If you have ever lived in a small town, you know that nothing exciting ever happens. That is the best thing about a traveling circus, they bring liveliness and euphoria, where there is normally none.
In Strabane, a Northern Ireland town, traveling circuses were a frequent and exciting thing in the early 20th century.
Scott’s Circus, Duffy’s Circus, Hannaford’s Canadian Circus. And Buff Bill’s American Circus were a few that visited regularly Strabane from 1910 to 1911.
It is said that the first modern amphitheater was set up by Philip Astley, a cavalry officer from England. He built the amphitheater to show horse riding tricks in Lambeth, London on April 4th, 1768. He didn’t originate trick horse riding, nor was he the first to show acts such as acrobats and clowns to the English public, but he was the first person to make a space where all those acts could perform together. Astley also performed stunts in a 42-foot diameter ring, which is the standard size used today.
He referred to the show arena as a Circle and the building as an amphitheater, but those words were later to be known as a Circus. Andrew Ducrow, whose achievements of horsemanship had much to do with establishing the traditions of the circus, which were bolstered by Henglers and Sangers shows in later generations.
In England, circuses were often held in “big idea” built buildings in large cities, such as the London Hippodrome, which was built as a combination of the circus, the menagerie and the variety theater, where wild animals such as lion, tigers, and elephants from time to time appeared in the ring, and where disturbances such as floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions have been produced with extraordinarily realistic displays.
The first mainstream clown, Joseph Grimaldi, had his first major role as “Little Clown” in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or Harlequin’s Wedding in 1781. Charles Dibdin and Charles Hughes opened The Royal Circus in London on November 4th, 1782. The same year, Astley opened the Amphitheater Anglais in Paris, the first purpose-built circus in France, followed by 18 other permanent circuses in cities throughout Europe.
John Bill Ricketts, a British equestrian, brought the first modern circus to the United States. On April 3rd, 1793 to Philadelphia, a crowd of theatergoers, horse enthusiast, and just curious citizens lined up to see the Circus. The Circus was a roofless arena with 800 seats (divided between the pits and boxes) and the standard 42-foot diameter ring.
The previous year, Ricketts traveled to Philadelphia to establish a riding school in the then capital of the newly formed United States. He began his career with Hughes Royal Circus in London in the 1780s. George Washington attended a performance at the Circus on April 22nd, 1793.