100 years ago war was raging throughout Europe and the death tolls were rising daily.
Salford had supplied many troops for this war effort and many soldiers left for their new posts on the Western Front from Cross Lane Barracks in Salford.
Cross Lane, which sits at the entrance to Salford proper, off the A6 Broad Street, is not the anonymous street it now appears to be.
It was once a bustling thoroughfare, with a beautiful Art Deco market clock tower – now demolished, of course, thanks to bungling council planners in the 1970s.
It is worth interjecting into this history story that outrage over the madness of decisions to knock down beautiful parts of our city’s heritage goes on to this day in Salford.
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In its heyday Cross Lane was crammed with shops, transport and life out on the street and soldiers would be a regular sight for passers-by.
In April 1916, Salford would be scandalised by an horrific murder at the army barracks.
The lurid details were splashed across the pages of the Manchester Guardian and thousands read about an innocent soldier, Private John Francis Kelly, brutally slain.
The son of Henry and Ellen Kelly, Pvt John Kelly, 27, was an iron worker who had served with the 7th Lancashire Fusiliers and had seen action in the Dardenelles.
He left the army in January 1916 to return to his former profession, but just a month after going back to work volunteered to return to the horrors of the First World War front lines.
Kelly took up his post as a guard at the Barracks gates, and in the evenings he stayed at his sister’s home in Armitage Street, Patricroft.
He was, she said, in good health when she last saw him – when he left her home on the morning of his death saying would be back for dinner at 12.45pm.
She told the inquest that he owned a relatively new knife which army bosses had given out with his uniform on the morning he re-enlisted.
He had seats booked for a show at the Hippodrome Theatre that night.
On the afternoon of April 28, Kelly was sent to a house on nearby Bridgewater Avenue – a demolished street between Clarendon and Liverpool Road – along with Private Harry Walker, to detain a soldier who was absent without leave: Private Walter Taylor.
It was reported that Taylor came quietly and didn’t put up a struggle at the time of his arrest, but he was told not to leave the Barracks again.
Kelly’s superior officer at Cross Lane, Captain Cartwright, had ordered he be detained in the small guardroom for questioning, while Kelly was stationed in the same room to watch him.
Things took a sinister turn when at 2.15pm that day, a Corporal Cooper was returning to the Barracks after finished his lunch when he spotted the prisoner, Taylor, casually walking along Cross Lane with his hands behind his back.
When asked why he was out of the Barracks he told Cooper the man guarding him had “let him out for some fresh air”.
Cooper hurried back to the barracks were he was met with an horrific sight.
Private Kelly was lying on his back on the guardroom floor in a pool of blood with his throat slit almost from ear to ear.
The blood had collected around his shoulders and was seeping across towards the door.
Kelly sister was the one to identify her brother’s body at the Silk Street Mortuary.
She told the judge in the inquest that he had mentioned the name Walter Taylor to her before, and said that he was “a sailor, a fine man, but very quiet”.
The police were summoned and Detective John Smith was first on the scene.
In Kelly’s pocket he found a bloodstained knife and on the floor an empty wallet which had contained £4 in notes.
The post mortem revealed that Private Kelly’s throat had been completely severed and the wound inflicted with six separate strokes of a knife.
The cuts were so deep that it had gone through to his vertebrae and had cut through all his blood vessels.
An official manhunt wound into action, but Taylor had a 20-minute headstart.
Police managed to ascertain through eyewitness reports that the fleeing man had jumped aboard a train from Cross Lane train station (yes, Cross Lane had its own station once) to Warrington.
Trying to give his captors the slip Taylor leapt off the train at Tyldesley and went into hiding in a nearby farmer’s shed.
The farmer noticed the unkempt Taylor after a matter of minutes and informed the poice who arrested him and took him to the nearest police station for questioning.
The Salford police arrived in the neighbouring town and found that Taylor, unwashed since the incident, had blood-stained hands.
He quickly pleaded guilty to the offence of murdering Private John Kelly.
He was taken back to Salford under police escort and put on trial at Salford Magistrates Court, charged with ‘Wilful Murder’. Taylor had no intention of pleading his innocence so was sent straight to the Quarter Sessions for sentencing.
The police enquiry uncovered clues that Taylor had overpowered Kely in the guardroom and slit his throat with Kelly’s own knife. Not done there, the unrepentent Taylor then stole Kelly’s cash from his wallet and his keys, taking the time to lock the cell on his way out to delay anyone finding the body.
Private John Francis Kelly was buried at Weaste Cemetery on Monday 11 April with full military honours.
The proceedings were “distinguised by military honours of a very impressive character”
200 uniformed men from his Regiment escorted the coffin along with the Royal East Lancashire Band who played suitable dirge music on the route.
Crowds lined the route from Cross Lane to Weaste Cemetery along Eccles New Road, with hundreds more crammed into the cemetery.
As the coffin was lowered into the ground, the Band played ‘The Dead March’ from Saul and as the Last Post was sounded, three volleys were fired by 15 soldiers from the Regiment.
A huge wreath with a Union Jack was presented from the men from the Barracks along with hundreds of other smaller wreaths from Salford and Eccles people who knew the deceased.
Private Walter Taylor pleaded guilty to the murder of Private Kelly at Manchester Azzizes, however instead of facing the death penalty he was found to be criminally insane by the Medical Officer at Strangeways Prison.
The judge ordered him to be “detained at the King’s Pleasure”.
This meant the prisoner had to stay as long as the King wanted; essentially it was a life sentence with no fixed time to serve and no possibility of parole.
These sentences were intended for those who showed no remorse and could be a danger to society if released.
For Kelly, it was a sad ending for a man who had served his country and had re-enlisted to do his bit, only to be slain by a fellow soldier in such a brutal fashion.
His grave is still visible in Weaste Cemetery today, on Cemetery Road in Salford.
Main image: © Salford Local History Library (SLHL)
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