Chris Barltrop has followed the lead of the real Philip Astley and taken his show to Edinburgh.

The Serjeant-Major braved rocky, muddy roads on his long long journey to introduce Scotland to circus entertainment in 1772.  In his modern incarnation, Mr Astley took the M6 high road to reach the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in good time and comparative comfort.  

Thanks to the help of Martin Burton, founder and director of Cirque Berserk! and Zippo's Circus, Audacious Mr Astley was performed at the Pleasance Courtyard through the whole Fringe from 1st to 27th August. 

The show attracted enthusiastic comments and a five-star review!  The respected British Theatre Guide awarded the 5-star accolade and said: '...a fascinating story told in an engaging style...A delightful hour in the company of a fascinating man'.  

Professional reviewer Liz Arratoon, aka The Widow Stanton, said: ''Entertaining, informative, classy!'  And Dea Birkett of @Circus250 praised 'Warmth, knowledge, expertise'.

Mr Astley is up there with the best of 'em - as he's been for the past 250 years!


Wed 17th Oct at 19.30: ‘Off The Shelf’ literary festival, Sheffield University

Sat 10th Nov at 19.30: after-supper performance, the Falcon Hotel Bromyard HR7 4BT 01885 483034

Mon 12th Nov at 19.30: Regal Theatre Studio, Tenbury Wells WR15 8AE 01584 811442



14th September 2018 St Thomas’s Hospital London SE1 7EH

The Astleys found instant success with their performances in 1768 at Ha’penny Hatch, Lambeth Marsh (see separate article under our Stories menu). From 1769, they performed at a former timber yard on the south side of Westminster Bridge. As time went on, the site was developed to be The Royal Grove, and later under a title which found the most enduring fame - Astley’s Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts.

Described by Dickens, recorded by Austen and Thackeray, rebuilt twice after disastrous fires, the Amphitheatre was a much-loved London resort until its final closure and demolition at the behest of the authorities in 1893.

Despite its central role in entertainment history, and despite also the world-wide cultural significance of the circus arts which Philip Astley originated and promoted, there has been no lasting memento of the famous building, Thanks to the initiative of Martin Burton, founder and director of Zippo’s Circus and Cirque Berserk! , that omission has now been rectified.

A group of artistes from Zippo’s Circus joined their boss and Mr Astley (aka Centre for Circus Culture director Chris Barltrop) to inaugurate an inscribed flagstone, laid in the Hospital garden at a point which is likely to have been the front entrance to Astley’s.

Martin ‘Zippo’ Burton commented ‘We thank St Thomas's Hospital for their enthusiastic cooperation in our plans.  We are delighted to honour the tradition of circus and Philip Astley’s legacy. Circus has evolved but its core skills and ability to delight audiences of all ages haven’t changed. I believe circus will still be hugely popular in another 250 years”

 IMAGE courtesy of Cathy Cooper photography

IMAGE courtesy of Cathy Cooper photography

 IMAGE courtesy of Cathy Cooper photography

IMAGE courtesy of Cathy Cooper photography


28th April 2018 'From Waterloo to the World - 250 Years of Circus'

In the guise of Philip Astley. CCC director Chris Barltrop performed at London's famous V & A to an audience attending the final weekend's events of the Museum's month-long exhibition and conference focussing on the circus past, present and future.  A further feather in the Serjeant-Major's cap!  as extracts were performed from Audacious Mr Astley, and as Chris Barltrop was questioned by V & A Curator of Popular Entertainment Cathy Haill on his research and writing towards bringing Astley to renewed life.  The half-hour interview was titled Staging a Legend, and investigated the research done by the writer and actor into the history and character of the 'father of modern circus'.  Many thanks to Ms Haill and her colleagues for this kind invitation, and thanks also to an enthusiastic audience.       


Easter Monday 2018, Cornwall Rd and Roupell St London SE1 8TW

 The commemorative plaque in Cornwall Rd SE1 8TW, funded and erected by the Lambeth Estate Residents' Association, unveiled by Chris Barltrop on Easter Monday 2018.

The commemorative plaque in Cornwall Rd SE1 8TW, funded and erected by the Lambeth Estate Residents' Association, unveiled by Chris Barltrop on Easter Monday 2018.

Actor Chris Barltrop became a circus ringmaster in 1976.  Now, as part of this year’s celebrations of the 250th birthday of the world’s first modern circus back in 1768, he's donned the guise of the 'father' of the modern circus, Serjeant-Major Philip Astley, to assist in a long-overdue celebration on the very spot and the very anniversary of those initial performances.

