Astley, Philip (1742–1814), horse-trainer and showman, was born 8 January 1742 in Newcastle under Lyme, England, son of Edward Astley, cabinetmaker. After a career of great gallantry in the cavalry, he set up a show in Lambeth, London, where he exhibited feats of horsemanship. Other spectacles and novelty acts were added and his shows became very popular. Astley founded an amphitheatre, where many features of the modern circus were first developed. Other amphitheatres were built in Britain and France, and Astley and his troupe toured annually. He first visited Dublin in 1773, later set up a circus there, and in 1788 applied for a patent to establish a permanent theatre in Dublin, in opposition to that of Richard Daly (qv), who had previously had a monopoly. Daly's protests were unavailing, and Astley opened a theatre in Peter St., Dublin (26 November 1789) with a topical show about the fall of the Bastille. Commercial and theatrical rivalry with Daly increased business. In 1798 riots followed Astley's performance in pageants expressing loyalty to the crown, and he sold the theatre in 1803. Philip Astley died 20 October 1814 in Paris. He married (1765) Patty Jones (d. 1803), a minor actress; they had one son, John, whose equestrian shows were immensely popular for many years.
J. T. Gilbert, A history of the city of Dublin, i (1861), 45; DNB; J. H. Stewart, ‘The fall of the Bastille on the Dublin stage’, RSAI Jn., lxxxiv (1954), 78, 82, 84; Miranda Goodby, Stardust and spangles: Philip Astley and the English circus (1992); John M. Turner, Victorian arena: the performers. A dictionary of British circus biography, i (1995); W. Niall Osborough, Law and the emergence of modern Dublin (1996), 93–5; ODNB (portr.)