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Philip Astley

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Philip Astley
BornJanuary 8, 1742
Newcastle-under-Lyme, England
DiedJanuary 27, 1814 (age 72)
Known for"father of the modern circus"
CategoriesBooks by Philip Astley

Philip Astley (1742 - 1814) is regarded as the "father of the modern circus." The circus industry, as a presenter of an integrated entertainment experience that includes music, domesticated animals, acrobats, and clowns, traces its heritage to Astley's Amphitheatre, a riding school that Astley founded in London in 1768.


He was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in England and his father was a cabinetmaker. At the age of nine, he apprenticed to work with his father, but Astley's dream was to work with horses, so he joined Colonel Eliott's Fifteenth Light Dragoon Regiment when he was 17, later becoming a Sergeant Major. He also served in the Seven Years War, and his army service brought him into contact with professional trainers and horse riders. Astley himself was a brilliant rider.

In 1768, Astley set up a riding school in London. He also performed trick horse riding and showed his learned horse Billy. The following year, he started to display automaton figures in a room above the entrance. Gradually he added other acts forming a circus. He also took up conjuring but his performances were not a great success. In 1785 he did publish a book "Natural Magic" which closely resembles La Magie blanche dévoilée by Henri Decremps, sought after now by magic collectors.[1]


  • "Astley's System of Equestrian Education" (Lambeth, 1801)
  • Natural Magic; or, Physical Amusements Revealed, "(London, 1785)


  1. Magic Cauldron No. 27
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