Martha Longhurst (née Hartley) was a widow who resided at 7 Mawdsley Street. Her husband Percy had died in 1946, with whom she had two children: Harold, who was drowned at age three, and Lily, who went on to marry Wilf Haddon.
As a pensioner, Martha spent most of her evenings gossiping with her lifelong friends Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell in the Rovers Return snug. Unlike her companions, who were also widows, Martha was open to finding love again and dreamed of better things. In 1964 she accepted an invitation from the Haddons to join them in Spain - her first foreign holiday - but died of a heart attack before she got the chance to go.
1896-1934: Early life
Martha Hartley was born in Weatherfield to Jack and Mary Hartley on 2nd September 1896. She was educated at Hardcastle's Factory School in Bessie Street, where she formed lasting friendships with her younger schoolmates Ena Schofield and Minnie Carlton. Though she never distinguished herself scholarly - in fact, she was often smacked for being bottom of her class - Martha had a happy childhood.
Martha went to work at Chasen's Mill after completing her education. Albert Tatlock described the young Martha as a "good-looking wench", with lovely red hair, who had her pick of suitors. She was set to marry Eddie Brown, but the boy was gassed in the First World War. Handel Gartside also considered asking her to marry him at one point, but when the heroes came home, it was shunter Percy Longhurst with whom she ended up. Martha and Percy were married in 1919 and moved into 7 Mawdsley Street immediately afterwards. Her one regret about her wedding day was that they hadn't been able to afford photographs - the couple rectified this in 1930 by holding another ceremony especially for the pictures.
The 1920s were a time of sorrow for Martha. Her mother and sister passed away, and the Longhursts had trouble conceiving, with Martha suffering two miscarriages. In 1926, their daughter Lily was born, with a son, Harold, following soon afterwards. The decade ended with Harold drowning in Mosley's Flash and Percy losing his job at the shunting yards, entering a period of unemployment which lasted over a year until he was taken on at a local warehouse as a storeman. By this time, Martha was charring at the new Town Hall, earning wages which had to keep the whole family for a time.
Martha's marriage was a precarious arrangement at the best of times; Percy knocked Martha about and, after Lily was born, started going about with other women. When she suffered her last miscarriage, Martha's womb was damaged and her doctor advised her not to get pregnant again. Martha followed his advice by refusing to let Percy touch her at all, which paired with his unemployment, caused Percy to become bitter. Martha knew about Percy's girlfriends, and tolerated his infidelity as she felt she had failed to do her wife's duty. However, the couple frequently had blazing rows, which Lily used to listen to on the stairs as there was no light in her bedroom and they sounded worse in darkness.
In 1934, Percy ran off with a hairdresser. Hurt and lonely, Martha fled to Blackpool with Lily, where she had a romance with a man named Philip; a rare moment of contentment in her gloomy life. She returned to Weatherfield without her new man, and was then reconciled with Percy. Her holiday liaison remained a secret even to her closest friends Ena and Minnie, with the only memento being a record of the pair proclaiming their love for each other, recorded at the Golden Mile.
1934-1960: The lonely widow
Percy calmed down as he got older, and with the Longhursts both working, they had a modicum of tranquility before Percy succumbed to illness and passed away in 1946. Martha kept herself plenty busy; during the war, she worked on munitions with Ena, and charring jobs were always easy to come by. During the Blitz, her home was bombed, and Percy and Ena feared she was dead. Their panic ended when Martha walked over and in her usual tone questioned.. "What, you cryin' bout.. 'ere, where's me 'ouse?". Martha and Percy lived at 13 Coronation Street while the house was being rebuilt.
Lily married Wilf Haddon during the same period as her father's death, and moved to a nicer area; the couple later provided Martha with two granddaughters, Sandra and Pauline. During evenings, Martha was a fellow denizen of the Rovers Return snug along with Ena and Minnie. Their conversations would invariably begin with gossip before descending into the ladies criticising each other. More likely to speak her mind openly to Ena than Minnie, she was often mocked for her continuous references to Lily. She was proud of her only daughter, and often spoke glowingly of her Lily's Wilf and the Haddons' middle-class lifestyle. Martha was cut down to size when Ena said that Wilf earned so much by working nights.
