Saturday, 15 April 2017

Relatives and Absolutes (Wavertree: Part One)

George Harrison's Wavertree
(and John Lennon's too) ...
Liverpool 15

The Picton Clock Roundabout and High Street, Wavertree 
looking towards Liverpool City Centre 

In addition to Mark Lewisohn's 'Tune In' Beatles Biography, another book I've devoured recently is 'The Beatles Liverpool Landscapes' by local author David Lewis which was published in 2010.

David's book is presented as a series of walking guides around the areas of the city most closely related with the Beatles - Woolton, Speke, Allerton, the Dingle and so on. Acting as a pocket tour guide he takes the reader on a journey across Liverpool, visiting both the well known places and those much more obscure, and explores the history of where the Beatles came from and the areas they knew before the group began, indeed often 'the places that made the families that made The Beatles' to quote the book blurb. It's not about the music, it's not even a book about early concert venues because that's all been done already. David wanted his book to focus on geography and landscape, not songs.

For me the book is the perfect crossover - Liverpool local history and the Beatles' place in it. As I wrote in my introduction to this blog, my intention was to look at both the sites familiar to those undertaking guided Beatles tours around the city and those unsung or forgotten places that featured in their pre-group lives, the places that they would have known as children and young men, the same places my parents would have known and everybody else of their generation growing up in Liverpool after the Second World War. The places they'd remember all their lives but were probably never asked to talk about until writing their biographies in later years (George and Paul) or when reminiscing during the huge Beatles Anthology project.

The book is generously illustrated throughout with many recent photographs taken by the author alongside older images sourced from Liverpool Records Office that give a nice historical perspective. There are hundreds of Beatles books on the market but by writing about the group's origins within the historical context of their hometown, David has managed to approach the Beatles from a refreshingly new angle. I urge you to pick this up if you haven't already. It's certainly inspired me.

With 'The Beatles Liverpool Landscapes' as my guide I decided to revisit David’s walks in Relatives and Absolutes, his chapter on the Wavertree area, and take some photographs along the way. Whilst this part of the city is most closely associated with George Harrison there are also links to both sides of John Lennon's family here. I've added some background history of the area to provide some context to the Beatles related sites.

There are plenty of pubs and bars in Wavertree Village should you be in need of refreshments. The High Street is famous for it's down one side and back up the other pub crawl, as explained in this poem I saw published in the Liverpool Echo:

"About the Area where I was Born"

by Harold Citrine, aged 83

So, as the poem says, let's start this off by the Coffee House pub on Church Road North, facing the former Abbey Cinema and close to the Picton Clock roundabout.

The Coffee House,
Church Road North

The Coffee House, probably Wavertree's oldest surviving pub, is thought to be around 200 years old and said to have been built on a site previously occupied by the ancient chapel of Waretree. Apparently in its day the pub was a very popular venue for day excursions from Liverpool and no doubt some of the more enthusiastic drinkers ended up in the local lock-up, of which we will see more later.

By 1900 it was owned by Liverpool brewer Robert Cain. The interior was the work of architect Walter Thomas, famous as the interior designer of other Cain's pubs in the city centre such as the Philharmonic and the Vines.

John Lennon's mother Julia worked here in mid 1945 shortly after the birth of her second child, Victoria (see my post Bleak House about the Elmswood maternity home). John was left in the care of his Grandad 'Pop' Stanley at Newcastle Road, a short walk down Church Road from the pub. We'll visit Newcastle Road later on this walk.

Julia met John 'Bobby' Albert Dykins here around December 1945.

Dykins was 28, three years younger than Julia, and described as a good-looking, well-dressed man, born and bred in the Wavertree area who worked as a door to door salesman , demonstrating a gadget for invisible fabric repair.

He enjoyed luxuries, and had access through the black market to rationed goods like alcohol, chocolate, silk stockings and cigarettes, which was what initially attracted her. Predictably, the Stanleys, predominantly Pop and the matriarchal Mimi, disapproved of Julia's new man. They called him a 'Spiv', because of his pencil-thin moustache, margarine-coated hair, and trilby hat and there was a general consensus that Dykins was of a lower class than they were, an opinion they seemed to have about any man Julia happened to like. In any case, Julia was still legally married to Alf Lennon and had just given birth to another man's daughter who was immediately put up adoption on Pop's insistence. Still grieving over the loss of her child Julia needed some happiness in her life and Dykins was there to provide it when her own family seemed unable or unwilling to.

