Apologies for the gap in blog articles. I have been in Jamaica for a holiday. It has been a long time in coming.
Astley’s Amphitheatre has a claim to fame – it boasts that it is the site of the first circus. The Romans might wish to argue this point with their gladiatorial contests but we shall settle that Astley’s was possibly one of the first modern circus locations.
It first opened in 1773 and was known as a place of entertainment and it is said that Philip Astley, a former cavalry officer, received his licence to open after helping to contain a runaway horse belonging to King George III. The structure was not an open-air facility as might be assumed but a circus ring set within an auditorium.
The first circus ring was approximately 19 metres across but later this was reduced to 13 metres which has become the standard size for circus rings ever since. It stood on Westminster Bridge Road just across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster.
It boasted a wide assortment of entertainments including acrobats, clowns, magicians and animal acts. The animals were said to include lions, kangaroos and penguins as well as many horses. There were also sword fights and other tableaux to entertain audiences.
There were a number of owners of the years. The final one was Lord George Sanger. He paid £11,000 for it in 1871. It was finally closed and torn down in 1893.