Project celebrates 'father of modern circus'

"This project will give people of all ages wonderful opportunities to get involved and develop skills, whilst learning about our circus heritage."

Professor Marc Jones, Director of Research

Staffordshire University is collaborating with a number of local organisations to celebrate the life of 'the father of the modern day circus', Philip Astley.

The Philip Astley Project has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £167,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to commemorate the achievements of Astley, who was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in 1742.

The son of a cabinetmaker, he grew up to become a master equestrian, entrepreneur, war hero, pioneer and showman. In 1768, Astley created the first 42ft diameter circus ring, still the standard size used in circus across the world today.

The project was formed in 2015 to raise awareness within Newcastle-under-Lyme and as a result increase residents' pride in their own heritage. 2018 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of modern day circus and thanks to money raised by National Lottery players and sponsorship from businesses based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, local people will be able to get involved in workshops, talks, an exhibition and performances led by young people. Activities will begin in 2017, leading up to a large heritage learning event in 2018.

The Philip Astley Project will be working closely with local and national partners, including the V&A Museum, members of the Circus 250 and the New Vic Theatre's Circus Past, Present and Future project, supported by Arts Council England.

Local people have already been involved in developing the project, giving feedback and suggestions at pilot activities including a Staffordshire Film Archive Film screening and a summer exhibition at the Brampton Museum.

Professor Marc Jones, Director of Research at Staffordshire University's Institute for Research and Knowledge Exchange said: "Staffordshire University are proud to be working with local and national partners to deliver this important project in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Our consultation to date has shown very high levels of interest in finding out about Philip Astley and celebrating his important legacy. This project will give people of all ages wonderful opportunities to get involved and develop skills, whilst learning about our circus heritage."

Andrew Van Buren, steering group member, added: “When you consider what William Shakespeare has done for Stratford-upon-Avon, then what can Philip Astley do for Newcastle-under-Lyme.”

To find out more about The Philip Astley Project and the planned heritage learning opportunities, contact Kat Evans, Project Manager on



*The following organisations are represented on the Philip Astley Project steering group: Staffordshire University, the Brampton Museum, the New Vic Theatre, Appetite, the Van Buren Organisation, Newcastle-under-Lyme College, Staffordshire Film Archive, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District, the Friends of the Brampton Museum, Newcastle-under-Lyme Civic Society, Keele University, Staffordshire Libraries and Information Services.