Local born showman, performer and Philip Astley expert Andrew Van Buren has produced an exhibition of items relating to the local legend which are on display in Newcastle-under-Lyme Town Centre.
The exhibition – which is displayed in the windows of the Appetite led-project, Newcastle Common, on Astley Walk – features gems from Van Buren’s own collection, bringing together items about Astley and circus.
The exhibition is located in the windows of the larger Newcastle Common, on the corner of Lad Lane and Astley Walk and will run until the end of August.
The jewel in the crown of the exhibition is the original life-sized statue of Philip Astley, sculpted by renowned artist Andy Edwards, whose more recent work includes the Beatles walking down the street in Liverpool, The Truce statue commemorating the World War I Christmas Day football match in ‘No Man’s Land’ between the German and British soldiers and most recently, the life-sized statue of the Bee Gees unveiled in the Isle of Man.
Philip Astley expert Andrew Van Buren said: “I commissioned and funded the making of the statue in 1991 as part of our 1992 celebration of Philip Astley’s birth. He lived hidden from sight until I dragged him out of storage in 2009 when I started the drive to create tourism and a unique selling point for Newcastle-under-Lyme through locally born Philip Astley – the Original Ringmaster, Military Hero and creator of the circus. I truly believe that Astley can do for Newcastle what Shakespeare has done for Stratford-Upon-Avon and it is wonderful that so many people have begun embracing the idea. Working with Appetite and the Philip Astley Project has proved a wonderful collaboration.”
Appetite Director Gemma Thomas said: “It’s fitting that the first exhibition in Newcastle Common is about local legend Philip Astley. The Philip Astley Project, which Appetite is a part of, is all about shouting about this trail blazer of a man, and celebrating all things circus. It’s thanks to the generosity of Andrew that we’re able to share some of his amazing Astley collection for all to enjoy and hopefully be inspired by, to produce the next generation of circus enthusiasts.”
Andrew added: “I am so pleased that for the entire month of August our exhibition can be seen in Lad Lane, especially with the statue as a focal point standing in the very lane that Astley lived in as a young boy. Astley really has come home and the world is watching”.
Karl Shaw the New York Times Best Selling Author of the Philip Astley biography The First Showman said: “From the perspective of our age it is hard to grasp just how huge the circus once was. Before TV and cinema it was the world’s most popular spectator event and as we glorify footballers and actors today, the public once worshipped performers of the circus ring. Philip Astley invented it all. He was the first person to put a clown in the ring and combine comedy with horsemanship. His Taylor’s Ride routine is arguably the progenitor of all slapstick comedy. In fact so many things he brought to the circus are still exactly the same today. The traditional colours of the circus, the red, blue and gold were his army regimental colours, the ringmaster’s military coat and black riding boots, the smell of sawdust, first used to cover the floor of his original circus, even the size of the ring at 42ft or 13metres, still identical the world over – all Philip Astley’s creation. It’s fantastic to see his life celebrated once again in his home town.”
The Newcastle Common programme is focused on the changing Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre, transforming empty shops and the high street into places of art and creativity.