A brief history

by Mike Plowman


"30 years ago there used to be a Black Maria outside Rovers Return every Sat'd'y night. An' coppers used to walk two at a time down Coronation Street. Annie Walker wouldn't o' lasted five minutes"

Ena Sharples

Like all the houses in the Street, The Rovers Return inn has its own history, daring back to 1902 when, along with the rest of Coronation Street it was built. The brewery was responsible for the building of the public house and had planned to name it "The Coronation" to celebrate the imminent succession of King Edward VII. However, they were forced to change their minds when the street itself was named "Coronation Street".

Lt Philip Ridley, one of the members of the brewery-owning household, had recently returned from the Boer War and the pub was given the name "The Rover's Return" to celebrate his safe homecoming. He was present on Saturday 16 August when the pub was officially opened. Later on, after the Great War, Lt Ridley had the pub name altered to read The Rovers Return (without an apostrophe) to celebrate the homecoming of all the local heroes.

Jim Corbishley, a grocer by trade, was the first tenant in the pub. He had sold his Salford shop for £40 and took over the new pub with his wife Nellie and 17-year-old son Charlie. Charlie soon gained a reputation as a womaniser in the district and many local lasses fell for)r his charms. Sadly he died, aged 31, from injuries inflicted on the Somme. His girlfriend, barmaid Sarah Bridges was consoled by local rake Alfie Marsh. They shocked the neighbour-hood by running off together and marrying bigamously. Jim and Nellie retired from the pub and bought a hoarding house in Little Hayfield.

Retired police sergeant George Diggins took over at the Rovers in July 1919. His wife Mary struck a blow for women's rights when she served the local ladies in the Public as well as the Snug. The Diggins had no children, but Mary owned a small dog which slept in a basket made from a beer barrel under the counter It lapped up any beer spilt onto the floor The Diggins remained in the pub until 1937 when they moved away to Southport.

Newly-weds Jack and Annie Walker took over the pub in October 1937, having bought the tenancy from the brewery. Their children Billy and Joan were born in the pub during the blitz.

Jack and Annie
Jack and Annie Walker

Annie Walker ran the pub more or less single handed during the war while Jack served in the army. Annie had always wanted to use the pub as a mere stepping- stone to more gracious surroundings, and she had her heart set on a country pub in Cheshire. Jack, however, thoroughly enjoyed the time he spent behind the bar.

In the late 1950s the Walkers supervised the removal of the spittoons from the bar and replaced the sawdust on the ground with tiles. Realising that she was stuck with the pub, Annie had decided to make the most of the situation.

On leaving school, Billy trained as a mechanic and did his National Service in Eden whilst Joan went to teacher-training college where she met Gordon Davies, the man she would eventually marry.

The residents of Coronation Street were almost as responsible as the Walkers for making the pub what it was by 1960 - a cosy hub of activity. Characters such as Ena Sharples and Albert Tatlock had drunk in the Rovers since the 1918 Armistice, whilst younger residents like Elsie Tanner and Len Fairclough had arrived in time for the second world war and had suffered, along with Annie, under Air Raid Warden Sharples. The 1950s had seen a younger generation grow up. including Dennis Tanner and Kenneth Barlow, both anxious - in their own ways - to change the world.

AnnieJack Walker died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970, a blow that Annie never really recovered from. Annie took a great deal of time off and installed son Billy to run the pub in her absence.


Bet in 1960sBilly WalkerBilly employed blonde buxom Bet Lynch as barmaid, and though Annie was less than happy about it, she turned out to be a great asset to the pub.

Despite various barmaids, relief managers etc. the trio of Annie Walker, Betty Turpin and Bet Lynch remained the mainstay of the Rovers Return right through to 1984 when Annie announced her retirement

Billy Walker took over the tenancy but did so only because he was heavily in debt and needed money. He was unhappy at running the Rovers and took every opportunity to bemoan the pub and Weatherfield. Eventually he was summoned before Sarah Ridley at the brewery and told that hey were unhappy with him as the tenant. Billy asked the brewery to buy him out and they did so.

The Brewery announced that they had decided to appoint a manager to run the Rovers. The locals persuaded Bet to apply for the job and, unknown to her, signed a petition and sent it to the Brewery supporting her application. She was amazed to find herself appointed manageress and moved into the living quarters of the pub.

It was, in 1986, while Bet was manageress that the pub was gutted by fire. Bet was disconsolate at the devastation of the pub and thought that was the end, but to her joy, the brewery announced plans to rebuild and refurbish the pub and kept her on the payroll whilst the work was being done.

Reopening of the Rovers
Hilda Ogden had the honour of cutting the tape!

The regulars were all overjoyed when Bet opened the doors of the new Rovers Return, the only glum face being that of Alec Gilroy who ran the nearby Graffiti Club and had been doing a roaring trade during the pubs closure

In 1987 the brewery told Bet that they wished to revert the pub to a standard tenancy and offered Bet first refusal. She needed to raise £15,000 and asked Alec Gilroy for help. He lent her the money but Bet found the going tough and fearing she would face the humiliation of losing the pub, packed a bag and fled. Alec persuaded the brewery to install him as temporary manager, so he could keep an eye on his investment, while Bet was missing. After three months absence, Bet contacted the Brewery to say she was in Spain. Alec set off immediately in search of her and, as much to his own surprise as Bet's, proposed marriage!

A month later she became Mrs Gilroy and the pub was hers again.

Bet marries Alec

In 1993 Alec, who had maintained his links with the theatrical profession, was offered a job as entertainment manager on a cruise liner. Alec desperately wanted to take the job and he and Bet were looking forward to a new life in Southampton. But, as the time drew near, Bet realised that she could not the leave the pub that had been her only real home over the years and the couple parted, Bet remaining at the Rovers. The next couple of years were tough for Bet and finally, in 1995 when the tenancy of the Rovers was up the brewery decided to make the pub a free-house and offered Bet the chance to buy it. Bet tried desperately to find the money to buy the pub, asking both Rita and Vicky to loan the funds, but was refused by both. Realising that she was about to lose the pub that she had loved so much and given up so much for, she packed her bags and left Weatherfield.

Hearing that the pub was up for sale, and having just received £30,000 from his late brother, Cliff's insurance payout, Jack Duckworth and wife Vera jumped at the chance of becoming the owners of the pub where Jack had been cellarman for so many years. It has been a big change for the Duckworths, for so many years the ne'er do wells of Coronation St, but they seem to have risen to it and the future for them, for once, appears rosy.

Cartoon of JackCartoon of Vera

In the 36 years that Coronation Street has been screened, these characters have matured together and inevitably many have moved on, though there are always other characters to take their places, propping up the bar. These days characters as diverse as Percy Sugden, Rita Sullivan and Kevin Webster spend their evenings in the Rovers, exchanging views on topics, witnessing confrontations, consoling each other and having a merry time. In its 90 year history the little back-street ale house has always been a welcoming place, full of familiar faces and juicy gossip.





Reference Source: 'Life and Times at the Rovers Return'. written by Daran Little and published by Index. ISBN 3579108642

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