The life and times of Coronation Street’s Rovers Return Inn

In our occasional series, Home Time, looking at some of soap opera’s most famous locations, our second abode is Weatherfield’s boozer, the Rovers Return Inn made famous in ITV’s long running saga, Coronation Street.

The Rovers Return Inn that remains the heart of Coronation Street, a little terraced street in a part of Salford in the North West, can be traced back to the 1600’s when the area, now known as Weatherfield, was part of great industrial expansions. With coal mines in the surrounding vicinity a drinking establishment is noted as standing at the junction of two Roman roads.

The White Mare

It’s name was The White Mare and local history states it became the refuge of Annie Marshall one of north’s most notorious highwaywomen. It’s landlord of this era is noted as being nicknamed ‘Dirty’ Dick Dawson who was shipped off to Australia in 1869 for dealing in stolen goods. Opposite the drinking house was a cotton mill.

The 1830s saw the land surrounding The White Mare coach house change with a much more urban landscape appearing including improved road links connecting Salford to nearby Manchester – and the arrival of the Great Northern Railway Company’s railroad which ran behind the pub. In 1900 The White Mare, and other elderly dwellings, were demolished to make way for a new housing estate.

In 1902 Albert Street neared completion, however with the death of Queen Victoria the planners re-named the road Coronation Street. The buildings were ready for residents just in time for Edward VII’s coronation with the first moving in on that day back on the 9th of August 1902.

Prior to the name change the new public house, built where The White Mare once stood, had originally been planned to be called The Queen Victoria, with the death of the old queen owners of the pub – The Newton, Ridley and Oakes Brewery – decided upon the name The Coronation Inn. Brewery boss Percy Oakes had to rethink that idea when it was announced the street was to be called Coronation Street. In a local link rather than a royal one, he opted for The Rovers Return Inn.

The man it was named after – Philip Ridley  – officially opened the Rovers Return Inn on August 16th 1902. Ridley had returned to Weatherfield a local hero having served in the Boer War, with battle honours at Spion Kop.

The New Rovers

Landlord and landlady Jim and Nellie Corbishley were installed as the tenants to oversee the pub’s daily business, living in the four-bedroomed pub with their son Charlie. 43-year-old Jim had previously ran a Salford Grocery store. The couple were proud to be the inhabitants of the brewery’s third pub to open.

The layout of the Rovers was impressive, four bedrooms upstairs, laundry room and a kitchen and living room on the ground floor. Like all the terraced buildings their toilet facilities were at the end of the yard. That was until 1910 when the brewery converted the laundry room into a bathroom complete with zinc bath.

It’s noted that Nellie enjoyed ‘lording it over’ her neighbours, she was the only in the street to have an indoor bathroom, until the brewery informed her it was a pubic amenity for residents too. The bar area consisted of three rooms – The Public Bar, The Snug and The Select.

The Snug was a ladies only corner where the drinks were half-penny cheaper than the main public bar. The Select was a larger entertainment room with waiter service and the drinks cost half a penny more than the main public bar.

One of the first dramas at the pub was a long running case of poisoning! Barmaid Sarah Bridges had secretly harboured lustful ideas for landlord Jim and plotted to kill his wife Nellie so she could become lady of the inn. Over the course of several months Nellie increasingly found herself falling ill. Despite her failing health she refused to see a doctor. When she finally was persuaded to see an expert she was told her body contained traces of arsenic, before Sarah could be exposed as the culprit she ran off with the pub’s takings avoiding capture.

Charlie Corbishley was killed during the First World War which sent Nellie into a deep depression with her anger at his death taken out at the regulars of the pub whos sons had survived. It was at this time the Rovers’ owners re-branded to Newton and Ridley following the death of Percy Oakes. In 1918 Nellie’s irrational behaviour, brought on by her continuing grief, saw the tenancy handed back to the brewery.

Staged in the 1920’s

George and Mary Diggins were the second tenants for Newton and Ridley, a reign which would last two decades. 45-year-old former Police Sergeant George, and music hall loving wife Mary, upped the public house’s reputation as a venue for entertainment. The couple persuaded Newton and Ridley to install a stage in the Select room and throughout the 1920s regular performances were laid on for pub-goers.

