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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Astley

“Damn everything but the circus!”*…


250 years ago [this month], on an abandoned patch of land near London’s Waterloo, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground and filled it with astounding physical acts. This spectacle was the world’s very first circus. It was 1768, a time of revolutions, and poet William Blake could have been one of Astley’s first customers. But the real revolution Astley created was a whole new art form. His 42 foot ring, the dazzling combination of jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men, bareback riders… Every circus, anywhere, began at this moment in 1768.

250 years later, circus is a worldwide phenomenon. There’s barely an art form that isn’t touched by it – from Sir Peter Blake’s circus collages to cutting edge performance art. Every schoolchild can tell you what a circus is. Many of us would secretly like to run away and join one…

Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, what you are about to see will thrill you. It will chill you. It will keep you on the edge of your seat: “Circus 250.”

See also.

* e e cummings


As we bow to the Big Top, we might recall that it was on this date in 1145 that Pope Lucius II gifted the Circus Maximus to Rome’s wealthiest families.  It was an attempt to strengthen his alliance with the Guelfs and their faction in opposition to the Roman Senate and the emerging Roman Commune (all part of a larger conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor).

Pope Lucius II



Written by LW

January 31, 2018 at 1:01 am

Name that Town!…

One of the most frequently asked questions among new acquaintances (and random encounters) goes to origins: “where are you from?”

Lest one take one’s home for granted, the good folks at Purple Slinky have shared a list of “The Ten Longest Place Names in the World.”

Consider, for example, Number Two:


This place name has 85 letters and is the Maori name of a hill in New Zealand. It translates as: “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played on the flute to his loved one.”

The Longest?  Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit…  Or, as it’s more frequently called thereabouts, Krung Thep…  or in the West, Bangkok.

As we rethink bumper stickers as a marketing tool, we might consider teaching our dogs new tricks, as it was on this date, in 1768, that the first modern circus was staged.  Trick riders, acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other familiar components of the circus have existed throughout recorded history, but it was not until the late 18th century that the modern spectacle of the circus was born, when Philip Astley, a former British cavalry sergeant major, found that if he galloped in a tight circle, centrifugal force allowed him to perform seemingly impossible feats on a horse’s back. He drew up a,  ring in London and on January 9, 1768, invited the public to see him wave his sword in the air while he rode with one foot on the saddle and one on the horse’s head.

Astley’s trick riding was such a hit that he soon hired other equestrians, a clown, and musicians, and in 1770 built a roof over his ring– calling the structure Astley’s Amphitheatre.  In 1772, Astley went to Versailles to perform his “daring feats of horsemanship” before King Louis XV, and found France ripe for a permanent show of its own, which he founded in 1782.  But 1782 also saw a competitor in London set up shop just down the road from Astley’s Amphitheatre, calling his show the “Royal Circus,” after the Roman name for the circular theaters where chariot races were held.  While Astley, who lived till 1814, prevailed, and eventually established 18 other circuses in cities across Europe,   the term “circus” had,  by the 19th century, been adopted as a generic name for this new form of entertainment.

The circus came later to the western side of the Pond: English equestrian John Bill Ricketts opened the first American circus in Philadelphia in 1792; he later opened others in New York City and Boston.  President George Washington reportedly attended a Ricketts circus– and sold the company a horse.

The original “Big Top” (source: Tracy Chevalier)

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