's also approximately one hour's drive along the A50 to the M1.

There is no train station in Newcastle-under-Lyme. However, there is a mainline station nearby in Stoke-on-Trent which offers regular services to major cities and towns around the country.


Brampton Museum
Outside the Brampton Museum, Staffordshire

Brampton Museum consists of a number of galleries featuring collections telling the story of Newcastle-under-Lyme and its people from the Roman invasion onwards.

New Vic Theatre
New Vic Auditorium

A world famous theatre-in-the-round presenting plays, musicals, concerts, and more. Facilities include a restaurant, bars, and onsite parking.

Dorothy Clive Garden
Laburnhum Walk and Arch

Covering a total of 12 acres with woodland, waterfall, spring bulbs, rhododendrons, fabulous borders, alpine scree and gravel garden. Delicious food served in the tea room with views of 3 counties.

Apedale Valley Light Railway
Steam Railway
Stanhope engine

There is something for everyone at Apedale Valley Light Railway. Young and old will enjoy a great value trip on a narrow gauge steam or diesel train alongside the Apedale Community Country Park.