The 1930s proved less successful with trade falling, due to the depression, and the Diggins relocated to Blackpool where sea air and a boarding house beckoned. Newton and Ridley sought a new couple to take on the tenancy of their flagship back street boozer.

In 1938 John ‘Jack’ Walker a 38-year-old, his wife Annie and their one-year-old son William moved into the Rovers Return Inn. Jack had previous pub experience from working in his brother Arthur’s bar, The Nag’s Head while Annie was a natural with the public having been a regular performer with St Agnes Operatic Society.

Annie had grand ideas and believed the grotty back street bar would lead to better, much better, things – like a countryside inn somewhere in Cheshire. In 1939 with the event of the Second World War Annie found herself running the pub single-handed as Jack went off to fight for Britain and also an infant to care for. In 1940 Annie gave birth to Joan, her “Joanie” who she became incredibly close too. Jack didn’t see his child until he came home on leave in 1942.

Common Custom

It is fair to say Annie rather frowned upon The Rovers Return, she found the customers uncouth, the women common gossips and the setting grotty. This view was further endorsed in 1944 when she was held at knife point by a robber who demanded her takings, luckily a member of the pub’s staff saved her from any harm.

Corporal Jack Walker returned after the war to a six-year-old wayward son and four-year-old daughter. Annie blamed the lack of regard that ‘Billy’ showed down to poor education being issued by the local school. Annie eventually persuaded Jack to send their son to a private academy. Joan attended the local girls school where she achieved all that Annie had wanted, she became a natural at social climbing making friends with the daughters of well-to-do doctors, bankers and solicitors.

Billy was quite the opposite, he was kicked out of the academy for fighting and decided to train as a mechanic. Annie (right) was repulsed. In 1954 she attempted to find her way out of the common, grotty little tawdry back street Rovers and persuaded Jack to relocate to a more suitable classy country pub. They arrived in the quaint Wilmslow which Annie felt fitted her perfectly. The residents however felt differently and left her humiliated when the villagers made it clear they found her common – they knew she was simply putting on her airs and graces. She resigned herself to being Queen of the Cobbles rather than a commoner in posh surroundings.

Annie could however live her dreams through her daughter, who moved to Derby, became a teacher and married a fellow teacher. Annie was very proud her daughter lived in a very well-to-do area and would often visit her youngest child. While Annie was sad that Joan didn’t live closer to home, it was apparent to Jack that his daughter had ‘turned into’ her mother and found Weatherfield beneath her, she never visited her childhood home.

Annie and Jack were offered a tenancy transfer to a country pub, The Royal Oak, however still reeling from her Wilmslow insults the Walkers once more decided to remain at the Rovers Return, not long after they were left dealing with a tragedy as regular boozer Martha Longhurst died of a heart attack in the bar.

Rename the Rovers

In 1966 a remnant from The White Mare was discovered in the cellar of the pub, a painting from 1695, which had hung above the fireplace of the original coach house no less. It transpired the Rovers’ cellar dated back to the original pub, and had not been rebuilt in 1902. This led Annie to once more dream. She now felt heritage was part of the pub and attempted to rename it The Masked Lady in reference to the famous female highway robber who once sought refuge within the cellar walls. Jack overruled the idea and chucked the painting away while Annie was visiting Joan.

For a while the Walkers took in a lodger. Emily Nugent was a religious clean living girl. Annie thought she would raise the tone of the inn. In 1970 Jack died suddenly from a heart attack, leaving Annie devastated. She however had the support of her senior barmaid Betty Turpin and new girl Bet Lynch. Son Billy proved to be less useful, continuing his wayward ventures and gambling with the takings in poker matches. Annie pondered retiring, but locals rallied round to persuade her to remain the big fish in the small pond.

Billy moved to Jersey to work in a hotel, snubbing a commitment to Deirdre Hunt, something Annie was thrilled about, she didn’t believe Deirdre loved her son, and it appeared to be endorsed when Hunt married another, Ray Langton, only a few days after Billy’s departure.

Emily moved out to marry which saw Annie living alone. She suffered another armed robbery, however this time she stood up to the pair who were ransacking her drawers and chased them into the yard, where neighbour Len Fairclough gave them a good beating. Annie decided she needed a man around the place and hired widower Fred Gee to add a male touch to the place.

