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100 years ago in Salford: Circus elephant turns hero in rampage down Cross Lane

It’s scarcely more difficult to believe than any of the other stories we’ve found in the city’s archives, but 100 years ago this week a visiting male African elephant escaped the circus and trampled through the streets of Salford.

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Incredibly, after a four-hour stand off with his handlers, this pachyderm ended up a hero.

Readers of a certain age may recall the stuffed and mounted figure of Marwhan the elephant in the Buile Hill Park Museum on the top floor.

He resided there for many years before the fine museum closed down in the early 1980s.

Museum staff clean the stuffed elephant - © Salford Local History Library

Museum staff clean the stuffed elephant – © Salford Local History Library

In April of 1916 Messrs Everall and Mason’s Performing Circus was travelling through Lancashire and had intended to perform at Salford Hippodrome on Cross Lane, a popular and well-established theatre and variety hall.

The circus arrived at Cross Lane sidings and was making its way through the streets of Salford much to the delight of local residents.

It would have made an amazing spectacle set against the rather grey streets: lions and tigers in cages, elephants marching tail to tail, horses, clowns and jugglers all led by Mr Everall in his top hat and regalia.

Disaster struck when a freak hail shower caused the animals to panic sending frightened onlookers to the safety of their homes.

The lead elephant, Marwhan, broke free from its handler, and commenced to race along Cross Lane causing startled onlookers to take shelter.

Escaped animals running down Cross Lane wasn’t that rare to be honest: many a time cattle being taken to the local market would stampede in fear, bumping into pedestrians and searching for sanctuary.

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Several brave bobbies tried in vain to subdue the beast with flailing truncheons but to no avail as it made its way towards the canal at Windsor bridge.

History records that residents on Cross Lane, unafraid, came out of Lunds cake shop and fed it buns as a sign of friendship.

Undaunted and possibly thirsty the elephant arrived at the Salford canal for a much needed drink.

As you can imagine at that time the canal was heavily polluted and to drink from it would have meant certain death for Marwhan.

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Fate took another strange turn.

A small boy called Albert Duff, 5, who had been fishing with his chums, had slipped and fallen into the murky water and was shouting for help.

The Salford City Reporter told how Marwhan reacted to the boy’s screams, plodding along the canal towpath, scooping the boy out of the filthy water and placing him on the canal bank in the recovery position, waiting for the police to assist him.

Instead of the tranquilser darts that he was no doubt expecting, Marwhan was feted with yet even more buns and bananas from the grateful rescuers.

Young Albert was rushed to the nearby Salford Royal Hospital where he made a full recovery – but was left with a life-long fear of elephants.

The grateful people of Salford marched Marwan back to its grateful owner, Messr Everall, who – with an eye for a shilling – made the lifesaving elephant the star attraction of the circus during its stay in Salford, ensuring full houses at Salford Hippodrome each night.

Sadly elephants don’t live forever, and some 20 years later Marwhan passed away from an infection suspected to be caused by the filthy waters of the Salford Cut Canal, a tragic ending for a noble beast.

His body and bones were buried in Buile Hill Park, while Mr Everall kept the trunks as a ‘souvenier’ and not as many people thought as a way of selling the ivory tusks for a healthy profit.

Marwhan the elephant lives on in our memories, but surely a statue in Bexley Square would be a fitting gesture, possibly a white one?

Editor’s note: This is an April Fools story and as such the ‘facts’ are a work of fiction

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.