There have been forms of circus since the days of ancient Rome where animals and athletes displayed their skills in amphitheatres such as the ‘Circus Maximus’. The ‘modern’ circus originated in Britain in 1768 when a cavalryman, Sergeant-Major Philip Astley, roped off a field in London for his fancy riding exhibition. As the show became popular he roofed over the ring and added clowning, tumbling and juggling between the equestrian acts. Thus the size of a circus ring, 42 feet in diameter, was dictated by the galloping circle for a horse and the modern circus began. Astley established 18 other circuses in European countries. Travelling circuses probably originated in America after the war of 1812 and soon became popular in other parts of the world. In recent years public attitudes to performing animals has changed and many circuses now do not have any animals in their shows. They have developed into theatrical shows which mix the arts of the circus and the street, and feature original music, light effects and costumes.
Circuses tend to be owned and administered by a single family – the circus proprietor – who then hire a range of acts, often from abroad, to make up the repertoire for the yearly circuit. A group of children travelling with a circus may often be multi-national and so English may not be the first language for many.
Travelling patterns may vary from static seasonal circuses to small circuses that move every couple of days. Many circuses have an annual pattern of travel which precludes attendance at a base school, while static seasonal circus children are likely to attend a local school during the season.