1960-1964: Final years
By the 1960s, Martha had retired and was drawing her pension. Money was tight, but she made it last without having to work to supplement it. In December 1960, when Ena collapsed due to stress and had a spell in hospital, Leonard Swindley asked Martha to temporarily take over Ena's caretaker duties at the Glad Tidings Mission Hall. Martha accepted but only lasted a few days as Ena's suspicious nature led her to walk out of hospital and return to her vestry, senile decay or no senile decay. Dismissing Martha from her post, Ena caught her friend using her feather duster and accused her of rooting through her things. Martha protested her innocence, and the pair spent a few weeks not speaking to each other until they agreed to forgive and forget.
In March 1963, Martha was taken on by the Walkers as the new Rovers cleaner, and she also worked in the same capacity at Laurie Frazer's Viaduct Sporting Club the following year. Although she pushed herself hard, Martha was pleased to be able to put some money away.
In the summer of 1963, Martha saw a doctor and was put on pills which she took three times a day - a fact she kept private even from her family and friends. With health issues and money stashed away, Martha was of a mind to break from her mundane routine. The catalyst was the return of Ted Ashley, a former classmate at Bessie Street who had long since emigrated to Australia and made a good life for himself as a farmer and shopkeeper. Ted was back in Weatherfield to look up old friends and visit his cousin Clara - who also happened to be Martha's next-door neighbour. Setting her cap at Ted, who was now a widower, Martha asked Clara to invite him over to hers for tea. Ena's suspicions were aroused when Martha bought a tin of best salmon from the Corner Shop and invited both her and Minnie to tea, even though it wasn't a Sunday. Ted did turn up, but he barely remembered the ladies from his school days and got his memories of them hopelessly confused.
Martha clung to Ted throughout his stay, and the man was too gentlemanly to put her off. When Martha told him that she had never been out of Lancashire, Ted suggested that she go to London to stay with his sister Alice as she missed the north. Martha took this as an invitation to go along with him when he left Weatherfield, and she immediately made travel arrangements - much to the surprise of Ted, who had no romantic interest in Martha. Martha went to London expecting a proposal from Ted, but none came and instead she spent her time sightseeing on her own. Back in Weatherfield, a humiliated Martha hid away from her friends, although Frank Barlow spotted her going into her house and told everyone that she was back. Ena and Minnie confronted her and she sheepishly admitted that Ted had shown no affection for her whatsoever.
Martha had enjoyed London itself and the excursion had whetted her appetite for travel. When invited to go on holiday in Spain with Lily and family, Martha bought her first passport and proudly showed it off to anyone who showed the slightest interest. It was during a singsong at a party in the Rovers thrown by Frank Barlow to celebrate his win at the Premium Bonds that Martha became ill and retreated to her usual chair in the empty snug. Unnoticed by anyone else, Martha had a sudden heart attack which killed her instantly. She was eventually spotted by Myra Booth, who thought that she had fallen asleep. One-by-one, the revellers stopped singing and looked towards the snug as Annie Walker and Len Fairclough tried to wake Martha while Jack called for a doctor. Ena, on the harmonium, was the last to notice. Failing to find a pulse, Len declared Martha dead.
Martha was laid out in the vestry bedroom prior to being buried in the family plot with Percy. Her insurance policies only came to £22, 4s and 9d; not enough for a funeral so Lily and Wilf had to pay the rest. Helping Lily clear out the house, Ena and Minnie happened upon the record Martha had made in Blackpool in 1934. Although unable to identify the man in the recording, they were pleased to know that their friend had once had some fun in her life.
- "She always looked as though she'd lost a quid and found a ha'penny." - Len Fairclough
Martha Longhurst was a woman who had never known happiness. By 1930, she had experienced poverty, the death of a child, and marriage to a man who knocked her about and went with other women. Like most ladies of her generation, Martha kept her suffering private and did her duty as a wife and mother, but she gave Percy hell for his shortcomings and rows between them were part of the daily routine.
