250 years ago, 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.

The anniversary of this most pervasive, popular, born-in-Britain art form was marked in 2018 by a UK-wide celebration. Museums, filmmakers, designers, theatres, orchestras, schools, libraries and circuses all joined in – circus is everywhere and for everyone.

Since 2018 Circus250 has been all about enabling pioneering work, forging new partnerships, building new audiences and embedding circus at the heart of our culture – in the ground-breaking spirit of Astley.


CELEBRATE 250 years of circus throughout 2018 with performances, exhibitions, and events nationwide. There will be a one-month focus on each of the Six Cities of Circus between April and October.

PROMOTE Circus250 year-round celebrations with branding, website, social media, marketing, press and an explosion of attention on all the different and fabulous forms of circus.

COLLABORATE with a broad range of those who create and innovate in circus, and support collaboration with unexpected partners to enable exciting new work.

EDUCATE, through providing resources to schools and libraries to enable them to celebrate Circus250.

ADVOCATE how circus can be both enjoyed and experienced by everyone, by engaging with decision makers and bringing their attention to the benefits of circus activity and education. High profile Circus Champions will tell the story of the importance and influence of circus.

DEVELOP new audiences for circus, letting people know the many wonderful expressions of circus, cross-marketing contemporary and traditional circuses, so that audiences are introduced to circus wherever and however it appears.

EMBED circus in our artistic and educational experiences, so that everyone in the UK may know the many forms it takes, and the many ways in which they can take part and create.

And most of all SURPRISE. #Circus250 celebrates the past, but looks to the future. It’s a radical celebration. It seeks to astound.

Our Key Messages:

🎪 Circus is a fabulous art form, to be celebrated at the centre of our culture and in the heart of our communities, so that children will grow up feeling a sense of pride in the circus heritage of Britain, and that it’s something they can be part of and create anew.

🎪 Circus today takes many wonderful forms, but shares a common root.

🎪 Circus is everywhere – in our books, dance, music, art, play, theatre, film, design – not only in circuses. It inspires and informs.

🎪 Circus is diverse and boundary-breaking, in its past and present, its performers and its audiences. This is to be promoted, celebrated and nurtured.

🎪 Circus is good for you. It brings health, literacy, and wellbeing.

🎪 Circus250 enables and supports a step change in circus practice, bringing radical new expressions and experiments across the arts.

Our #Circus250 Champions are:

  • Sir Peter Blake
  • Rory Brendan a.k.a. Panti Bliss
  • Damian Dibben
  • Camille O’Sullivan
  • Sir Anthony ‘Tony’ Robinson
  • Yasmine Smart
  • Katherine Rundell
  • Reverend Richard Coles
  • Gabriel Byrne
  • Camille Souter
  • Little John Nee
  • John McColgan
My first encounter with live performance was a visit to the circus in Dublin.
Full of colour and laughter and drama.
I’ve never forgotten the thrill and magic of that first experience.
To this day I’ve retained a child’s love of circus.

Gabriel Byrne

Members of the #Circus250 Advisory Board:

Contact details:

Contact email: bigtop@circus250.org
UK: 07771 994496
0862 432107


PO Box 20479
SE17 3WF


Achill Island
Co Mayo

Circus250 is a Community Interest Company. 
PRIVACY POLICY available here.

Image credit: Houghton Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons