Clowning around with circus history

Pictured is Professor Vanessa Toulmin with exhibits from the new cirus history exhibition at Sheffield Universitys,Western Bank Library
Pictured is Professor Vanessa Toulmin with exhibits from the new cirus history exhibition at Sheffield Universitys,Western Bank Library
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ROLL up, roll up - for a spectacular new Sheffield exhibition celebrating all the excitement of the greatest show on earth.

Costumes, props and memorabilia from 250 years of British circus history go on display from tomorrow at Sheffield University’s National Fairground Archive at the Western Bank library.

Circus Showmen: Innovators Who Shaped the Circus has been put together by Professor Vanessa Toulmin and fellow academic Amanda Bernstein.

It will take visitors back in time to the late 18th century when circus content and performance first developed as an awe-inspiring art form.

The exhibition begins with ‘the father of modern circus’ Philip Astley and moves chronologically to one-time fairground showmen Lord George Sanger, Bertram Mills, Billy Smart and finally to Gerry Cottle, a stockbroker’s son from London.

Their stories will demonstrate that the circus has always been the place to which the most talented artists and performers often ran away.

And no circus exhibition can be complete without including history of the most famous venue for circus in the UK – Blackpool Tower.

The event features a collection of posters dating back to the 1810s, two full-sized models of Coco the Clown and Charlie Carioli loaned from Clowns International, and two original This is Your Life books which were presented to Billy Smart and Charlie Carioli.

Professor Toulmin said: “We are thrilled to be given the opportunity to show our circus collection which includes our fantastic posters dating from 1810 to 1990.

“The Bertram Mills posters in particular are wonderful pieces of art, dating from 1930s.

“This exhibition is a celebration of the world’s greatest-ever showmen who shaped the circus and created magical and exhilarating world-class shows and events.

“I am extremely excited to be curating and producing this must-see exhibition.”

The exhibition is open 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 12pm to 6pm Saturday and Sundays, and runs until the end of April.