After Percy's death, Martha received her 'reward' for her decades of endurance and compromises in a daughter who tolerated her and used her mainly as a baby-sitter, although Martha turned a blind eye to this as Lily's family were all she had. In 1964, when Martha was pursuing Ted Ashley in the hope that he would propose to her and whisk her away to Australia, she similarly ignored clear signs that he had no romantic interest in her, and embarrassed herself by going away to London to visit his sister, the truth only dawning on her there. Whenever she did have something to brag about, she made sure that everyone knew about it, such as when she got her first passport for her family holiday in Spain.
Martha had a deep-seated bitterness which manifested itself through criticising and gossiping about her neighbours. She was often critical of the ways of the younger generation and was responsible for Len Fairclough getting the sack from his job at Birtwistle's Construction. She had shopped him to his bosses as she disapproved of him spending so much time with Elsie Tanner when he was a married man. However, she occasionally stuck up for her neighbours when they were attacked by an outsider, as she did for Frank Barlow when Ethel Tyson slandered him outside his DIY shop in 1963.
- "We never got on, she was always at me." - Lily
Martha's only daughter Lily had little in common with her mother. Having grown up listening to her parents row, Lily got as far away from 7 Mawdsley Street as she could, leading a settled life in middle-class suburbia with her husband Wilf and their children. Martha saw the Haddons often and indeed they were her only escape from her mundane life, and she frequently bored Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell by going on about them.
Behind closed doors, Martha and Lily weren't as close as the former made out. Lily used her mother mainly as a babysitter and Martha would occupy her time at the Haddon household by doing the housework. Her constant nagging made Lily wonder if she had a grudge against her because of the way that her father Percy Longhurst had changed after she was born, but in the interests of keeping the peace she never called Martha on it.
After Martha died, Lily threw out most of her things, taking only the family photos and one or two brooches. At the funeral, Ena berated Lily for never caring about her mother unless she needed a babysitter.
Martha and Ena's friendship stretched back to their school days. Among the three inhabitants of the Rovers snug, Martha was second in the pecking order, above Minnie. She was close in personality to Ena but lacked her bossiness and thus could be shouted down in an argument.
Martha's friendship with Ena was often fractious. She normally deferred to Ena but questioned when to let her have her way and when to stand up to her. In 1961, when Ena moved in with Martha after being sacked from the Glad Tidings Mission Hall and subsequently evicted from her home in the vestry, Martha was given no choice in the matter and was driven to despair when Ena moved her furniture around and tricked her into parting with her whisky. Martha was relieved when, after three weeks, Ena moved back into her vestry.
When the ladies ventured beyond Coronation Street, Ena was the one who decided on their activities. In 1962, when Ena insisted on going to see Spartacus at the Luxy with her friends, Martha and Minnie waited for her at the Rovers only for her to fail to appear. As there was a light on in the vestry, they assumed that she'd stood them up out of thoughtlessness and shouted through the door that they were no longer her friends. Only afterwards did they find out that Ena had had a mild stroke and was lying collapsed on her floor. The pair attempted to make amends by buying Ena a budgie called Archie as a welcome home present, but Martha was forced to take in the bird when, having listened to the pair witter on, it kept repeating the phrases "Ena won't like it" and "Minnie Caldwell". With Ena on the mend and her friends having some grovelling to do, Ena quickly re-gained the upper hand.
Martha collected the pensions of Ena and Minnie for them on a regular basis and this was to lead to trouble when, in May 1963, she lost Ena's pension book. It was found by a schoolboy, Michael Butterworth, who cashed it and spent the money.
Minnie's docile nature made her a useful ally to Martha in her battles with Ena. Whenever Martha was snubbing Ena, she would instruct Minnie to do the same. In October 1963, due to Ena refusing to have a children's party at the Mission, the residents blamed her for its subsequent cancellation. Ena was sent to Coventry, with Martha eagerly shunning her and Minnie less so. They made up with Ena after the vestry was trashed by a mystery person (later revealed to be Michael Butterworth) and it was established that she wasn't to blame for the party being shelved.