Disaster Decking

In 1979 a major incident caused chaos at the Rovers Return when a lorry crashed into the front of the building. Its load went flying through the widows trapping regulars under timber. Deirdie Langton, now with a young child – Tracy – feared the worst as the baby had been left for a moment outside the pub door while she popped in to find Ray. In a twist of luck a mentally disturbed girl had kidnapped Tracey, which may have been an omen – as Tracy herself would later become a warped murderer.

Annie caused a row when she decided to go off on holiday. She didn’t trust Betty Turpin (right) to manage the bar while she was away, so got the owners of the Rovers, Newton and Ridley, to bring in a relief manager. Gordon Lewis took a dislike to the staff, but rather set his sights on the Rovers Return wanting to take on the tenancy himself. He suspended Fred for ‘helping himself’ to the booze and Betty walked out after he accused her of short changing a customer. Bet walked out in support of her co-workers. Annie was horrified to walk into her home and find strange barmaids working her pumps. Gordon was undeterred by her return and wrote a damning report to Newton and Ridley suggesting that Annie Walker should be retired off as she was unfit to manage the establishment due to her age. Annie used her contacts within the brewery to have Gordon’s report ‘lost’ before it reached the senior mangers.

In October 1983 it was the end of an era when Annie decided to finally say farewell to Weatherfield. She retired to the more sophisticated world of Derby where she moved near her beloved Joan. Son Billy was not interested in taking on the tenancy of the Rovers Return Inn however Annie persuaded him that the pub must be kept in the Walker family by offering to pay off his gambling debts. He accepted her offer.

Billy’s Booze Inn

It was to be a short-lived family affair however as Billy had no regard for the place or staff, he started up after hours boozing sessions and illegal gambling. Fred Gee was dismissed and Bet and Betty left concerned for their future. The end arrived when the pub was raided by police in an after hours tip off. Newton and Ridley threatened Walker with eviction when they discovered he had been stocking up their bar with his own stock to make his own profits. He handed back the tenancy before they could revoke it, the licence handed over by Annie to her son had practically been thrown in her face too..

To the horror of Betty and Bet Gordon Lewis was restored as acting manager and once more he applied to take over as landlord of the Rovers for Newton and Ridley. Betty Turpin urged Bet Lynch to apply for the managerial role; the brewery eventually installed Bet as its manageress. Things were restored to the Annie Walker way of operating and nothing changed.

A forced change in 1986 came about when dodgy wiring lead to a fire, which gutted the 84-year-old building. New potman Jack Duckworth had attempted to fix a tripping fuse by using a stronger fusewire, which lead the box to burst into flames. The pub was closed for three months, and staff were told Newton and Ridley had no plans to reopen it.

Re-opened For Business and Pleasure

However local protest lead to the Rovers Return Inn reopening with a whole new look, the former three pub areas were now one large bar. Thrilled with the classy new bar, Bet decided she wanted to buy the tenancy rather than be just the manageress for the brewery. Netwton and Ridley informed her it would cost £15,000 to buy the licence. She soon realised she’d never be able to pay back a bank loan due to the interest incurred so turned to pal Alec Gilroy, a theatrical agent who agreed to loan her the money.

Alec had his eyes on Bet, and also saw the pub as a great investment, but when Bet realised she couldn’t even afford Alec’s monthly re-payments she fled abroad. With the help of mainstay barmaid Betty Turpin and his pal brewery boss Cecil Newton he took over the tenancy of the pub and set about finding Bet. He eventually tracked her down to Torremolinos where she was working as waitress, he offered her a marriage proposal – which she accepted.

The marriage lasted five years before Alec moved to Southampton in 1992 to become an entertainments manager for a cruise liner. A succession of barmaids assisted Bet in the 1990s from Liz MacDonald to Raquel Wolstenhulme and the ever loyal Betty. The owners of the pub were less loyal to its heritage when new boss Nigel Ridley had designs on turning the place into a ‘theme pub’. The ambitious plans included buying the house next door to extend the premises and turn the upper floor into a restaurant. The new theme would be an American carvery, the name would be Yankees. Luckily for the regulars Cecil Newton came out of retirement to save their local.

