The Beatles
A History of Allerton and Mossley Hill @ allertonOak  
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Mendips and John Lennon
Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, in Woolton was the home of John Winston Lennon (1940-80), musician, song-writer, composer and political activist, from 1945 to 1963. He was the son of Alfred Lennon (1912-76), a merchant seaman, and Julia Stanley (1914-58). Alfred was often away at sea, which had its effect on the marriage, and he finally left Julia for good in 1942. The situation for John at home with his mother was subsequently not ideal and there was a mutually agreed arrangement that he live with Julia's sister, his aunt Mary Elizabeth 'Mimi' Smith (1906-91) at Mendips.
John was brought up lovingly but strictly by Mimi, who attempted to instill middle-class values into him in contrast to the more working class background that he came from. John remained strongly attached to his mother, but she was tragically killed in a road accident outside Mendips in 1958 after being hit by a car driven by a drunken, off-duty police officer. When at Mendips, John went to Dovedale Primary School, where he was bright and bookish and began to show an interest in art. He listened to The Goon Show on the radio, which influenced his sense of humour. In 1952 he moved on to Quarry Bank High School (see below). The band he formed there, The Quarrymen, practiced at Mendips, but Mimi relegated them to the front porch because of the noise. His childhood experiences no doubt exerted a particularly strong influence upon his character as a mature artist.
Mendips was bought for the National Trust by Yoko Ono and lovingly restored to an authentic 1950s condition, with period artefacts and Lennon memorabilia. Anyone who lived through the 1950s will find the time-warp eerily effective and John's presence palpable.
20 Forthlin Road
20 Forthlin Road and Paul McCartney
20 Forthlin Road in Allerton was the home of James Paul McCartney (b.1942), musician, song-writer and composer, from 1955 to 1963. He was the son of James McCartney (1902-76) and Mary Mohin (1909-56). Paul's father liked opera, sang and played several musical instruments. They had an upright piano in the house and Paul was encouraged to take piano lessons. Paul attended Stockton Wood Road Primary School from 1947 to 1949 and then transferred to Joseph Williams Junior School. He passed the 11-plus exam in 1953, which enabled him to go to the Liverpool Institute, where he met George Harrison (1943-2001).
In 1957 Paul met John Lennon and his band, The Quarrymen, at a St Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton. Paul was invited to join soon afterwards as a rhythm guitarist, and so began his close working relationship with John. The band would practice in the house in Forthlin Road. George joined in 1958 as lead guitarist, followed by John's art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe (1940-62) in 1960. Other members of the The Quarrymen dropped out and they adopted the name The Beatles in 1960. They recruited drummer Pete Best shortly before starting to perform in Hamburg. They rehearsed and wrote many of their earliest songs at Paul's house.
The interior of the modest terraced house at 20 Forthlin Road has been reconstructed in an authentic 1950s style and is so small that you wonder how they ever got a drum kit inside, never band a whole band. There are plenty of early Beatles memorabilia including family photographs by Paul's brother Mike McCartney. Comparison of the house with Mendips, where John Lennon was brought up, is intriguing. Paul, often labelled a 'social climber' was evidently raised in a more working class family environment than the middle class, self-styled 'working class hero', John. Both would seem to have felt a need to distance themselves from their origins.
Quarry Bank (Calderstones School)
Quarry Bank
John Lennon started at Quarry Bank High School (now Calderstones School) in 1952. The main building had been the gothic Quarry Bank, a mansion built in 1866-7 for timber merchant James Bland. Here he developed a well-earned reputation as a troublemaker with subversive artistic talents and formed The Quarrymen, his first group.
His Aunt Mimi claimed he had been 'Bohemian' from quite a young age. He carried out a campaign of rebellion against the school values and performed poorly in his schoolwork, his only his interest being in art. He kept a notebook, the Daily Howl, containing satirical verses and caricatures foreshadowing the style and content of his later published works. In 1957, after poor O-Level examination results, he went to Liverpool College of Art for three years.
In 1956, John formed the The Quarrymen, a skiffle group, with several of his fellow pupils. The name was a facetious reference to the school song, which contained the line 'Quarrymen, old before our birth, straining each muscle and sinew'. The name Quarry Bank came from an old sandstone quarry once on the site. They first rehearsed in band member Pete Shotton's house on Vale Road in an air raid shelter in the back garden. In 1957 Paul met them at a St Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton and joined soon afterwards (see above). They evolved, of course, into The Beatles.
The Quarrymen
Smithdown Place in 1956
Penny Lane
Penny Lane in Mossley Hill is, thanks to the Beatles song, one of Liverpool's most famous streets, but is otherwise unremarkable. The fire station (recently closed) is further along Allerton Road, but the bank, the barber's shop and the shelter in the middle of the roundabout mentioned in the song are still there at the north-eastern end of Penny Lane on Smithdown Place.
Paul McCartney recalled that 'A lot of our formative years were spent walking around those places. Penny Lane was the depot I had to change buses at to get from my house to John's and to a lot of my friends. It was a big bus terminal which we all knew very well. I sang in the choir at St. Barnabas's Church opposite'.
The south-western end of Penny Lane contrasts strongly in its leafy, semi-rural atmosphere.
Penny Lane
The Gates at Strawberry Field
Strawberry Field
Strawberry Field in Woolton was the inspiration for one of the Beatles' most famous and innovative songs Strawberry Field's Forever. The apostrophe is deliberate: the house of this name was known as Strawberry Fields until about 1900, when it became Strawberry Field. The vast gothic house, with its entrance just around the corner from Mendips, was built for merchant ship owner George Hignett Warren. The house and estate were sold to the Salvation Army in 1934. It was opened as a home for young girls in 1936 and, in the 1950s, boys. By 1973, the house was in a poor state of repair and was demolished.
John and his childhood friends used to play in the wooded grounds of the house. The words 'nothing to get hung about' in the song were inspired by his Aunt Mimi's orders not to play in the grounds, to which John replied, 'They can't hang you for it'. The words 'No one I think is in my tree', which signified John's perception of himself as on a different wavelegth from other people, may have been inspired by a tree in the garden of Mendips that he used to climb as a young boy.
The surviving gateposts and wrought iron gates of Strawberry Field survive and are a place of pilgrimage for hoards of Beatles fans from around the world.
St. Barnabas's Church
As a young boy, Paul McCartney sang in the choir at St. Barnabas's in Mossley Hill. Paul and Linda McCartney returned to the church 1982 when he was best man at his brother Mike’s wedding.
St. Barnabas's Church
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a detailed biography of John Lennon. It is free to use, but you will need a public library membership card to register. Wikipedia in its many relevant articles provides more background material than anyone could wish for. The photo of The Quarrymen is a freely licensed image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.