The modern circus was developed in England by Philip Astley (1742-1814), a former Sergeant Major in the Fifteenth Light Dragoon Regiment and an outstanding horse trainer.
Astley opened an amphitheatre in the Waterloo area of south London in 1773. A popular attraction in the city, Astley’s Circus continued on the site until 1893.
Charles Dickens and Astley’s Circus.
Charles Dickens was known to have visited Astley’s Circus and was a huge admirer. He wrote about the circus at least three times in his works including a sketch in Sketches by Boz, (Scenes, Chapter 11) about the theatre, describing an evening at Astley’s in The Old Curiosity Shop (Chapter 39) and a reference to the circus in Hard Times (Book 3, Chapter 7.).
Astley’s Amphitheatre was located on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth. Any trace of the building has long since gone.