‘Like many important pieces of history, the true story of that first show and the early years of the circus  arts has got blurred into myth’, said Barltrop.  ‘Astley didn’t invent the circus, but he was an instinctive and larger-than-life showman who fostered its birth and its evolution from the displays of trick-riding he gave with his wife in Lambeth into an international art-form incorporating comedy, acrobatics, and feats of strength and physical skill.  

‘Since I joined my first circus all that time ago’ explains the actor and writer ‘I’ve spent a lot of my spare time researching Astley’s story – how he performed to passers-by in a roped-off circular arena on an open field in Lambeth; how he began to include other performers and then took his new show to Ireland, to Vienna and Brussels, and also to France where his troupe performed for Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. 

‘There are circuses now in almost every country across the world.  In terms of global popular culture, Astley’s initiative is as significant as Shakespeare’s’  claims Barltrop.  

On Easter Monday 2018, 250 years to the day since Astley's first performances at a field in Lambeth known as Ha'penny (= Halfpenny) Hatch,  Barltrop unveiled a commemorative plaque funded and erected by the area's  #Lambeth Estate Residents' Association.  That afternoon at the nearby @WaterlooEast Theatre, he premiered a carefully-researched one-man play telling the story.  To impersonate Philip Astley, he was dressed in an authentic replica of the military costume worn by the founding father of circus.  And points out Chris,  'Astley was the initiator, but he wasn't the sole contributor.  Astley’s wife rode with him, beat a drum to draw the crowds, and took the entrance money.  She was Patty Jones, and I'm keen to highlight her important role as a very active and hard-working partner'. 

And also the role of a third participant.  Gibraltar was the horse given to Astley by his former commander in the Light Horse when Colonel Eliott was made Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar after  a distinguished and heroic career.  Horse and man were working partners for decades; his trusted equine companion was part of Astley’s success, and almost as famous as the man himself. 


please contact Chris Barltrop on 07836 573600 / 

CB and Khadikov 02.04.18.jpg

"The Audacious Mr Astley came back to life @WaterlooEast. Fascinating, highly entertaining and a real highlight of this special year."

SEE Audacious Mr Astley at: Off the Shelf Festival of Words, University of Sheffield 7.30pm Wed17th October; and at the Regal Theatre, Tenbury Wells 7.30pm Mon 12th November.


Mr Astley is available to speak...

Mr Philip Astley, late Serjeant-Major in His Majesty's Dragoon Guards, begs leave to inform a loyal public he is now available to recount in person the enthralling history of 'is life as h'equestrian, h'entrepreneur, and h'initiator of a h'entertainment 'e 'as 'ad the pleasure to perform at 'is London h'Amphitheatre; for the Royal Families of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Vienna and Belgrade; also on tour in England, Scotland h'and Ireland. 

Enlivened by h'appropriate contemporary music, and colourfully h'illustrated.

Painstakingly researched to bring a true story vividly to life in this 250th Anniversary Year of the World's First Circus Performance at Ha'penny Hatch, Lambeth, London, on 4th April 1768. 

Suitable for educational h'establishments, studio theatres and private performance.

Modest fee.  Particulars to be had by return upon contact to:


LISTEN  to Chris Barltrop's interview with Liz Mullen of BFBS Forces Radio

about the influence of Astley's military career on circus history.

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A life of adventure, passion and community
told from behind the scenes of the circus

I have spent two thirds of my life travelling with circuses, as a ringmaster, manager, publicist...and as a fascinated observer of the circus lifestyle. This website is dedicated to offering and sharing knowledge which leads to understanding.  Welcome...!

Some things I'm sure you will know already, and some will be new to you. I hope you'll stay, as I have done...for life.

The Classic circus is a multi-sensory world, brimming with a unique mix of sights, sounds, and smells.  Its history has many facets.  Its presentation has many styles, including the opportunity provided by some circus companies to witness people and animals working together in partnership

“Damn everything but the circus! ...damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won’t get into the circle, that won’t enjoy. That won’t throw its heart into the tension, surprise, fear and delight of the circus, the round world, the full existence...”
— e e cummings


The Centre for Circus Culture (Centre pour la Culture Circassienne / CCC) was founded in 2015 by Chris Barltrop BA (Hons), a circus professional for 45 years. The Centre exists to promote knowledge and understanding of the circus in all its forms as a historic and valuable aspect of popular culture and as a ‘people’s art-form’ across the world. 

The CCC is happy to offer speakers on the history of the circus and the way of life of the circus people, as well as performances illustrating facets of the circus arts.  

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Stories and adventures of Circus life