From the Archives: Villa's greatest show on earth with Buffalo Bill
Villa Park has hosted many great events in its years of existence but potentially the most exciting of these was held in 1887.
Simon Inglis, in his book 'Villa Park - 100 Years', describes Buffalo Bill's legendary Wild West Show as "the greatest and most spectacular event ever staged at the Lower Grounds."
This arrived in Birmingham on November 3 and played for four weeks at the Meadow, often with two shows per day.
Wild West fever really gripped the entire Midlands throughout the run.
But The Hon W.F Cody was no mere showman. A battle-scarred hero of the American west and the star of a hundred or more dime novels, he was truly a living legend. He was the man who fought in the Indian Wars, rode for the Pony Express and sat with Sitting Bull.
And here he was, turning the Aston Lower Grounds into a Wild West bonanza.
Also with Buffalo Bill travelled an enormous cast of some 800 performers, many of whom were real cowboys and American Indians.
The latter set up a mock encampment in the Great Hall, where awed visitors could study their living quarters and habits.
Over at the skating rink, meanwhile, a herd of 250 performing horses, ponies, mules, burros, assorted buffalos and elks were tended by staff from Barnum and Bailey's Circus. Other animals were stabled up at Aston Hall.
Another major attraction in the show was the absolutely genuine, original - claimed Cody - Deadwood Stagecoach, the very same one Calamity Jane had ridden across the prairie between Cheyenne and Deadwood and which bore the pockmarked evidence of real gun battles.
Already, it was claimed, over two million 'delighted patrons' had seen the travelling show before its arrival in Brum.
To cope with the expected rush, therefore, an extra grandstand, seating 4,000 people was erected on Trinity Road, while, for added dramatic effect, a huge black backdrop was hung in front of the rink.
Truly, the Lower Grounds had seen many a spectacular but here was, possibly, the greatest show of them all.
Except that the powers-that-be at Villa had overlooked one thing.
Buffalo Bill's first show was to take place on the afternoon of Saturday November 5. That same afternoon there was the small matter of a football match taking place, a second round cup tie between Small Heath and Villa at Muntz Street.
Over 12,000 saw Villa rout Small Heath 4-0, while rather less than a third of that number watched Buffalo Bill.
But as the days went by the show started to attract rave notices and it was not long before the Lower Grounds electric arc lights were brought out to enable the company to stage two shows per day.
After all, if they could play football under electric light then surely an eagle-eyed cowboy could lasso a tame buffalo.
Eventually, in early December, the Wild West circus packed its bags and headed off back to London and reality returned.
Ironically, the previous event at the Lower Grounds was a far tamer affair. A rather more sedate garden party was held to celebrate Queen Victoria's jubilee.
Eight hundred of the district's more elderly residents were invited for a dinner of roast beef, plum pudding, ale and mineral water, with free tobacco handed out for the smokers.
Hundreds of children, meanwhile, gathered in Aston Park, before they too descended on the Lower Grounds, marching behind a police band down Frederick and Bevington Roads.
Once there, the boys had an athletics competition on the Meadow before joining the girls for a slap-up tea in the skating rink.
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