Circus poster: Una and the Lions


This vivid poster for the Garrick Theatre in Whitechapel demonstrates the typical range of circus entertainments on offer in the early Victorian period. The emphasis is very much on the exotic and the spectacular, with performing animals transported from around the world, and a number of re-enactments of internationally famous battles and pageants. The poster also demonstrates a number of changes in the way circuses were run as the Victorian period progressed. Where once a circus was an all-year-round travelling roadshow, pitching a big top in a field and hoping to attract the public through displays of sound and light, increasingly circus companies began to perform full seasons in permanent theatres and to become grander, more commercial ventures. Some, such as Astley’s Circus, would even build their own amphitheatres. The main reason for this was the growing concentration of the British public in built-up metropolitan areas; and the more tightly regulated work and leisure hours in industrial towns. It no longer paid quite as handsomely to move from town to town.

Charles Dickens was a fervent supporter of popular working-class culture, including circuses. One of his earliest journalistic pieces (collected in Sketches by Boz, 1836) is an admiring account of several visits to Astley’s Circus in the 1830s. In the mature novel Hard Times (1854), the entertainments on offer at Sleary’s Circus are presented as a healthy contrast to the depredations of factory work that turn workers into ‘melancholy-mad elephants’.

Full title:
Garrick Theatre: Una and the Lions or, The Forest Queen, etc
November 1831, Fenchurch Street, London
Advertisement / Ephemera / Poster / Illustration / Image
Held by:
British Library

Related articles

Hard Times: fact and fancy

Article by:
Paul Schlicke
The novel 1832 - 1880

Paul Schlicke considers the contrast between fact and fancy in Hard Times, exploring how Dickens uses the excitement of the circus to challenge the doctrines of 19th-century philosophers and political economists.

Related collection items

Related works

*Hard Times*

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) published this ‘Condition of England’ novel in 1854. His setting was a ...