A 1950s photo of Church Road North with a coach from Home James approaching Picton Clock with the Lamb public house on right.  The building covered by advertising hoardings still stands on the corner today, now displaying a more sombre message. The bricked up windows are evidence of its original use as a dairy.

Walking from the Coffee House towards Picton Clock you pass the 17th century White Cottage on the left. while if you look to your right you'll find a lovely art deco building, formerly the Abbey Cinema.

Abbey Cinema
Church Road North

The Abbey cinema was designed by Alfred Ernest Shennan a respected Liverpool architect who later became Alderman of the city.

His portfolio of local cinemas included the Forum (ABC) on Lime St, The Plaza in Allerton,The Mayfair in Aigburth and The Curzon in Old Swan. The Abbey is generally considered to be his finest.

Construction started in mid-1938 and took 200 men around 9 months to complete.

One of three cinemas opened in Liverpool just prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Abbey's first screening was the "Joy of Living" starring Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr on 4 August 1939.

Facilities included the serving of coffee throughout the auditorium as well as chocolate, ice cream and cigarettes, enough for the local press to announce "The perfect cinema at last".

In October 1943, only four years after opening, ownership changed hands from "The Regal cinema Company", the Abbey being sold to local cinema pioneer John F. Wood’s Bedford Cinema chain. A progressive company always at the forefront with the latest cinema technology brought patrons the pleasure of film presentations in 3D following the installation of a new wide screen in 1954, and stereoscopic sound in 1960. In 1964, the most important year in the Abbey's history, it was closed for conversion into Liverpool's only Cinerama Theatre, costing around £105,000.00.

(L-R)  Pete Shotton, Bill Turner, John
Lennon and Len Garry

Taking a tram or bus in from Woolton to the Penny Lane terminus would bring John Lennon and his mates within walking distance of the Abbey Cinema.

In 1965, when John Lennon started composing 'In My Life', his original lyrics contained the verse:

Penny Lane is one I'm missing, up Church Road to the clock tower, in the circle of the Abbey, I have seen some happy hours.

Those happy hours did not necessarily refer to the latest cinematic delights.....

It was John's best mate Pete Shotton who alerted him to the teenage pleasures that could be had with obliging females in the darkened upper circle of the Abbey.

A week before John's first brief encounter Pete had bumped into their mutual friend Bill Turner outside the Abbey and agreed to join him for the matinee performance. Pete recounts what happened next: This will be a real eye opener for you, Pete" Bill smirked. It quickly became apparent that the dirty rascal was hardly referring to the featured film. "Now what we do is this. We go up to the balcony where there aren't too many people, and pick out two good lookers sitting together. When the lights go down and the picture starts, we sit one on each side of them. Then we just put our arms round their shoulders, and see how much they let us get away with.... 

The "circle of the Abbey" (top left) 

According to Pete the entire procedure worked like a charm.

On his return home he found John, Ivan Vaughan and Nigel Walley playing on "the tip"* and excitedly told them of his fly opening experience. Greeted with a disbelieving chorus of "b@ll@cks!" (or words to that effect) Pete eventually managed to arouse interest in the trio of doubting John Thomases and persuaded them to accompany him to the Abbey the following Saturday.  Bill Turner was there again, accompanied by another mate, Len Garry. Working in pairs the six of them spread themselves out across the balcony to try their hand with some amenable young ladies.

For the most part this was their first physical contact with ladies of the opposite sex and they would later consider these anonymous fumblings to be their initiation into manhood. Unsurprisingly they rarely missed a Saturday matinee performance in the months to come.

However, with age came more regular experience and as Pete would later conclude for all the cheap thrills John and I had accumulated in the Abbey Cinema, we came to appreciate that such encounters did, after all, leave something to be desired in the way of intimacy, comfort and convenience.
(John Lennon In My Life - Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner, 1983)

George Harrison would also retain a great fondness for his local cinema. Living in such close proximity it's no surprise that the Abbey was often the destination for a family outing. He visited on Saturday mornings and even when the Harrisons moved house in 1950 George would still return here to watch the latest movies (Speke having no cinemas).

