The 9th December 2020 marks a special occasion as Coronation Street has been gracing our television screens for an amazing 60 years; making it the longest running soap opera in history. Whilst this may now be the most famous cobbled street in the world, the history of the streets and communities which inspired the programme are less well known. Here is the long lost history of the ‘real’ Coronation Street.

Where was the ‘real’ Coronation Street?

When Tony Warren (1936-2016) penned his script for Coronation Street in 1960 he had no idea how successful his creation would be. Initially Warren had planned just 13 episodes and if the show wasn’t a success, then the final episode would have seen the street demolished as part of a slum clearance programme. Luckily Weatherfield, the fictional town in Salford, escaped this fate which befell many real working-class towns and suburbs in the post-Second World War period. Originally named, Florizel Street, the name was changed to Coronation Street, apparently after Agnes the tea-lady at Granada said it sounded like a disinfectant, although another source states she thought it sounded too much like Izal, a common brand of toilet paper at the time.

Speaking in 1995, Warren stated: ‘Coronation Street is four miles in any one direction from Manchester’ and although he acknowledged that Salford was the setting, there were coronation streets all over the north of England. Warren was heavily influenced by the sights and sounds and the people of his own childhood, especially during visits to his relatives who lived in the terraced houses of Salford. He later recalled that he wanted to preserve mid-century Salford ‘like flies in amber’ and his writing allowed him to do this:

‘I wasn’t born in a Coronation Street but it was there in my background, my grandparents still lived in “coronation street”. I was the kind of child that people took everywhere, I don’t know why but I was never satisfied until I saw the inside of people’s houses and the inside of their relations houses. So as a small boy I was carted down to Salford all the time. I was, in a way, the outsider and the outsider sees more.’

Although the inspiration for the show and its characters, whose surnames were taken from headstones in local graveyards, were therefore an amalgamation of people Warren had met or observed and his imagination, the street itself was very much inspired by a real place. Warren toured row after row of terraced houses in Salford looking for the perfect prototype for his street and he eventually found it in Archie Street, located in Ordsall.

Above: Archie Street as seen in the Coronation Street title and credit sequence, 1960

Archie Street, Ordsall

Archie Street was constructed around 1880 in the shadows of St. Clement’s Church, which itself was built between 1877-1878. At this time Ordsall was being developed on an enormous scale with working-class housing thrown up on open pastoral land. The ship canal was planned from 1882 which also impacted on the area. Archie Street was ideal for Warren’s Coronation Street as it featured a row of terraced houses with shallow bay windows and a corner shop at the end of the block. However, it wasn’t entirely perfect; the street was longer than Coronation Street, there was no Rovers Return pub on the corner, no railway viaduct and no Glad Tidings Mission Hall opposite the houses (Archie Street had terraces on both sides of the street).

Archie Street itself had a number of scandals and tragedies befitting of any soap opera. The corner shop at No. 2 Archie Street was an off-license and in 1881 the owner, Thomas Renshaw, his wife, Sarah and another woman were prosecuted for drunkenness. Renshaw was fined 30 shillings for selling alcohol when he shouldn’t have been and an additional five shillings for being drunk. Sarah also received a fine of five shillings for being drunk, as did the other woman, although her fine was 20 shillings.

There were also harrowing events. In 1886, four year old Albert Edward Lowe, who lived at 18 Archie Street accidentally drowned in the River Irwell after he lost his footing playing on the banks at the side of the river. Just a few years later in 1890, another young resident of Archie Street died in very similar circumstances. Edward Amos Pomphrey, aged 7 also accidentally drown in the Irwell. Many decades later footballer Eddie Colman was born and raised at No. 9 Archie Street. Colman, who tragically died at the age of 21 in the 1958 ‘Busby Babes’ Munich Air Disaster, was known in his lifetime as being the life and soul of the party. James Leighton’s biography of Duncan Edwards discusses Saturday nights at 9 Archie Street, when Eddie and his Manchester United teammates would gather in his parents’ front parlour with beer bought from the off license on the corner.

Above: Eddie Colman (1936-1958)

Archie Street featured in the opening and closing credits of the programme between 1960-1964. Another shot showed a panoramic view of Ordsall with St. Clement’s rising above the terraced houses. In 1964 a new title sequence was filmed, showing the back alley between Archie Street and Clement Street, in which a woman can be seen scrubbing the path. Although Archie Street was shown in the title sequences, no outside scenes were ever filmed there. Instead a plywood set was used for the outdoor scenes in the early episodes before a permanent outdoor set was built in the late 1960s at Granada Studios. Some scenes were filmed at St. Clement’s Church, such as the 1963 wedding of characters Jerry and Myra Booth, which caused a sensation in the area and the police had to brought in to control the crowds of onlookers.

In 1969 new title sequences were again filmed, but this time in colour to correspond with the new broadcasting of the programme in colour. These scenes were filmed in Hulme, showing the Grafton Court tower block, which marked a sign of the changing times. The 1975 title sequence showed houses around Ascension Street, Duke Street and Sussex Street in Lower Broughton, Salford (which have now all disappeared). Despite all these later changes, it was Archie Street which had captured public imagination and it was always associated as being the ‘real’ Coronation Street, but how did the real-life residents of Archie Street feel about this?

‘Why stare at us?’: How the residents of Archie Street responded

Within just 18 months after the first episode aired, the residents of Archie Street were plagued by tourists; from coachloads of holidaymakers at Easter to football fans who popped over to visit after attending away games. The Daily Herald reported in May 1962: ‘The people of the real-life Coronation Street are angry. They are fed-up with being ‘gawked’ at, they demand to be left alone and they just want peace and quiet […] the people are heartily sick of being stared at. Every week-end their street is invaded.’ By 1969 Archie Street was nicknamed Coronarchie Street by local residents.

The real residents of Archie Street were interviewed by the press. Ann Loates, who’s father ran the corner shop said: ‘We just want to be left in peace. It is too much when you are asked: How much do Granada pay you for this?‘ Ann Hughes said she felt like an animal in a zoo and another resident complained that there were ‘Coronation Streets in every Lancashire and Yorkshire town – why stare at us?’ One female resident of the street interviewed in 1965, said:

‘I am sick to death of the whole thing. People come here knocking on doors then when you go shopping, friends laugh at you for living in “coronation street”. The sooner is goes the better as far as I’m concerned. The next thing someone will open a gift shop for tourists.’

Above: Archie Street awaiting demolition, 1971 (Source: The Stage 3 August 1971)

However, the hype did not die down and instead it only grew as the soap became more popular. Indeed, as stories about the disgruntled residents of Archie Street were printed in local and national newspapers, this encouraged more people to visit. By the mid-1960s the soap was broadcast twice-weekly and the public became more invested in the lives of the characters. When Ida Barlow (played by Noël Dyson) was hit by a bus in 1961, fans sent flowers to Granada. A few years later when Martha Longhurst (played by Lynne Carol) died in the snug of the Rovers Return on New Year’s Eve 1964, fans phoned into the show to complain.

The Daily Mirror ran a three-page article on Coronation Street in 1968; a far cry from its review of the first episode back in December 1960, when the article stated: ‘The programme is doomed from the start with its signature tune and grim scene of a row of terraced houses and smoking chimneys. I find it hard to believe that viewers will want to put up with continuous slice-of-life domestic drudgery two nights a week.‘ By 1968 it was broadcast in Australia, Canada, Gibraltar, Holland, Hong Kong and New Zealand. A species of rose was even named after Violet Carson, who played the street’s matriarchal battle axe, Ena Sharples.

Fact vs. Fiction

It was the association with the characters in the show which most upset the residents of Archie Street. Coronation Street is and was a fictional show and certain traits and personalities were exaggerated and embellished for television. However, for the millions of weekly viewers in the 1960s, especially those who were not familiar with working-class communities, it was hard to separate fact from fiction.

The class system was still prevalent in everyday life in the 1960s and there were always notions of the ‘haves’ and have-nots’, harking back to nineteenth-century standards of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. This was reflected in the characters of Coronation Street, such as snobbish Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers Return and Ken Barlow who was conflicted between his own family’s working-class background and his own identity as a young university student in a period when it was unusual for the working classes to continue into higher education.

Although the rigidity of the class system slipped away as the twentieth century progressed, fears of being ‘common’ were still prevalent among working-class communities. This was a fear shared by the residents of Archie Street and reflected by certain characters and storylines in the show itself; such as Hilda and Stan Ogden in the 1960s and even by Jack and Vera Duckworth in the 1980s. The residents of Archie Street did not want to be tarnished by association with the fictional characters. In 1965 The Liverpool Echo wrote:

‘This is flesh and blood annoyance from the REAL tenants of the most famous street in the country. They reckon their street is the best in the neighbourhood. There hasn’t been a rumpus in the vicinity for years. Inside each home is spic and span. Outside they are brightly painted – in fact a picture of respectability.’

