This vivid lithograph shows a typical entertainment at a high-end Victorian circus, but it also demonstrates a number of changes in the way circuses were run in the mid-to-late Victorian era. Travelling circuses were once all-year-round affairs, with circus owners pitching their big tops in fields with little or no notice and hoping to attract the public through sheer native spectacle. But this circus was put on at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden: an historic building in London’s fashionable West End.

It is also advertised as an ‘Easter Holiday’ performance, which is partly a response to the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, which ruled that Good Friday and Easter Monday were public holidays – creating, in effect, a four-day weekend. Circuses and other peripatetic entertainments therefore began to focus on such bank holidays as ideal times to maximise their revenues. The public having downed tools for the long weekend, circus owners had their biggest potential audiences of the year.