Playbill advertising Ducrow's Benefit


Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842) was the operator, proprietor and chief performer at Astley’s Circus from 1824 till 1841. The bill for this one-off charity performance gives some idea of his chief talents –an unusual combination of expert equestrian and actor. As the Edinburgh Evening Courant remarked at this time: ‘the skilful rider is frequently lost in the fine performer, and we almost forget that we are witnessing feats of horsemanship, so deeply are we interested in the dramatic illusion’.

A normal evening at Astley’s Circus would have been more varied than this, with standard circus fare such as clowns and tightrope-walkers interspersed among the dramatic tableaux. However, the backbone of Astley’s was always its equestrian displays – as befits the upbringing of its original owner, horse trainer Philip Astley (1742-1814). Charles Dickens visited this incarnation of Astley’s Circus several times during the 1830s, and wrote about it in his Sketches by Boz (1836). A staunch advocate for working-class popular culture, Dickens would return to the circus as a theme in his mature novel Hard Times (1854), in which the innocent illusions of Sleary’s Circus are held in healthy contrast to the industrial society that would turn workers into ‘melancholy-mad elephants’.

Full title:
Ducrow's Benefit. Grand Equestrian Fete! And Double Spectacle!
October 1838, Lambeth, London
Advertisement / Ephemera / Playbill / Illustration / Image
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Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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