George would later recall an occasion when he visited the Abbey with John Lennon to watch ‘Rock Around The Clock’(sic). During the film they became aware of all the female attention Bill Haley and his Comets attracted and discussing this as they left the cinema George joked That’s the type of job I want to have. Unless it was a later re-run, George was mis-remembering the film because Blackboard Jungle (the actual title of the film featuring Rock Around The Clock) was released in Liverpool February 1955, nearly three years before he met John.

However, consider this quite well known interview clip with John Lennon: I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until rock n roll hit me. Then when rock n roll hit me that changed my whole life. You know, you went to see those movies with Elvis or somebody in it, when we were still in Liverpool. And you'd see everybody waiting to see him. And I'd be waiting there, too. And they'd all scream when he came on the screen.  So I thought, "That's a good job."

Perhaps it was an Elvis film that George remembered watching with John at the Abbey.

When I was growing up the Abbey was the nearest decent cinema to where I lived in Childwall and I went there with my parents quite often. I remember watching the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve in 1978 and a re-run of Disney's Jungle Book to name but two.

Sadly, as was the case with most of the great picture houses, audience attendances would decline over the next 20 years. The much loved Abbey Cinema would screen its final performance, the disaster movie The Towering Inferno on 4 August 1979.

Thankfully this fine art deco building is still standing. Since closure it has seen use as various supermarkets (the first a branch of Lennons!) and bingo halls.

(Below) The Abbey and the Coffee House

The Picton Clock Tower and former shelter in the middle of the roundabout

Church Road in Wavertree is unique in Liverpool in that each end is book-ended by a roundabout which was mentioned in a Beatles' lyric. At the junction with Allerton Road is Smithdown Place where you will find the bus shelter immortalised in the song 'Penny Lane'.  At the beginning of the High Street, standing on the traffic Island facing the Abbey and also mentioned in the initial draft of 'In My Life' is the Picton Clock tower.

Described in the Pevsner Guide as 'an eclectic renaissance curiosity in brick and stone' it was presented to the people of Wavertree by the architect  and keen local historian Sir James Picton in 1884, who designed it as a memorial to his wife Sarah. He chose the site, at the centre of the old village, so that the clock could be seen by as many people as possible.

An inscription on the tower reads: Time wasted is existence; used is life which sounds like something George Harrison would say.

Be careful if you plan on taking some photographs of the clock up close. David Lewis beautifully describes the Picton Clock roundabout as inaccessible as a real island, guarded by dangerous and unpredictable tides (of traffic).

When you reach the roundabout, you'll notice the imposing Georgian-style Lamb public house in front of you.

The Lamb,
111 High Street

The Lamb, with its oak panelled interior was recorded as long ago as 1754Now a Solicitors office, the present Lamb dates from the 1850s and was built on the site of a smaller pub of the same name. 

In the early nineteenth century, prior to the construction of the town hall, meetings in Wavertree were advertised as taking place at 'the Sign of the Lamb'. 

The brick archway on the left led to stables and was used for horse-drawn omnibuses plying between Wavertree and the centre of Liverpool at a fare of six pence (beyond the reach of ordinary folk). 

From the 1930s it became the premises of Home James travel and coach hire which operated daily tours to popular destinations. The Harrisons would have used them for a family day out and the memories of such trips would remain with George. Asked many years later about the inspiration for the Beatles' film 'Magical Mystery Tour'  he would say it was basically a charabanc trip, which people used to go on from Liverpool to see the Blackpool lights, they'd get loads of crates of beer and an accordian player and all get pissed**

A 1950S shot of the High Street, showing the Lamb on the right.

Turn left along the High Street and immediately on your left is a real gem. The shop at No. 102 has Liverpool's only surviving Georgian bow-fronted window and looks like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. For this reason the building is Grade II listed, along with the properties on either side. It has been the home of craftsmen for most of its days. An 1846 map shows it as a sadler's shop and around the end of the 19th century a cycle manufacturer and then a boot repairer took over. This then is where the Harrisons came to have their shoes mended. By 1980 the shop was occupied by Wavertree's last surviving traditional cobbler and the window was on the verge of disintegration. Fortunately it was saved and expertly restored by the wood-turner who then began to sell his wares from the premises.

