But while the big top remains a huge draw, circus shows have changed considerably over the years. Perhaps the biggest change has been the ban on using wild animals in circuses, which became law in England from January 2020.
Lion tamers and performing elephants used to be a staple of circus shows but they were rightly outlawed due to concerns over the animals’ welfare, and it is now up to the humans alone to thrill audiences, from clowns and stilt-walkers to trapeze artists.
These photos hark back to a very different time in the evolution of the circus, when wild animals were often part of the entertainment. This retro photo gallery includes images of circus elephants at Norfolk Park and Meadowhead, and circus horses at Hillsborough Park.
All the images are shared courtesy of Picture Sheffield.