The downside of Minnie being so potty was that Martha had to make sure she didn't unthinkingly upset Ena, usually without success. In December 1961, Martha stopped Minnie from using Ena's harmonium when she was helping out at the Mission although it proved only a temporary setback as Albert Tatlock subsequently let her play on it, resulting in Ena hearing it and trapping Minnie in a wardrobe to teach her a lesson. In March 1961, when Ena went to the Town Hall to complain about her gas pressure, she got Minnie and Martha to test theirs. Missing the point of the exercise, Minnie reported to Martha that hers boiled much faster than Ena's. Before going to make her complaint, Ena got Minnie to alter her form.
In 1975, Annie Walker went to visit Billy in Jersey, and barmaids Betty Turpin and Bet Lynch moved into the Rovers for a few weeks to look after the pub in her absence. One night, after locking up, Betty found a pair of glasses on the bar and, as she went to pick them up, caught sight of a woman in the empty snug and heard a woman's voice, mentioning Minnie Caldwell by name, and also "our Lily's Wilf." The next day, Betty told Bet that she thought she'd seen a ghost.
The story of Betty's paranormal sighting soon reached Ena and Minnie's ears, and they got her to describe the "ghost" as being middle-aged and wearing a beret and round glasses - a perfect description of Martha Longhurst. Ena and Minnie took it as a fact that she'd seen their late friend, but others had different interpretations - Bet asked if Betty had had a go at the optics, while Ken Barlow tried to debunk the idea of an apparition, positing the theory that she'd been told about Martha by Ena and Minnie in the past and that the glasses had triggered her subconscious.
The mystery was never solved, with the exception of the glasses on the bar, which shortly afterwards were claimed by customer Barney Gardner.
Creation and casting
The character of Martha was conceived early on, when Tony Warren realised that Ena Sharples would need drinking companions. His experiences of the real-world Enas and their cronies greatly informed the character. Warren: "Whenever you got tough old viragoes like Ena, they always had henchmen. They generally had a talkative one that could be shouted down, and then there was always a silent one who nodded but was a bit rebellious." (Minnie Caldwell Remembered - A Tribute to Margot Bryant) The former character outline turned into Martha Longhurst, and the latter Minnie Caldwell.
Martha was present in the second of the two dry runs made in November 1960, where she was played by Doris Hare. During final casting for the show proper, casting director Margaret Morris offered Hare the larger part of Ena Sharples, but Hare had to turn it down as she had commitments with the RSC. (The Coronation Street Story, Boxtree Limited, 1995)
Lynne Carol was a Welsh-born actress who was living in Blackpool in 1960. The daughter of stage actress Mina Mackinson, Carol had been a child performer since the age of three and went on to have a long career in theatre, radio and television. Though Martha was the second-oldest character in the programme, 46-year-old Carol was given the part of the 64-year-old. Her relative youth compared with her co-stars was obscured by the character's wardrobe, with Martha normally wearing a hairnet, beret, spectacles, and an old mackintosh, all of which were provided by Carol who bought them second-hand in a jumble sale.
Martha and Minnie were initially supporting characters, with their storylines revolving around Ena Sharples. Over time, they got stories of their own, notably Martha's attempts to affect a relationship with her old school friend Ted Ashley.
The three were most often seen in the Rovers snug, where they reminisced and shared the latest gossip over glasses of milk stout. Most of these scenes weren't connected to any storylines, but proved very popular with viewers. Carol: "The scriptwriters used to say that. 'We don't need to think about scenes for you, you three, we can say anything, and as soon as they see those three chairs round the table that's it, and you can make it funny without meaning to, just by being ordinary.'" (Minnie Caldwell Remembered) About the popularity of Martha in particular, Carol once told Weekend: "There are an awful lot of Marthas in the world. Some viewers used to tell me to mind my own business but most people could see that Martha was really a pathetic old dear." (The Coronation Street Story)
In 1964, 29-year-old ex-journalist Tim Aspinall replaced Margaret Morris as Coronation Street's producer. January that year had seen Coronation Street beaten to first place in the ratings by a regular episode of another TV programme for the first time since November 1961 (the sitcom Steptoe and Son on BBC One). Although ratings were actually up on the same month in 1963, Aspinall felt that Coronation Street needed a shake-up.