Above: Stan & Hilda Ogden (Bernard Youens & Jean Alexander) on Archie Street (Source: Daily Mirror, 6 August 1971)

Lucy Astor, resident of No. 18 Archie Street for 25 years stated in the mid-1960s: ‘It doesn’t do us justice at all. People round here don’t speak like they do on television. And you never see dirty milk bottles on the doorsteps in this street […] You can walk in any house in Archie Street at any time of the day and you’ll not find a speck of dust. I have nothing against the programme but I do wish they hadn’t chosen our street.’

Alice Gahn at No. 20 echoed the sentiment about the differences between fictionalised working-class life and the realities: ‘Some people are so stupid. They come here expecting Len Fairclough and the Barlows to live in our street. I watch the programme myself and I wouldn’t like to see it go. But it isn’t like us at all. This is a nice little street. Some of the rubbish the series says goes on here is quite silly.’

One female resident put it quite bluntly how she felt: ‘I was proud to live here before that series started. It was one of the nicest areas of Salford. The programme has cheapened it. Life was never like that in this street […] Nobody in this street would be seen going about wearing curling pins and we were never in and out of each other’s houses. We were friendly but we kept ourselves to ourselves […] I’m so fed up with being associated with Coronation Street that I don’t want my name mentioned.’

The End of Archie Street

By the mid-1960s, it was announced that Archie Street would be demolished and its residents rehoused as part of huge slum clearance projects in Salford; which aimed to redevelop 222 acres of land and rehouse more than 6000 families. As early as 1966, The Daily Mirror reported that residents of Archie Street were ‘looking forward’ to their homes being demolished. Some residents were no doubt glad to escape the tourists, but the majority were glad to escape the terraced houses.

The reason being that materially, Archie Street in the 1960s was not very different to Archie Street in the 1880s when the street was built. By 1962 only one house had a bathroom and hot running water, the rest of the street had neither. The fame of Coronation Street did somewhat help the residents of Archie Street. Frank Allaun (1913-2002) was MP for Salford East from 1955-1983 and Ordsall fell under his borough. Allaun was passionate about public housing and championed the right of his constituents. Occasionally in the House of Commons and in the press he would draw upon Coronation Street to raise awareness about the living conditions of his Salfordian constituents.

Above: Frank Allaun, MP superimposed onto a photo of Archie Street (Source: Daily Mirror, 22 January 1969)

In 1962, The People, reported on Allaun’s queries about why the characters of Coronation Street never discussed bathing or were seen taking a bath or even running a bath. Of course this was because the fictional street set, as with the real houses did not have bathrooms. Nor could they show nudity on television and quite frankly they could have filled a whole episode with amount of time it took to drag the tin bath from outside, put it in front of the fire, boil the water and fill the bath. This was such a common, unexciting experience for millions of working-class families in the 1960s that it wasn’t worth showing on television. However, Allaun thought that ‘if the TV characters would talk about their lack of washing facilities it would draw attention to the five million British families who also have no bathrooms’.

Therefore, the demolition of thousands of terraced streets was not necessarily seen as a loss at the time. What the residents did fear though was the loss of neighbourliness. Some residents of Archie Street had resided there for decades and their families and friends made up the close-knit community on the network of other terraced streets. Slum clearance programmes could not rehouse everyone in the same area and residents could find them dispersed across the borough of Salford; to different towns and new estates. One of the biggest fears was being rehoused in a high-rise tower block. This appears to have been unanimous; a 1969 study by the local clergy in Salford alongside Salford University found that 92.4% of those interviewed were not in favour of being re-housed in a tower block and 2/3 wanted a newly-built terrace or maisonette.

Archie Street’s end came in the autumn of 1971. Prior to the demolition of the street Bernard Youens and Jean Alexander were sent to Archie Street in their Stan and Hilda Ogden costumes to pose for publicity photographs. From start to end, for 11 years Archie Street was still a hot topic for the national press and a source of interest for the public.

What happened next?

The redevelopment of Ordsall completely changed the area. Only St. Clement’s church and vicarage survive in this immediate area as reminders of Victorian Salford. The site of Archie Street is now a part-landscaped area with trees and benches and the partly covered by St. Clement’s Drive.

Above: The site of Archie Street today. The terraced houses would have run towards St. Clement’s Church (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2020)

The residents of Archie Street were rehoused across Salford. Unfortunately, many were dissatisfied with their new homes and a lot of local authority houses and flats were affected by damp, in ways which architects and city planners did not foresee. The damp quickly turned into mould, damaging belongings and health. Frank Allaun raised this issue in Parliament in 1979:

‘What has happened to the Coronation Streets that have been demolished? There were farewell parties in the streets—and some were very good. The people were then rehoused in new council houses and flats. At last it seemed that their dreams had come true. Mothers were overjoyed, particularly with the bathrooms and the hot water for their children. No longer had they to put up with the single cold water tap or with having to go to the outside toilet in the back yard on a winter’s night.

