The Philip Astley Project – Using heritage for town regeneration

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Philip Astley (1742-1814) is known internationally as the ‘father of the modern-day circus’, but his roots in Newcastle-under-Lyme are less recognised, both in the circus world and in his hometown. Previous efforts to harness this connection to anchor tourism and business development were difficult to sustain. In preparing for the 250th anniversary of the modern circus in 2018, efforts redoubled. A Steering Group, led by Staffordshire University, and including a range of local partners initiated the Heritage Lottery (HLF) funded Philip Astley Project.


The Philip Astley Project (2017-2018) increased local knowledge and awareness of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s historical link to circus. Public engagement and co-production, at the heart of the research strategy, delivered social, cultural and economic benefits:

• Almost 29,000 people were involved in 47 events, including an exhibition based on co-produced research attended by 16,700 people as visitors. This benefited the town with a visitor figure increase of 41.5% on the previous year (June-August 2017/18). 

• At the project’s completion, awareness of Astley and his link to Newcastle-under-Lyme increased from 11% to 56% in the town’s residents. 

• The research insights were curated into a publicly available Resource Pack so future generations can enjoy learning about Astley.

The Philip Astley Project – Using heritage for town regeneration 

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