Zippos Circus

Zippos Circus lays stone to commemorate Astley's Amphitheatre

• 14 September 2018 •

Zippos Circus lays stone to commemorate Astley's Amphitheatre

On Friday 14 September 2018, a paving stone funded by Zippos Circus and commemorating Astley's Amphitheatre was unveiled at the garden of St Thomas's Hospital, London, on the south side of Westminster Bridge.

Martin Burton (left) with artistes from Zippo's Circus and Chris Barltrop as Philip Astley


2018 is being widely celebrated as the 250th Anniversary of the first performances by Serjeant-Major (sic) Philip Astley in 1768 and thus of the founding of the art-form of the modern circus, now a world-wide cultural phenomenon.

Astley was a war hero turned trick-rider and showman.  Partnered in his shows by his wife Patty, and trading also on his heroic status, Astley quickly found success.  By early 1769, the couple had moved on to a former timber-yard at the southern end of Westminster Bridge.  Sharing his time between their performances and the daytime teaching of riding to the gentry, Astley titled his establishment Astley's British Riding School.  He began to develop his open-air arena and to add other types of performer to his shows, and within a few years had constructed the first building in a series which remained in the public's hearts throughout the 19th century.  Described by Dickens and recorded by Jane Austen, Thackeray and others, Astley's was closed down by the authorities in 1893 and demolished the following year.

The Amphitheatre was the world's first circus building, yet no permanent commemoration has previously been made.  On 14th September the founder and director of Zippo's Circus Martin Burton brought a group of his performers to a spot in the garden of St Thomas's Hospital estimated to be close to the site of the building's main entrance.  The  group included ringmaster Norman Barrett MBE; musical clowns Totti and Charlotte Alexis and their sons Charlie and Maxim; aerialists Vickki and Pablo Garcia and their sons Antonio and Connor; hand-balancer Melissa; and clown Paulo Dos Santos.  Also present in authentic period costume to represent Mr Astley was ringmaster and circus historian Chris Barltrop.  

A flagstone inscribed in commemoration and celebration was unveiled by Charlie and Maxim Alexis, who drew aside a segment of carpet specially laid for the moment.  Mr Burton had asked the two young boys to perform the unveiling so as to also represent the ongoing nature of the Classical circus and its future; they are the seventh generation of their family to be circus artistes.   

From left:
Chris Barltrop with Zippo's Artistes Paulo Dos Santos and Norman Barrett MBE present the commemorative stone.

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