Coronation Street's cobbles will never quite be the same again after the shock announcement earlier this evening that stalwart cast member of some 40 years Anne Kirkbride has died after a short illness. 

Ms Kirkbride had taken a period of extended leave from the long running series after a testing eighteen months storylines - and was believed to have been suffering from exhaustion. However, her husband of 23 years Dave Beckett tonight released a statement saying that Anne had passed away in a Manchester Hospital following "a short illness"

Her death has caused shock and upset not only among the cast, but amongst her legions of fans - with many taking to social networks Twitter and Facebook to express their sadness.

The actress had played Deirdre Barlow (nee Hunt) for well over forty years and had a tumultuous run of storylines during her tenure on the soap. Fans often voted the love triangle between herself, Ken Barlow and Mike Baldwin as one of the top plots to ever feature on the soap - and the scenes in which Ken and Mike clash in the Barlow's house are still very moving and affecting even now, over thirty years on.

Deirdre's love life took centre stage and her on off relationship with Ken Barlow, plus her marriage to Samir Rachid and her fateful affair with bogus pilot John - in which she ended up in jail (in an unprecedented move - it was also subsequently discussed in the Houses of Parliament - "Free The Weatherfield One") were among some of the more memorable stories the actress was part of.  

She also had a magical partnership with her on screen mother, Blanche Hunt, played by Maggie Jones. The resemblance between the two actresses was startling - and the mixture of acerbic wit and gallows humour in their scenes made their pairing all the more special. 

Away from The Street, Anne shunned the limelight and had been with her husband Dave Beckett (whom she met on the set of the street when he played her on screen lover in 1992). She had previously battled cancer in 1993 - suffering from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, but had been given the all clear some years ago, after her recovery she spoke very movingly of her battle with depression.

There is no one star bigger than the show, but the passing of Anne Kirkbride will leave a huge gap in the soap that will be immensely difficult to fill. 

She is survived by Mr Beckett and her brother, John.