Astley's 250th anniversary - 2018
It was right here that, 250 years ago, circus was born.
Before Roupell Street, there was Halfpenny Hatch - a handy cut through what were then fields. There, on Easter Monday 1768, cavalry hero Philip Astley and his wife Patty, a talented rider herself, staged their first show of "activity on horseback".
Newspaper adverts of the time record the daring feats, promising Mr Astley "sword in hand, as in real action" picking up items from the ground "at full speed" whilst Mrs Astley "leaps between the horses... she rides two horses with one foot in each saddle, she fires a pistol".
Such trick riding was popular and the Astleys had rivals, but their genius was to hit on the idea of adding other acts like acrobats and clowns ...creating what we know as circus.
Admission cost sixpence to stand, a shilling for a seat, or two shillings for a seat under cover. The Astleys were reputedly making 40 guineas a day, and after just one season were able to build an ampthitheatre a short distance away, where St Thomas' Hospital now stands.
It remained for almost a century. And the showbusiness influence lives on in the many theatres, concert halls and other entertainments which dominate this part of central London.
LERA celebrated the 250th anniversary with a blue plaque in Cornwall Road, facing Roupell Street, with kind permission of the building owners Transport for London. It features a horse and rider based on the figure above the entrance in the earliest known picture of Astley's, beautifully reimagined by Earth.
We were joined by the Khadikov riders and horses from Zippo's Circus, paying a wonderful tribute to their forerunners, and circus ringmaster and historian Chris Barltrop who - dressed as Mr Astley - unveiled the plaque. Chris also entertained a packed audience at Waterloo East Theatre with his fascinating new play, The Audacious Mr Astley.