102 High Street as a Cobblers in 1918 (above) and Wood-turners in 2015 (below)

As noted, Wavertree High Street was famous in Liverpool for its pubs and many still remain as they were in George’s time with a few newer bars in premises that had a different function in the 1940’s.  George would later recall these pubs were frequented by his uncles with bald heads; they'd say they got them by using them to knock pub doors open. In between were cobblers, butchers, newsagents, the police station and a chandelry shop ran by Ambrose Danher, the uncle of Mary Mohin, Paul McCartney's mum. Strongly opposed to her father's second wife, Mary left home at the age of 13 and went to live with her maternal uncle above the shop in the early 1920s.

108 High Street (1915)

In the last years of the 1920s George Harrison’s mother Louise French (then 18) was working as a shop assistant, possibly at a green grocers, somewhere on the High Street. My research indicates that this may have been a fruit and vegetable shop belonging to Thomas Topping which once stood to the left of the Lamb until it was demolished in 1970. Home James' yard extended across the rear of Tom's shop and behind that was Arnold Grove. Louise only had a short walk down Frederick Grove to the High Street from her home in the adjacent Albert Grove.

It was during her time in the shop that she met Harold Harrison.  It's said that while he was on shore leave from the White Star Line he encountered Louise on the High Street just as she was passing a note of her address to another seaman. Reportedly he grabbed the note and on a whim asked if he could write to her. “Send us a postcard” she said. Letters on White Star stationary began arriving at her parents home in Albert Grove and by the 1930s they were 'courting'.

George Harrison's Wavertree (map 1) (click to enlarge)

Town Hall,
89 High Street

The Town Hall was built in 1872, originally to house the Wavertree Local Board of Health by local architect John Elliot Reeve who lived in nearby Sandown Lane. It served a number of functions over the years but by 1979 it was under threat of demolition. It received  Grade II listed status and has since operated as a pub, and more recently a restaurant.

George Harrison was born ten minutes into 25 February 1943, the fourth child for Harold and Louise. The following day Harold left Arnold Grove and made the short trip down Frederick Grove, turning right  along the High Street to the Town Hall where he registered his new son's birth. It's said that there had been no prior discussion about what to call the baby, Harry literally deciding en route. When he arrived home Louise asked him why he'd chosen George. 'If it's good enough for the King it should be good enough for him' Harold replied.

The motto on the town hall - sub umbra floresco - means I flourish in the shade and  unwittingly foreshadows George's musical development in The Beatles, in his case the 'shade' being the Lennon and McCartney songwriting team.

The High Street, then and now. 

The Town Hall is on the left of photo. Next door is the Cock and Bottle pub which today has expanded across two properties and incorporated a third.  In the early 20th century it was a temperance hotel.  

Close to the Town Hall, wedged between the Cock and Bottle pub and the Bet Fred, is 95 High Street.  Now part of the pub it was reputedly 'The Smallest House in England'  – 6 feet wide by 14 feet deep with two rooms built around 1850 in a space which had previously been a side passage. There are stories about the former occupants which may be more fact than fiction, one concerning a couple who raised eight children in the house, another about a very large resident who had to go up the stairs sideways.

It was still a house when the Harrisons lived in Arnold Grove, surviving as such until 1952 when it was incorporated into the Cock and Bottle pub.

Walking towards Picton Clock turn left immediately after the Bet Fred into Frederick Grove. Just after the industrial unit on your right (the former backyard of Home James) is Arnold Grove.  A few houses along on the right is No. 12, where George Harrison was born.

No.12 Arnold Grove is the fourth door from the right on the above photo. 

George recalled a number of the local landmarks we've seen here when he described Arnold Grove as a bit like Coronation Street. It was behind the Lamb Hotel in Wavertree. There was a big art-deco cinema there called the Abbey, and the Picton clock tower. Down a little cobbled lane was the slaughterhouse, where they used to shoot horses.

Arnold Grove was covered in detail in a previous post which you can read here.  My research continues as I try to establish whether the slaughterhouse was in Frederick Grove or Chestnut Grove which is a little further on around the corner.

We’ll take a closer look at this as I continue my walk through George Harrison's family history in part two of Relatives and Absolutes which you can read here.


** pissed as in drunk (the British meaning)


John Lennon: In My Life (Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner)
I Me Mine (George Harrison)
The Beatles Liverpool Landscapes (David Lewis)
Anthology (The Beatles)
Picture Palaces of Liverpool (Harold Ackroyd)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

I Remember Arnold

12 Arnold Grove
L15 8HP

The birthplace and home of George Harrison.

