Circus at the seaside: Building the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, 1903

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Founded in the Edwardian Age by international equestrian stars George Gilbert and Jennie O’Brien, and remarkably still working to this day, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome circus is a heritage site of global significance. However, despite its ongoing meaning to our understanding of the social and cultural evolution of coastal entertainment, it has largely been overlooked by both seaside and circus studies—as has the broader topic of the development of seaside at the circus. This article recovers its neglected history, investigating the Hippodrome’s vital contribution to the shaping of this seaside resort. First, we look at how circus became integrated into the local community within a moment of tourist expansion in Great Yarmouth. Second, we explore the wider ramifications of this moment, as the Hippodrome connected the town to a global culture of performance, bringing travelling acts from around the world to establish the Hippodrome as a cosmopolitan presence on the British coast. While illuminating the pattern of circus mobility and the transmission of performance around the world, it also shows how the historical development of the English seaside resort, far from being the insular caricature often described in present-day nationalist nostalgia, was influenced in key ways by a diverse and global circus culture. In these ways, this article seeks to address the distinctive and neglected seaside-circus aspect of British seaside entertainment heritage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-81
Number of pages30
JournalCoastal Studies & Society
Issue number1
Early online date25 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • area studies
  • circus history
  • coastal entertainment
  • Great Yarmouth
  • music hall and variety theatre history
  • seaside history

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