By the 1870's the Manchester Club were more and more influential in the running of the county club and the crowds started coming in increasing numbers to Old Trafford to watch the cricket.
In 1878 Lancashire played Gloucestershire and over 28,000 watched the match over the three days. The large crowds brought problems and it was reported that "a ruffianly mob even took to tearing up the ground and throwing sods at players and spectators and arrests had to be made." There were no ropes round the outfield and spectators kept spilling onto the field causing delays. The Australian team visited later that year and special grandstands were erected and a man on a horse employed to parade around the edge of the field and keep the crowd at bay.
Following all the crowd problems, the Committee made a far-reaching decision in 1878, when they decided in future that the pavilion and enclosures would be exclusively reserved for members of the Manchester and County Clubs. With the growing interest in the club a new grand stand was erected next to the pavilion and ropes put round the outfield as well as improvements to the access roads.
In 1880 significant decisions were made with the Manchester and Lancashire Clubs amalgamating under the new name of The Manchester and Lancashire County Cricket Club. Alex Watson, the Scottish-born bowler, was the new ground-keeper with accommodation in the pavilion, which had been enlarged to include a dressing-room for the professionals, a new committee room and telegraph office. The Committee also decided not to admit ladies to the pavilion or the members’ enclosure, a decision that was to last for over a hundred years.
In 1884 Old Trafford became the second ground, after the Oval, to stage Test cricket in England. Rain lashed down the first day and the match was drawn with 12,000 attending the second day. By 1885 alterations had been made at Old Trafford, with stands, a ladies tea-room and pavilion, and a stand for reporters near the scoring box. The ladies pavilion in red brick was very stylish, two storeys high, with a covered stand to provide accommodation for 300 ladies. The ground was now regarded as second only to Lord's.
In 1893 there was one of the most dramatic matches ever staged on the ground when Yorkshire were beaten. With six runs required for victory Yorkshire were 51-9 and Johnny Briggs tossed the ball up to Ulyett who was caught on the boundary going for a six. It was regarded by those present as the most exciting finish ever seen on the ground, with crowd scenes never before seen at Old Trafford.
In 1894 the club was a healthy state with almost 2,500 members and 500 lady subscribers and the decision was taken that a new pavilion should be built. This was by far the largest scheme the Club had taken on since its formation. Many meetings were held before a definite decision was reached. The old pavilion was in good condition and many people objected to its demolition. The cost of the new pavilion was not supposed to exceed £6,000. It was completed in 1895 at a cost of nearly £10,000. Three bathrooms were built for the amateurs and one for the professionals.
In 1898 Lancashire made the bold decision to buy the ground and some adjoining land, including the Gun Club, from the de Trafford's for £24,732. It was a big step, but one which in later years was to secure the prosperity and future of the Club.
In 1899 Victor Trumper and the Australians played in a Test at Old Trafford causing great interest with 28,000 people present on the first day. Manchester had eyes only for the Test match and even the judges adjourned court early to watch the cricket. Evidence of the size of the crowd can be judged from the 50,000 ginger beer bottles recovered after the match. A new scoreboard was also built at this time.
In 1900 one of the biggest hits ever seen on the ground was made by Gilbert Jessop. In an innings lasting only 12 minutes hit a six into the railway station at Warwick Road and the ball was recovered from between the lines by a signalman.
In 1902 a historic step was taken with the amateurs and professionals walking out on the field side by side. A newspaper report observed "As the players went to the wicket there was an outbreak of cheering-the citadel of conservatism had at last been stormed!" In the same year Victor Trumper scored a century before lunch in the Test match for Australia. Four years later J. T. Tyldesley enjoyed a tremendous benefit match with over 26,000 spectators present on the first day alone.
The years up to the First World War marked a decline in Lancashire's fortunes and also fewer people coming to Old Trafford to watch cricket. Towards the end of the 1914 season, when war had been declared the pavilion' was put at the service of the Red Cross and during the course of the war over 1,800 patients were treated there.
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