Aston Villa, the chief attraction

William Frederick Cody, legendary American soldier and showman.

Buffalo Bill’s legendary Wild West Show arrived in Birminham on November 3, 1887 and played for four weeks on the Meadow at the Aston Lower Grounds, where Villa Park is now located.

William F. Cody, alias ‘Buffalo Bill’, gave a description of Birmingham’s manufacturing reputation in his book published in 1888, titled The Wild West in England. He wrote:

“A brief but successful occupancy of the Aston Lower Grounds, Birmingham, followed almost immediately upon our London triumphs. Birmingham, the headquarters of the British gun-making industry, the fancy metal trades and of innumerable branches of the lighter hardware crafts, together with its numerous surrounding towns responded nobly to our invitation. The news of our reception in London had gone before us, and we met with a prodigious welcome from the screw-makers, the teapot turners and the manufacturers of artificial jewelry and ‘Brummagem goods’ in general.”

Chief He-Dog leads a parade of native American Indians from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show along New Street in Birmingham.

However, the opening show on the afternoon of Saturday November 5 resulted in a dismal attendance as Aston Villa were in action on the same day on the other side of the town, taking on Small Heath Alliance in a cup match. The crowd at Muntz Street was estimated at 12,000 and Villa won the tie 4-0.

A week later, the penny Dart journal posted a brief review of the opening show in its ‘gossip’ column:

The Wild West, at Aston, is a frost. On the opening day, instead of an attendance of 20,000, there was not much over fifteen hundred. It was a poor audience for a third-class football match. The huge stand had a few in the corner, and oceans of empty benches. Mr Sims Reeves-Smith [promoter] expected the Brums would come there in their thousands, not to say millions. But very few people seemed to know or care about it. The show is interesting. At least five or six items in the programme. But, to sit it all out in a cold, damp, November twighlight is not exhilarating – just. There was nothing to be seen of the Wild West after five o’clock. And one or two people, who came in at ten minutes to five, and whose shillings were taken, were highly indignant and demanded their money back.

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