The land that now makes up Edgbaston Stadium was originally owned by the Calthorpe Estate, who had developed the manor of Edgbaston into an exclusive Birmingham suburb over the course of the 19th century. They thought a cricket ground to be an asset that would add to the genteel image of the area. Warwickshire had considered Rugby and Leamington Spa for its county headquarters, but club secretary William Ansell believed that Birmingham’s large population and comprehensive railway connections made it preferable – envisaging first-class status for the county and test status for the ground.
Initially favouring the Wycliffe Ground on Pershore Road, Warwickshire were offered a 12-acre ‘meadow of rough grazing land’ in an undeveloped area on the banks of the River Rea by the Calthorpe Estate, who considered the less attractive development land to have more to gain from association with the cricket ground. With the site only 20 minutes’ walk from New Street Station, Warwickshire agreed in 1885 to lease the land for £5 per acre over a 21 year period.
A further £1,250 was spent on draining and enclosing the site and building a wooden pavilion. The new ground’s first match took place on 7th June 1886 against the MCC, watched by 3,000 spectators over two days, with 6,000 turning out on the 9th and 10th of August to watch Warwickshire play Australia.
Edgbaston’s first test match was the first in the Ashes series in 1902, for which the club erected a permanent stand, two temporary stands and facilities for 90 members of the press. In July 1997 Edgbaston was the scene of the first competitive floodlit day-night cricket match in Britain. Edgbaston is considered to be one of England’s leading cricket grounds. The atmosphere at Edgbaston is reputed to be the most hostile in England for visiting teams. Former England captain Alec Stewart recalled, ‘‘On a world level I would put it up there with Eden Gardens in Calcutta, which holds about 100,000. It inspires a team. It’s like having another man in your side.’’ And the former England wicketkeeper Geraint Jones describes how ‘‘the crowd here makes such a big noise when you are doing well… it’s a unique environment.’’
The record attendance at a County Championship match at Edgbaston is 28,000 against Lancashire in the championship-winning season of 1951, and the record for a single day of a Test Match is 32,000 against the West Indies in 1957.
Of all England’s Test Grounds Edgbaston is the least disrupted by rain – losing an average of fewer than 90 minutes of play per match between 1979 and 1988, compared to over 8 hours per match at other grounds.