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Philip Astley

Person  Male  Born 8/1/1742  Died 20/10/1814

Categories: Animals, Theatre

Equestrian performer and circus proprietor. Born Newcastle under Lyme. Aged 17 he joined the 15th Light Dragoons where he developed an exceptional ability breaking and riding horses. Discharged as a sergeant-major in 1766 he found work at a riding school in Islington. In 1767, as the 'English Hussar', he opened his own riding school in an open field near Glover's Halfpenny Hatch and there presented his first open-air performance on Easter Monday 4th April 1768. His innovation was to ride in a circle, providing continuous entertainment to a fixed audience. Previous such performers had ridden in a straight line which was much less satisfactory, both to the audience and to anyone trying to sell tickets.

Chris Barltrop of the Centre for Circus Culture has researched the old maps and he says the location of this field was about the middle section of Roupell Street. Astley's wife Patty took an active role: often performing riding tricks herself, as well as collecting the entrance fees and performing drum-rolls.

Success meant they could employ other acrobats, musicians and clowns. In 1769 they bought a timber yard and that became Astley's Amphitheatre. His shows were a challenge to the licenced theatre monopoly for which his was arrested but his case contributed to changes in the system. Astley toured his circus around Britain and France. His son, John, starred as a horseback dancer. Astley published 'Astley's System of Equestrian Education' Died in Paris where he is buried.

It would be a fair assumption that Astley had given up his horseback acrobatics by the time he posed for this picture.

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Philip Astley

Information Commemorated at

Astley's Circus

The plaque is no longer there and actually looks like it was not intended to ...

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Astley's first venue

Easter Monday in 1768 was 4 April. The plaque was erected by the Lambeth Esta...

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