When Philip Astley and his trick riders performed in 1768 in a circle not a straight line in a field behind where Waterloo station is now, the idea of the circus ring was born. Matthew Sweet looks at the career of the impresario, his 42 foot diameter ring which is still the big top template and 250 years of circus with historian Vanessa Toulmin, performer Andrew Van Buren whose family have worked for 35 years to bring Astley’s name to greater public attention, writer Naomi Frisby whose research focuses on women’s bodies in relation to circuses and sideshows and Tom Rack, artistic director of NoFit State circus Circus250 is a celebration with events around the UK and Ireland.

Producer Torquil MacLeod.

Main Image: A performance in progress at theatrical manager and equestrian Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre, Surrey Road, London, opened in 1798. Photo by Edward Gooch / Getty Images.

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