Organisations collaborate to celebrate the life of Philip Astley

A number of local organisations that are working in collaboration to form The Philip Astley Project have been granted £167,000 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to celebrate the life of ‘the father of the modern day circus’, Philip Astley.

Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in 1742, Philip Astley was the son of a cabinetmaker who 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. He also introduced the mix of jugglers, acrobats and clowns into the shows. Despite Astley’s status as ‘the father of modern day circus’, there is limited knowledge locally of Astley.

To raise awareness of Astley’s life and achievements, organisations including Staffordshire University, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme College, the Van Buren Organisation, Keele University, Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District (BID) and the New Vic Theatre formed The Philip Astley Project – Celebrating the Father of Modern Day Circus in 2015 to raise awareness within Newcastle-under-Lyme and, as a result increase residents’ pride in their own heritage.

Local people have already been involved in developing the project, giving feedback and suggestions at pilot activities including a Staffordshire Film Archive screening and a summer exhibition at the Brampton Museum. Using the information gathered, Staffordshire University submitted a successful second stage HLF application to engage with over 9,000 local individuals, increasing their knowledge of Astley’s legacy and pride in Newcastle’s 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.

Chair of The Philip Astley Project steering group and Cllr for the Keele Ward, Wenslie Naylon said:

“All steering group members are thrilled that we have support from the HLF. Their support will help us to achieve our objectives which are to ultimately raise awareness of Philip Astley in his birth town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. We have lots of activities planned in the near future, where anybody and everybody is welcome to get involved to find out more about Astley’s legacy.”

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