About us

John Lawson’s circus

John Lawson’s circus was founded in 1974 by ringmaster ‘captain’ John Lawson and was originally titled John Lawson’s Circus De Reszke. After five years of appearing at outdoor events all over the country to great acclaim, Captain John bought a small second-hand ‘flower show’ marquee and with one Bedford lorry began touring the country with the possibly the smallest Circus in the land.

From the first venue Hadlow Playing Field, Hadlow near Tonbridge, Kent in September 1980 the show was again well received and has since grown both in size and reputation to its current position.

Sadly, Captain John passed away in November 1985 and the show is now run by his Daughter Daniela and Son Niven. They have endeavoured to continue the original aim of the show – to bring traditional live entertainment to smaller communities up and down the country most of which do not normally receive a great deal.

We in the circus have to change and adapt to keep our increasingly sophisticated audiences happy. We live in a world where families spend disposable income on holidays abroad, and at home have many choices of entertainment literally at the touch of a button.

Here at John Lawson’s Circus we have tried to improve our facilities for you our audience with new toilet facilities, luxury bucket seating, improved Big Top heating and lighting. We have now booked what we believe to be our most entertaining troupe of artistes to augment our family ‘house’ acts.

Origins of the Circus

The Circus as we know it today was born in 1768, over 200 years ago.

The origins of the Circus, one of the world’s greatest forms of entertainment, can be traced to the equestrian displays, chariot racing and athletic contests of Ancient Rome, through the Middle Ages with its strolling minstrels, court jesters, jugglers, mountbacks and ropewalkers, to the equestrian displays on village greens in the 18th Century. The Circus in its present form was created in the spring of 1768 by Philip Astley. As horseman and soldier, Astley had distinguished himself in charge of King George II, and after being discharged with the gift of a white charger, he headed for London, there to display his equestrian skills. In a field near Halfpenny hatch, Lambeth, he made a ring of rope and stakes in which to diaplay his arts to his audience. Nobody else had ever done so in a circle, and this was the humble beginning of the magical sawdust ring.

Within two years, Astley had prospered enough to aquire land near Westminster Bridge where he provided covered seating to accomodate the public, and in 1780 he built the first permanent circus building in London, a wooden structure which was to be burnt down three times. Meanwhile, he had taken the Circus to Paris, thus founding this entertainment in Europe, and others took it to Russia and America. From Astley’s simple ring, the world’s most spectacular and thrilling entertainment spread over the entire world, and today it is the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ everywhere.

Later, the circus was to be presented in gigantic tents, but there are still many of the once-familiar permanent buildings to be found in Europe. Only two such buildings created especially for the presentaion of Circus still exist in England, at Great Yarmouth and at Blackpool, and they are two of the finest examples of static Circus.

Do you love the circus?

Do you have a special affection for Circus as a grand tradition and as a unique form of entertainment? If so, you would enjoy being a member of the Circus Friends Association which, for nearly 60 years, has kept its members in touch with all that is new and exciting in the world of circus. Circus Friends Association chronicles the changes and updates its members with the news, views and behind the scenes visits.

Membership of CFA has many benefits including:

  • Subscription to King Pole, the colourful magazine (named after thd circus tent masts) published four times as year, plus and extra issue on a specialist subect
  • A dedicated Circusline information service to locate the shows on tour.
  • CFA merchandising of programmes, books , models and memorabilia.
  • Historic and unique archives and library to consult.
  • Even rallies to shows where you can meet the stars in person!