I was born in 12 Arnold Grove, Liverpool, in February 1943. My dad had been a seaman, but by then he was driving a bus. My mother was from an Irish family called French, and she had lots of brothers and sisters. My mother was Catholic. My father wasn't and, although they always say people who weren't Catholics were Church of England, he didn't appear to be anything. (George Harrison)

In later years Harry and Louise always said they married in 1930. They didn’t. The Catholic Louise French was actually six months pregnant when she married Protestant Harry Harrison on 20 May 1931 at the Liverpool registry office on High Park Street, Dingle. The Priest at her local church, Our Lady of Good Help had offered none, refusing to marry a 20 year old girl who was pregnant by a ‘Proddy Dog’.

With nowhere else to live they moved in with Harry’s mother Jane at 47 Cecil Street, the opposite end of Wavertree to Albert Grove where Louise’s family were living. It was an uncomfortable arrangement. Jane took what little money the young couple had for rent and charged extra for utilities.

47 Cecil Street with the black door (right)

They were still living here when their first child, also named Louise was born on 16 August 1931. As was the custom the Priest from Our Lady of Good Help visited them but instead of offering her and the baby kind words he denounced Louise and declared the new baby a ‘b*stard’ in the eyes of God. Harry threw him out of the house. To make matters worse, whilst Harry was back at sea the interfering Jane took baby Louise and had her christened in the Protestant church. To say there was some friction between the two Mrs Harrisons is probably an understatement.

Harry and Louise had put their names down for a Liverpool Corporation House but it would be years before they got one. With things becoming intolerable in Cecil Street they moved into rented accommodation at 12 Arnold Grove, a two up – two down terraced house in the next street to Albert Grove where Louise’s family still lived. This was ideal for Louise. With Harry away at sea she now had her own family close by to help her with the new baby. Albert Grove and Arnold Grove shared the same private landlord, Mr Miller who would visit every week to collect his ten shillings rent (about £22 today). Miller had probably told Louise’s parents about the vacancy in Arnold Grove.

Albert Grove was named after Queen Victoria’s husband - Albert Grove - whereas Arnold was named after the Queen’s dresser, Frieda Arnold. Both streets were unadopted, meaning the residents had to make their own arrangements for waste disposal and maintenance rather than have the service provided by the local authority.

Number 12 was (and even now, after all these years, still is) very small, yet Harold and Louise would end up living there with their four children until 1950.

Despite its size, the house quickly accumulated items that Harry had collected on his overseas voyages. Pride of place in the front room, which the Harrisons kept ‘for best’ was a leather three piece suite (sofa) which Harry had arranged to have shipped back from America. A leather sofa was unheard of in Wavertree in those days and yet the Harrisons barely used it. The family lived in the back room, the kitchen with its red and blue floor tiles and a fire in the grate.

Louise gave birth to a second child, a son on 20 July 1934. The tradition of naming the child after the parent continued as Harry, Louise and Louise welcomed Harold James Harrison into the world.

On 5 August 1934 Louise and Harry held a double baptism at Our Lady of Good Help for baby Harold and Louise who was nearly three years old. I wonder what persuaded the priest to change his mind?

There are conflicting stories about what caused Harry to leave the merchant navy. The romantic version is that he wanted to spend more time with his new family and less at sea. The other says that John French - Louise’s father – was unhappy with how much time Harry was away from home leaving Louise to bring up the two children on her own, and eventually wore him down, persuading him to take a job on land. Harry decided to leave the White Star line and his life on the ocean once they had enough money saved to tide them over.

Harry finally left in 1936 when Britain was in the middle of the Great Depression. Although Harry had some savings behind him there was no work ahead, and with no qualifications he spent the next two years struggling to find a job. He received ‘dole’ money, 23 shillings (about £40 now) a week employment benefits for perhaps for the full twelve months he was entitled to it.

In 1937 Harry finally found a job with prospects, a bus conductor for the Liverpool Corporation Passenger Trust (the LCPT) for which he received £2 per week (about £70 today). When he discovered that the drivers earned more he began taking lessons. By 1939 he was behind the wheel of a Corporation bus on the south end route travelling from the city centre out to Garston and the new Speke estate.

And then the Second World War started.

