Giffords Circus

Giffords Big Top. Photo:  Jack Bal l

Giffords Big Top. Photo: Jack Ball

Giffords Circus is a was founded in 2000 by Nell and Toti Gifford and it travels between village greens in the Cotswolds and London between May and September every year. It’s one of those rare treats in life where you take the children when they are young and then end up still going but without them when they’re older. I love that it’s a slice of magic that pops up in the middle of nowhere - the big top, the performances, the decor, the caravans, the food - and then disappears again after a few days, almost overnight, as if it were never there! Proper Enid Blyton stuff (if you’re not too young to remember her!)

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Circuses like Giffords also illustrate my interest in the boundaries that, traditionally, have existed between the designs of different spaces - between inside and outside spaces, between hotels and domestic interiors, between restaurants and homes. In recent years, it seems to me that the boundaries between them have come tumbling down - now restaurants are designed to make you feel like you’re eating at home and everyone wants their bedroom to look like a boutique hotel!

Artists Residence Hotel - is it a hotel, home or dining room? Hard to tell.

Artists Residence Hotel - is it a hotel, home or dining room? Hard to tell.

When it comes to outdoor living I’ve noticed that people (well, me anyway!) are drawing on festivals such as Glastonbury for inspiration. Luxury camping with all the mod cons, aka glamping, has exploded as a new holiday option and tree houses are now being built that look better than some homes! Bringing the outside in with biophillic design and the inside out with garden rooms and verandas and this is not just a trend - it’s the new way of life.

The best treehouse I’ve ever seen! Blackberry Woods, Sussex

The best treehouse I’ve ever seen! Blackberry Woods, Sussex


This is all partly I think why I love Giffords Circus as it’s a great example of the joy of blurring boundaries. They mix the outside and inside to the extreme - a huge tent erected in the countryside and strewn with sawdust yet decorated with velvet drapes. A whole troupe of travelling performers who spend their summer in liveried caravans And Circus Sauce, Giffords travelling restaurant produces exquisite food in a caravan kitchen and serves it up in a magical tented restaurant. What could be more magical than capturing some circus magic in the home? The colours, passion and escapism of a circus, especially an authentic one like Giffords, are all key ingredients in a mix that make a happy and personal home where you escape from the harsh realities of life.


Circus Sauce . Image: Emma Bradshaw.

Circus Sauce. Image: Emma Bradshaw.

Everything about Giffords it is rooted in traditional skills and crafts.

All of the costumes are made by hand and the seamstresses travel with the circus all summer.

Costumes being made by hand. Photo:  Jack Ball.

Costumes being made by hand. Photo: Jack Ball.

Giffords Wardrobe Department. Photo: Jack Ball

Giffords Wardrobe Department. Photo:Jack Ball

All of the sign writing - on the wagons, the caravans and the signage - is done by hand.

Giffords hand painted sign writing. Photo:  Jack Ball .

Giffords hand painted sign writing. Photo: Jack Ball.

The circus caravans and trailers are all built by hand using traditional carpentry skills and recycled vehicles where possible. The new accommodation wagon was a a furniture delivery lorry in a previous life!

Giffords caravan - hand built and hand painted. Photo:  Jack Ball

Giffords caravan - hand built and hand painted. Photo: Jack Ball

Every year the circus has a theme and this year is ‘Xanadu’ - ‘It’s midsummer 1973 in Hyde Park and the flower power movement is at its height. Hippies, hipsters, rock stars, musicians, wild women and global nomads with shamanic horses gather to play, sing, dance, protest and perform. Policemen and a family of out-of-towners get caught up in the celebrations. Will they get in the groove?’

Xanadu poster girl Lily - star of this years show.

Xanadu poster girl Lily - star of this years show.

I popped up to the circus a few weeks ago, just before rehearsals began, for a behind - the -scenes tour and to have a play with styling up one of the caravans in a Xanadu theme!

The Big Top - styling:  The Wild Girls.  Photo:  Jack Ball.

The Big Top - styling: The Wild Girls. Photo: Jack Ball.


Photo:  Jack Ball

Photo: Jack Ball

Photo:  Jack Ball

Photo: Jack Ball

Photo:  Jack Ball.

Photo: Jack Ball.

Phoro:  Jack Ball

Phoro: Jack Ball

‘Xanadu’ kicks off on May 3rd at Fennells Farm in Stroud and here are the tour locations and dates.

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I urge you to visit if you get the chance. It’s a feast for all of the senses and I guarantee that you’ll take some magic home to recreate in your home. And I guarantee you will be going back the following year for more!

PS there are 2 ‘Relaxed’ performances this year on Monday 13th May at 1pm, at Fennells Farm near Stroud and 1pm on Monday 12th August at Barrington. House lights will be left on, exits will be open, there will be a reduced capacity of seats, the artists will introduce themselves at the beginning of the performance and sound levels will be reduced to provide a more ‘relaxed’ environment. Circus goers will also be able to ‘chill-out’ in a separate space should they need a break.