Sunday History Photo / Au

Submitted: Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 06:08
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Ashton Entertainment is a circus and performing arts company born from the family of the world renowned Ashton Circus. Founded by 5th generation Ashton, Jan Ashton-Rodriguez and her husband, internationally acclaimed former Spanish Circus star, Brasil Rodriguez, this is their extension of the family circus that they were born and bred into. They, together with their daughters, Chantel and Tamara along with grandson Remi, have travelled Australia for many, many years.

The Ashton Circus Family are the oldest Circus family in Australia. The story of The Ashton’s is very nearly as old as Australia it self, before Federation at least.
James Henry Ashton founded the first Australian Circus in the early 1800’s and was first licensed by an act of Parliament in 1851. For his whole life and for generations after, the Ashtons have visited both regional towns and big cities, bringing joy to the people of Australia for over 160 years. For generations, the Ashtons crossed flooded rivers, and deserts, drove through snow-covered mountains, fended off bushrangers, and even traversed where there were no roads to reach the communities who have loved and inspired the family of performers for generations. People came from all around to enjoy Ashton Circus. In the 1800’s, Ned Kelly sometimes watched the show and even had tea with the performers after the show in gratitude.

James Ashton was well renowned for his charity work and generosity, a tradition carried on to this day by his descendents. In 1996 Doug & Phyllis Ashton both received OAM's for their services to the entertainment industry and charities. The family has performed throughout the generations, helping many associations to build, fund and deliver their causes. They have also performed before royalty and been celebrated at the international Monte Carlo “Festival of Circus” by Prince Rainier himself.
Ashton’s Circus first began in Australia in 1847 by Doug’s great-grandfather and is fondly remembered by most Australians. After the Second World War Doug and his wife Phyllis relaunched the circus and toured the country with their three children in tow. Doug died on tour at the age of 92 back in 2011 and will be remembered as the patriarch of the world’s longest running family circus. His children Lorraine, Mervyn and Jan have all remained with the circus.
The life of Doug Ashton would really have to start with the way his parents met. His father, Joseph, great-grandson of the founder of Ashton's Circus, James Henry Ashton, told the audience one day he had a horse who could find the prettiest girl in the audience. Joseph secretly commanded the horse to stop at the girl he thought was the prettiest and that happened to be a local Inverell girl, Ivy Fulford.

Joseph married her and she became a circus performer in her own right. The couple had two sons, Douglas and Cecil. Douglas Joseph Ashton, born in the Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney, on November 19, 1918, was on the road with the circus at six days of age.
Ashton did not have much of a formal education. He spent his childhood, and indeed most of his life, in a caravan. The best his family could do was send him and his brother to whichever local school there was when the circus came to town.
In the early years of his life, the family had no motor vehicles. The circus was horse-drawn and the performing horses and elephants walked. Often, the young Doug rode the elephants between towns. Sadly, Cecil died of leukaemia while in his teens.

In March 1937, Ashton married his childhood sweetheart, Phyllis Yeomans, whose stage name was Kelroy, and whose family had performed circus acts and vaudeville at the Tivoli Theatre and other venues. A daughter, Lorraine, was born that year, followed by Mervyn in 1938.
Ashton perfected his circus skills. He became the catcher for the trapeze team, the Flying Ashtons. Phyllis herself became a performer. The circus went to the remotest locations. Doug's granddaughter Bekki was to say, seeing an old photo of the circus at the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, that the circus had to traverse routes that motor vehicles would struggle to negotiate today.
There were hard times during World War II when the circus's two Ford trucks were requisitioned to supply gravel to the Williamtown air base. Ashton worked at the Newcastle steelworks and as a painter and docker. The family performed to raise money for the war effort and the family home at Merewether became a focal point for show and circus people.
After the war, the circus tent disintegrated and the family broke up. Doug and Phyllis performed for other circuses. Ashton performed at Tex Morton's Circus and Rodeo. In 1948, Ashton's Circus was reformed, on a block of land in Rocky Point Road, Rockdale. Apart from the break of a few years, the circus had existed since 1847. The circus grew in strength and vitality, travelling Australia and touring New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Doug and Phyllis Ashton became the backbone of the circus, performing together standing on the backs of cantering horses, riding elephants, clowning, performing on rings and the trapeze. One of Ashton's feats was jumping from a springboard and somersaulting over the back of an elephant, or over seven or eight horses. Another was standing on a cantering horse with Phyllis on his shoulders.
The children were brought into the act and Doug performed the horse act with his son, Mervyn. Another daughter, Jan, was born in 1953.

The circus had an entourage of elephants, tigers, lions, monkeys, parrots, a giraffe, bear and a hyena. At its peak there were more than 120 people working for the circus and it had 80 animals. At one point, 38 Ashton family members were working for it.

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Reply By: Member - John T (Tamworth NSW) - Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 08:11

Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 08:11
Good morning Doug.

There is a fair bit of local history about Ashton's just up the hill from us here near Tamworth - they family used to spend a fair bit of time at Hanging Rock, a small village in the foothills just out of Nundle. There are commerative plates in the historic cemetery there

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Follow Up By: MUZBRY- Life member(Vic) - Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 08:35

Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 08:35
When i was a boy in Tamworth , the circus was performed just over the big bridge , upstreem side. I dont know what is there now as i havent been home for 50 yrs , just driven through a couple of times.

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Reply By: Member - mechpete - Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 11:44

Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 11:44
I can rembember when I was very young the circus used to
come to Shepparton by train , can still recall the elephants standing in an open freight wagon
that's a long time ago
cheers mechpete
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Follow Up By: Nickywoop - Monday, Jan 11, 2016 at 08:23

Monday, Jan 11, 2016 at 08:23
I cannot remember Ashtons coming by trains, but can remember I think it was Wurths Circus that travelled by rail.
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Reply By: Member - bill f (QLD) - Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 11:50

Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 11:50
As a kid Ashtons was only one of a few touring circus that came to our town primarily in show week. The prime location was the gas works flats & the advance agents would almost come to blows to book it for the local show week when every body came to town.
Lived near there & spent as much time as possible after school doing odd jobs to earn a free ticket. Made it a point to check where the seats were, when they moved on, for any loose change that had fallen out of peoples pockets into the grass.
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