Then came bitter disappointment and disillusionment. They came in the form of one word—” damp ” […] These new dwellings become heartbreak houses when the residents see their decorations and furniture, on which they have spent “well maintained” and other compensation grants and all their savings, being completely ruined. Some have decorated and redecorated half a dozen times to try to cope with the damp. A sickening, disgusting smell pervades some of the new dwellings. Some of them have turned into new slums.’

In an ironic twist, as Tony Warren was being filmed discussing the legacy of Coronation Street in 1985 for the 25th anniversary of the programme, tower blocks in Salford or ‘streets in the sky’ as he called them, which replaced many of the terraced streets were being pulled down around him.

The ‘other’ Coronation Street

The legacy of Coronation Street continues in Salford, for just a short walk away from the site of Archie Street is another ‘real’ Coronation Street. Coronation Street, which forms part of Regent Square, was laid out around 1902 on the site of the former Infantry Barracks for Salford. In the years after the demolition of Archie Street, this Coronation Street has drawn in fans of the show. However, unlike its fictional counterpart, the ‘real’ Coronation Street looks very different. The redbrick houses are three-storeys tall and interspersed between are some houses with double-height bay windows at ground floor and first floor level.

Above: The actual street named ‘Coronation Street’ in Salford (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2020)

In 2014 the production of Coronation Street was moved from the old Granada Studios site on Quay Street to a new set at Trafford Warf, part of Media City. This is not too far from the site of Archie Street and the docks themselves would have been very familiar with the former residents.

It is quite fitting that Coronation Street has returned to Salford. Even though the residents of Archie Street disliked the attention and association with the soap, the fact that the fictional street was based on the architecture of the real street means that ultimately as long as Coronation Street keeps going and whenever we see that terraced street on our TVs, we are reminded of Archie Street and the thousands of other streets like it across the country which disappeared in the last century. Ultimately the 60th anniversary of Coronation Street also reminds us of the residents who lived in these places, of characters from the show and of the communities of families and friends who may have lived in other ‘real’ Coronation Streets. As Tony Warren summed it up in 1985; ‘when all comes to all, Coronation Street isn’t bricks and mortar, it’s people.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath

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Sources:

  • An excellent article by Helena Vesty for the Manchester Evening News: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/coronation-street-anniversary-itv-history-19325571
  • James Leighton, Duncan Edwards: The Greatest, (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012)
  • Coronation Street: The First Twenty-Five Years (1985)
  • Coronation Street: Behind Closed Doors (1995)
  • Manchester Times, 19 February 1881
  • Manchester Evening News, 15 May 1886
  • Manchester Evening News, 21 July 1890
  • Halifax Evening Courier, 30 April 1958
  • Liverpool Echo, 14 November 1961
  • The People, 14 January 1962
  • Daily Herald, 4 May 1962
  • Sunday Mirror, 4 July 1965
  • The Liverpool Echo, 2 October 1965
  • Daily Mirror, 4 May 1966
  • Reading Evening Post, 12 April 1967
  • Daily Mirror, 12 April 1967
  • Sunday Mirror, 21 April 1968
  • Daily Mirror, 22 January 1969
  • Coventry Evening Telegraph, 11 February 1970
  • Liverpool Echo, 19 August 1970
  • The Stage, 5 August 1971
  • Daily Mirror 6 August 1971
  • Crewe Chronicle, 2 September 1971
  • Liverpool Echo, 4 December 1981
  • Daily Mirror, 22 April 1983
  • HANSARD archives https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/index.html
  • Corriepedia https://coronationstreet.fandom.com/wiki/Coronation_Street_Wiki (ultimate resource for anyone interested in the show past and present and also its development)

Characters/Actors Mentioned

  • Ken Barlow (played by William Roache, 1960-present)
  • Ida Barlow (played by Noël Dyson, 1960-61)
  • Jack & Vera Duckworth (played by Bill Tarmey, 1981-2010 & Liz Dawn, 1974-2008)
  • Martha Longhurst (played by Lynne Carol, 1960-64)
  • Stan & Hilda Ogden (played by Bernard Youens, 1964-1984 & Jean Alexander, 1964-1987)
  • Ena Sharples (played by Violet Carson, 1960-1980)
  • Annie Walker (played by Doris Speed, 1960-1983)