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Roll up! Roll up! Exhibition honouring father of modern circus launches in Newcastle-under-Lyme

The circus has come to Newcastle-under-Lyme as a new exhibition paying homage to Philip Astley, the father of modern circus, opens at the Belong Heritage Gallery.

Opening to great fanfare, multi-skilled performer and illusionist, Andrew Van Buren, played ringmaster, with mayor, Councillor Gillian Burnett, local schoolchildren, and Belong’s customers, joining for a masterclass in circus performance and a special speech from the showman about his life.

 Van Buren’s family are creators of AstleyFest, the town’s celebration of modern circus, and have loaned many of the items for the gallery’s collections.

The general public are now invited to come one, come all, to the Belong Heritage Gallery’s reminiscence lounge documenting the town’s rich history, which has been transformed into a big top, with memorabilia from bygone eras of circus entertainment, both here in the UK and from across the globe.

Historical artefacts on show include Harry Houdini’s original handcuffs, early twentieth century juggling balls and adverts promoting tours in Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent and further afield, in Japan, Russia and the USA. A dressing-up area, complete with humorous costumes and funhouse mirrors, offers a playful experience for guests.

Belong residents are also getting in on the action, having been supported in making handmade circus-themed earthenware, including clowns, animals and equipment to go on show. The landmark gallery is integrated within dementia specialist’s state-of-the-art care village, offering a unique experience for customers in their own home.

Emma Palin, experience coordinator at Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme, said: “The gallery is a cultural attraction designed to link the past and the present and Philip Astley and the circus is intrinsic to our town’s heritage – we had a fantastic exhibition launch and everyone is invited to come and it see it for themselves.

Councillor Gillian Burnett, Mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme, added: “It was wonderful to join with the classes and fun with Andrew Van Buren and the Belong team; the gallery is an asset to the town centre and new circus exhibition is great.

In related arts news, until the end of October, Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme is sponsoring The Brampton Museum Open Art and Craft Exhibition as it returns following a three-year break, showcasing the creative talents of artists from across Staffordshire.

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