By 1995 not even Cecil could put the breaks on Newton and Ridley’s company restructuring plans. Backstreet boozers were no longer their focus and the brewery announced that six pubs would be sold off. On the list was the Rovers Return Inn with an asking price of £68,000.

All Bet’s Are Off

Unable to afford to buy the building Bet turned to family and friends to help her in her quest to remain landlady. Both declined her request for investment. Bet decided, humiliated, to slink off into the night, leaving pal Betty Turpin devastated – especially as the 73-year-old was due to marry only a few days later and Bet would no longer be there as matron of honour.

The Rovers Return Inn for the first time in its history was to no longer be a brewery pub and it was sold via a public auction. Liz MacDonald had her sights set on it, however having recently landed a windfall the common-as-muck Duckworth’s became the first family to own the bricks and mortar. Due to former potman Jack having run-ins with the police it was his loudmouth wife Vera who was issued the licence. Annie Walker would be spinning in her well-to-do grave. The Newton and Ridley signs are removed from the building.

The Duckworth’s time proved to be a short-lived unsuccessful run in charge, the place didn’t make a profit and the when they landed a large tax bill they had to sell off a chunk of business to old tenant Alec Gilroy, who later decided to sell up and the Duckworth’s were forced out. Natalie Barnes buys the pub seemingly to take her mind off her recently murdered husband, but it proves to be far from a happy time. She finds new love with an engaged man, Ian, who it later turns out is the husband-to-be of fellow Coronation Street resident Sharon Gaskell, Betty spots Natalie and Ian together and puts the cat amongst the pigeons.

Short-Lived Successors

In 2000 Natalie had had enough of Weatherfield when the body of her son, Tony, is discovered in a nearby street. History repeats itself when a new pub chain shows an interest in the premises. The Boozy Brewery wants to re-brand the Rovers as The Boozy Newt and make it into modern ‘with-it’ youth-aimed pub. Outraged local businessmen combine together to out-bid the chain at auction. The Rovers goes for £75,000 to Mike Baldwin, Duggie Ferguson and Fred Elliott. Baldwin and Elliott later sell out to Ferguson when he via a company takes over their shares. He only reveals he owns the company once the deal is done.

Like Annie Walker, Duggie Ferguson has his sights on bigger things, the Rovers is a stepping stone to a bigger venture, he sells up and moves on to buy The Weatherfield Rugby League Social Club. Fred Elliott bought the pub outright, it was just one of his ventures, although his first love would always be his butchers shop. In 2006 he agrees to sell it to Liz MacDonald who would finally own the pub she’d always dreamed of. Annie would possibly suggest Liz’s ambitions were not as high as her mini-skirts.

Fred died just before the deal to buy the Rovers Return was done, and with only a verbal agreement Liz feared the worst. Fred’s son however honoured his father’s promise and Liz purchased the boozer with the financial assistance of her businessman son, Steve. In late 2010 the Newton and Ridley signs were restored to the exterior of the pub with no explanation.

In 2011, Liz learned that Steve had started to run the pub into the ground due to taking out loans against it so his rowdy wife could buy her nephew from her negligent sister. Liz and Steve rowed, causing a rift between them. Liz found she was on a losing streak, her estranged husband attempted to save the day by buying the pub for her – however that involved robbing a bank which proved futile. Liz decided to leave without telling Steve. Calling a taxi, she packed her bags before leaving the pub and the Street behind for good.

Shoehorned Stella

Current owners are Stella Price and her husband Karl, she arrived in 2011 as landlady to replace Liz, but brought her family with her and moved them into the pub – much to the bemusement of Steve. Price hadn’t been long in Weatherfield when residents were stunned that the attractive Stella could have ever had a child with yob and layabout scruff Les Battersby, but it became the truth when it was revealed Stella was the mother of his daughter Leanne.

She’s fast becoming ‘Shoehorn Stella’ as she’s thrust into anyone and everyone’s traumas as a friendly caring face. She’ll have a real reason to show some genuine sympathy for the Rovers Return Inn regulars this month as the sad news mainstay barmaid Betty Williams/Turpin has died.

In another case of history repeating, gambling is proving to be costly for the Rovers, just like Billy Walker, Stella’s better half Karl has been using the till profits on gambling action.

Edition one of Home Time looked at Emmerdale’s Home Farm, read it here

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