While doing some research for my book on Astley and his circus* I was intrigued by some of the newspaper advertisements – especially this one dating from May 1796, appearing in the Oxford Gazette. For a start it actually uses the name “circus” – whereas Astley normally referred to the performance area as an “amphitheatre” – so much so that he was given the derogatory name of “Amphi-Philip.”
It is intriguing to see that there were no fewer than fourteen different firework ‘divisions’. Some of the fireworks look pretty impressive, with suns, wheels pyramids and ‘bombs.’ Astley promised the good burghers of Oxford an amusing and interesting spectacle, the like of which had never been seen “Ranelagh Gardens only excepted”
I like the warning that Ladies and Gentlemen should not expect to be able to change gold at the door – a reminder that change was in very short supply in the latter half of the Eighteenth Century. At one shilling a head for admission even to the “second places” (i.e. those towards the back) it was never cheap! But it gives an interesting insight into the popularity for anything “new” and dramatic – and also demonstrates the clever way Astley used different spectacular entertainments to promote the actual circus. He would arrive in town on an afternoon and start assembling his temporary staging etc. He would then put on the firework display – and the next evening he would invite the public back again – this time to see the horse riding, the clowns, and the juggling acts.