On 1st April, Lynne Carol was one of several unsuspecting cast members informed by Margaret Morris that they had been fired. Nearly half the cast were axed, although some of them were granted a reprieve by H.V. Kershaw when he returned as producer in September after working on Granada's The Villains. Carol was the first to depart, with Martha suffering a fatal heart attack in the Rovers snug in Tim Aspinall's inaugural episode as producer. Due to the nature of the character's exit, and her popularity with the cast and viewers, Carol's colleagues fought her sacking, with Violet Carson threatening to resign. She was talked round by Carol. When rehearsing the death scene, Peter Adamson refused to deliver the line "she's dead", and during recording he hesitated before saying it so that his words could be cut, with the order likely to come from Cecil Bernstein, one of Granada's chairmen who was the programme's strongest advocate within senior management. However, no such order was given. After her sacking was announced by the press on 7th April, Carol spoke to a reporter, where she was resigned to her fate: "They've been three wonderful years, and I am sorry to be leaving so many good friends behind me." (The Coronation Street Story)
Martha was the first character to have an on-screen burial. The graveside scenes were shot on location at Manchester General Cemetery in Harphurey on Tuesday 12th May. The episode featuring Martha's death was shown with silent end credits played over a shot of Martha's glasses, passport and sherry glass on the snug table she was sitting at when she passed away. Carol played Martha one further time: her voice was heard in the following episode, when Ena and Minnie played an old recording of Martha's in which she and an unknown man called Philip proclaimed their love for each other. The same episode featured Stephanie Bidmead as Lily Haddon, Martha's daughter who previously had been spoken of frequently but never seen.
The killing of Martha has since been heavily criticised, with H.V. Kershaw describing it as one of the worst decisions in Coronation Street history. Kershaw: "No doubt Tim Aspinall felt that by such action he would bring the programme a great deal of publicity and in this he certainly succeeded. However I do feel - and this is only a personal opinion - that he broke the rule of conservation. By killing an established character he doubtlessly gave us a few episodes of high drama and created a talking-point in the factories and laundrettes which boosted our viewing figures for a period, but when the dust settled we were simply left with a Coronation Street without Martha Longhurst. The trio had been reduced to a rather sad duet and there is little doubt that by that one action many future stories were denied us." (The Street Where I Live, Granada Publishing Limited, 1981)
Subsequent producers have lamented the loss of Martha, with Bill Podmore referring to it as "the Street's greatest mistake". After the death of Margot Bryant in 1988, Podmore appeared with Carol on a BBC Open Air programme where they discussed the possibility of Carol returning to the programme as Martha's twin sister, who had been living in Australia, although the idea went no further. (Coronation Street: The Inside Story, Macdonald & co, 1990)
Eleven years after leaving the programme, Martha's voice was heard in Episode 1501 (16th June 1975) in which Betty Turpin heard her "ghost" in the empty Rovers. A voice clip from an old episode was used for the scene, for which Lynne Carol wasn't credited.
First and last lines
"Stay there, now, an' Grandma'll get 'em for you." (First line, off-camera, to Sandra Haddon)
"Can I 'ave a large sherry?" (Final line, to Concepta Hewitt)
|Ken Barlow | Frank Barlow | Ida Barlow | David Barlow | Jack Walker | Annie Walker | Elsie Tanner | Dennis Tanner | Linda Cheveski | Ivan Cheveski | Harry Hewitt | Lucille Hewitt | Concepta Riley | Ena Sharples | Minnie Caldwell | Martha Longhurst | Albert Tatlock | Christine Hardman | Florrie Lindley | Esther Hayes | Leonard Swindley|