Introduction Astley's Amphitheatre on Westminster Bridge Road, founded by Philip Astley in ca 1770, grew from a riding school to become the world's first circus. The name was retained after Astley's death in 1814 until the final closure in 1893 although the establishment was run by a succession of different proprietors and was substantially rebuilt.
William Henry Cooke was a member of the Cooke Circus family and, with his brother James, was touring the country as Cooke's Colossal Equestrian Establishment in the early 1850's. In 1853 he took on a 7-year lease for Astley's Amphitheatre from the then proprietor, William Batty. Under Cooke Astleys revived in popularity; he was famous for his equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.
Cooke did not renew his lease on Astley's in 1860. In 1866 he opened the Victoria Riding Establishment at Church Road, Wimbledon which he and his sons managed until his death in 1905.