Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by Leeds Libraries.


A Global View

The world's first circus began in London in 1768. In Asia and Eastern Europe during this year, war broke out between the Russian and Ottoman (Turkish) Empires, the second of many military conflicts between the two powers over the next few centuries. In America, the Native American Cherokee nation gave up a large portion of land to the British (now almost all of West Virginia) and off the coast of Norway the slave ship Fredensborg sank in a violent storm. The Dutch crew had almost completed their return journey from the Danish West Indies, where they had sold over 250 enslaved Africans and filled the ship with sugar, tobacco and other goods produced on plantations.


Curriculum Links

  • English: Planning, drafting and writing; Reading aloud; Listening; Evaluating and debating
  • Key Stage 1 History: Significant local historical events, people and places
  • Key Stage 2 History: Local Study, Theme extending knowledge beyond 1066
  • Key Stages 1 & 2 Art: Exploring and developing ideas
  • Key Stage 2 Geography


Activity Ideas

1. Think about the kind of things you do in your spare time.

  • Write a list of all the activities you take part in for fun in your spare time
  • Now write a list of the things you think you might have done if you had lived in the Tudor/Georgian/Victorian times.
  • How are the two lists different? Is there anything on your modern list you don’t think you would have done in the past? Why is this?


2. Look at the advert poster for Cookes Circus, held at Boar Lane in Leeds in 1850:

  • Do you think this would have been a popular show, and explain why?
  • Looking at the poster, what types of animals do you think you would have seen at this show?
  • What do you think are the main differences between this show and a modern circus?
  • Find out about a modern day Circus. Have a look at some of the performers and see if you can find out more about their lives and what inspired them.


3. Look at the Robert Bros Hip Hip Zooray Circus poster from 1955. Compare this poster to the Cookes Circus poster:

  • If you had to choose to go to one of the shows, which one would you have chosen and why? Discuss your choice and reasons with a partner.
  • If you were the manager of a circus today think about what acts you would include in your show. Is there a new kind of act you want to develop? What is it and who/what will perform? Who will come to your circus? How much will you charge? What will people most enjoy about your circus? Design your own poster to advertise your opening event.


4. Listen to the Beatles song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’. Do you like the song? Using your research on a modern day circus performer, write your own circus song and music. Perform or record your song to the rest of your class.


5. Using a large map of Leeds locate where all the main circus performances listed in this resource took place. Are any of them near to where you live?


Discussion Ideas

  • What would life have been like in the circus for a child in Victorian times? If you were in the circus what would your performance be?
  • Should animals perform in the circus? Think about what life might be like for animals in the circus. Discuss your ideas with a partner and come up with all the benefits and disadvantages. You can find out more about circus animals and the Animal Welfare Act at
  • How can we find out whether the story about the Elephant in the Ginnel is true? What sources of evidence could we use to find out more?