On this day the first modern circus in history was opened. It happened in London, organized by Philip Astely, who is because of that today called the “father of the modern circus”. Astley’s specialty was training riding horses. He acquired this skill earlier in the British cavalry, and after military service, he began to engage in acrobatic horseback riding and performing riding tricks. He noticed that such performances attract an audience. Astley introduced a novelty in such performances by riding in a circle (his competitors rode in a straight line).
Astley’s circular shaped stage had several advantages – the audience had a better view of the whole show, and beside that, the centrifugal force that occurs when a horse moves in circles helped the riders to lean a bit sideways on the horse. The circular shape of the stage, which was introduced by Astley, became the standard for circuses till this day.
To evoke the era in which the first circus was established, let us mention that Mozart was only 11 years old in 1768, and Maria Theresa reigned as Empress of Austria. Astley gradually introduced additional entertaining elements in his acrobatic performances with horses. For example, he introduced the clowns who amused the audience between rider’s performances. He also hired jugglers, tightrope walkers and dancing dogs, so his show increasingly resembled what we today know as the circus.