Circus 250

Circus 250 celebrates the birth of Circus right here in the UK 250 years ago.

It all happened 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 will be marked in 2018 by a UK-wide celebration. Museums, filmmakers, designers, theatres, orchestras, schools, libraries and circuses will all join in – circus is everywhere and for everyone.

Circus250 is 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.

Below are a list of events being held in Bristol as part of #circus250 which will be updated throughout the year.





September 29th – January 6th
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery Queens Rd Bristol BS8 1R

Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!

Tumble into the wonderful world of clowning, explore what makes a great clown and step into their gigantic shoes.Discover the origins of clowning and unveil the personal, hilarious and often bizarre stories of the people beneath the colourful exterior.

To celebrate 250 years of circus, we’ve created an exhibition of stunning costume, fascinating archives and intriguing clown eggs, thanks to Clowns International and the London Clown Gallery-Museum.Clowns International has been painting the faces of its members on eggs for over 70 years. Each one is a record of a clown’s unique identity, preserving the unwritten rule that no clown should copy another’s look.Enter a surreal and interactive realm of light, colour, mirrors and clown cars – a place to try out circus skills and clown-around in costume.



Circomedia’s Youth Circus and students from Orchard School, Horfield have been investigating Bristol’s own circus heritage from St James’s Fair to Bristol becoming a Circus City. Working with Meyers-Insole Local Learning and in partnership with Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and University of Bristol Theatre Collection young people have been looking into the archives to pinpoint where circus happened, the characters and stories that made Bristol a City of Circus. Supported by a team of volunteer academics and funded by Heritage Lottery Young Roots the resulting exhibition will be launched at the Museum at Night on October 25th. It will then tour to the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection, Creative Youth Network, Bristol Cathedral, The Central Library as well as Circomedia.

October 2018 – January 2019 touring venues throughout the city.

Museum at Night: Circus Spectacular – 

Thursday October 25th 2018

Circomedia, Portland Square – 

Friday October 27th – Sunday November 11th 2018

The University of Bristol Theatre Collection – 

Monday November 12th – Friday November 30th  2018

The Fire Station, Creative Youth Network –

Saturday December 1st – Saturday December 29th 2018

Bristol Cathedral, College Green –

Monday January 7th – Sunday January 27th 2019

Bristol Central Library, College Green –

Monday January 28th – Monday February 25th 2019

The Circus Detectives’ research will then contribute to local history website: Know Your Place. If you would like to volunteer as part of this project, contact

This project is funded by Heritage Lottery Young Roots.

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