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>>> War Circus, 1914-1918

Photo: Hagenbeck War Elephant Jenny at the Front  (with Matthias Walter, probably!), courtesy of the Library of Congress

A small team of researchers from Circus Central lead by CEO Helen Averley explored what happened to international circus during WW1 – it’s people, animals, equipment and heritage. The focus of research  has been on tracing individual circus artists and their circuses through the period of the Great War. The research has culminated in a book which will be available in PDF on this site, as well as in hard copy version in libraries and archives. Contributors include family members of circus artists, researchers, North East emerging artists, as well as forward from Prof. Ron Beadle of Northumbria University.  Most of the information has been gathered from public archives including;  National Fairground and Circus ArchivesT&W Archives, The World’s Fair, and other online archives as well as from biographies. 

The Project was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund – WW1 Centenery Programme.  


>>> Circus in Physical Education

Supported through People’s Lottery Funding (2015 – 2016), in partnership with Northumbria University and Heaton Manor School

In partnership with Heaton Manor School and the University of Northumbria we undertook a 6 month project delivering circus in a School PE session at a Primary School in Newcastle. The results are significant in terms of the positive well being outcomes and are currently being written up for publication by Dr Nick Neave. Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, and Faculty Director of Ethics Northumbria University.

” In a recent project funded by the Big Lottery, a research team at Northumbria University examined the influence of a structured programme of circus skills training on the psychological and emotional development of primary school children in the North east. In the sample of children engaging with the circus skills we found a clear reduction in emotional problems in pupil-rated and teacher-rated questionnaires. In a follow-up study we conducted interviews with the children and their teachers and we found that engaging with circus skills training led to significant positive influences on the children’s attitudes to school work, the curriculum and their personal and social development.” Dr. Nick Neave.


>>> La Bonche…Who Are We?

Photo: Arthur Fenwick Collection, Tyne & Wear Archives

Young people from the Five Ring Circus explored the fascinating world of circus in the North East of England, through Arthur Fenwick’s the collection at the Tyne and War Archives, Newcastle upon Tyne, much of which they digitised. They collected oral histories and contemporary circus posters and artefacts, which they donated to the Archives and produced a book, an exhibition and big show as part of JUICE Festival 2013, here’s a review

The Project was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund; Lead by Helen Averley, Director of Circus Central; researched in partnership with T&W Archives & Discovery Museum and displayed in association with JUICE Festival 2013 – NewcastleGateshead’s award winning festival for children and young people. With thanks to National Fairground and Circus ArchivesGreat North Museum, Andrew Shail & Helen Freshwater (University of Newcastle) and all our circus networks of families, communities, teachers, artists & supporters.


Circus Central’s regional youth troupe – ‘The Five Ring Circus’

This website was initially set up to share the research undertaken by our regional youth circus – the Five Ring Circus – during ‘La Bonche…Who Are We?’ (HLF, 2013-14). Our research outputs have developed past this initial project, including ‘War Circus’ (HLF, 2016-17) and ‘Circus in Physical Education’ (Northumbria Uni/Heaton Manor, 2015-16), as well as being co-founders along with Prof. Ron Beadle (Northumbria) of the Circus Research Network UK & Ireland. We are constantly looking for new areas to research and projects to develop, which have a variety of outcomes, including hardcopy publishing, performative, aural histories and photo collections. This website is updated in line with Circus Central’s development within circus research or ‘circademics’, and is a growing resource for people interested in accessing our project material.

Why is Circademic research important?

Within circus, we have a preferred tradition of oral history over hard-copy records, and as a result much information about the travelling community is lost. This includes artistic techniques and production methods, as well as social history. In circus arts and education today we have much anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of circus participants in terms of their well being, physical health and life skills. This needs to be more evidenced based in order for circuses to access funds so that they can generate more of these type of outcomes. Research will reassure educators and funders that circus is more than a pleasurable past time. 

If you are interested in developing a circus research project with us please do get in touch.

If you are interested in joining the Circus Reserach Network, get in touch with Prof. Ron Beadle at Northumbria University: ron.beadle@northumbria.ac.uk

Please include in the email:

  • Your contact details
  • Your circus background / role
  • Your academic background / if any (circademic or otherwise)
  • Any circademic research projects you are involved with

The Family La Bonche

The Family La Bonche is the alter ego of the Five Ring Circus, the regional youth circus and their mentors based at Circus Central, Newcastle.

Our circus was founded in 2010 as part of a London 2012 Olympic legacy project and continues to flourish at our base in Shieldfield, Newcastle – Circus Central. After several years our youth circus bonds became stronger, thus the family was formed. This keeps a circus tradition alive where a band of acrobats, or a troupe, call themselves a family.

La Bonche crestThis is our Family crest at the heart of it is a “Spangel” of the North (a spoon angel with wings made from a moustache). The Spangel represents our creativity. The spoon is a La Bonche, a word coined in 1996 by Madame La Bonche’s niece Martha when she was 2. The moustache is a traditional emblem, which it seems from old circus photos to be a mark of success. Our motto is about being inclusive and making a welcome space for everyone at the family table. This was simplified to “pateras pro omnibus” – “bowls for all”. Circus Central is like being in a big family and we we want to include lots of people in it.