There was an unexpected addition to the Harrison family on 20 July 1940 when Louise gave birth to another son, Peter Henry Harrison, exactly six years to the day after the birth of her first. He was a huge baby, weighing nearly 12 pounds at birth, but a sickly one. According to his sister, Peter was the first baby in England to survive an operation to correct his intestines which had extended into the umbilical cord.

Louise was not present at her brother’s birth. She was in a convalescent home recovering from an illness and would later recall suffering cruelties and indignities from nursing staff. She returned home when he was a month old in August, 1940 just in time for his christening at Our Lady of Good Help on 13 August and her 9th birthday.

The following week the first bombs of the Blitz fell on Wavertree.

On 4 September the goods station at Edge Hill at the top of Wavertree Road was bombed but emerged unscathed. Eight days later bombs fell on Wellington Road, demolishing houses in the street where Harry had lived as a child. Further bombs fell on Wavertree Road on 7 October. This is probably the raid Aunt Mimi would later recall as taking place the night John Lennon was born – there was no actual raid on the ninth.

Wavertree was now a clear target for the Nazis and the Harrison’s were not alone in thinking each night could be their last. Wavertree Playground, known locally as “The Mystery” and a favourite place for the locals to take their children was bombed on the night of 4 November. Adjacent houses were damaged and a gas main was fractured and caught fire only to be extinguished by a water main which fortuitously burst nearby. The Germans had another go at the Edge Hill goods depot on 12 November but missed. Stray oil incendiary bombs instead hit the roof of the post office on Wavertree Road.

A map showing the Edge Hill end of Wavertree - a major target for the Luftwaffe. Several Beatles - related sites are visible including Bridge Road (former site of Massey and Coggins), Cecil Street, Ash Grove (where both George's dad and my own lived as children) and the LCPT social club where Harold Harrison arranged a gig for the Quarry Men. Click to enlarge.

On the evening of Thursday 28 November 1940 Rachael Lucas, known to all as ‘Nancy’ was at home with her mother, Mabel Ashcroft, in Ashfield, a row of terraced housing four streets away from Cecil Street, and five away from the Gas Works which marked the end of Wavertree and the beginning of Edge Hill. Running down the other side of the gas towers was Spofforth Road and it’s artery, Bridge Street (where Paul McCartney would later work for Massey and Coggins) and beyond them the huge railway sidings. Rachael worked as a post-girl delivering mail from the Wavertree post office by bicycle. She’d once knocked a policeman over during a blackout. On another occasion she was out during daylight with her friend when a plane flew low over their heads. They both cheered and waved at the pilot until somebody shouted ‘get down you bloody fools’, just as a second plane came into view hot on the tail of the first. The second plane was an RAF Spitfire or Hurricane. The first plane was German!

As soon as the sirens sounded Rachael and her mother joined families all over Wavertree and ran for the nearest cover, the communal air-raid shelter in the street or the ‘Anderson’ shelter in the back garden, if they were lucky enough to have one. Some preferred to hide under their own stairs, supposedly the strongest point in the house. At the other end of Wavertree the Harrisons huddled with their neighbours in the brick shelter built in the middle of Arnold Grove and hoped for the best.

This was a major attack by 324 aircraft. In the initial raid, Heinkel He 111s dropped 30,960 incendiary bombs. As Thursday became Friday, Dornier DO 17 and Junkers JU-88s dropped a mixed load over Wavertree comprising 356 tons of High Explosives (including 151 ½ ton bombs), Flambo and 30 one- ton parachute sea mines (of which 8 failed to explode).

This was the night when the Junior Instruction Centre on Durning Road was hit by a mine. The building collapsed and of the 300 people taking cover in the basement shelter 164 were killed. Today it is remembered as the worst single loss of life from bombing during 1940-41 in the UK.

The Gas Works on Spofforth Road (above) and the Railway yard were prime targets for the Luftwaffe but it was the houses within a square mile of the Wavertree Road area that bore the brunt of the attack. By the end of the raid 2000 people were homeless and the Gas Works were burning.

I certainly remember the night the gas works went up. Imagine it was on Alfred Street but I am not too good at remembering all the street names now. I lived on Spekeland Vale, and remember the night and the next couple of days – tremendous damage to the surrounding area of the gas works (Nita Jones, Rootsweb)

The street was Spofforth Road that took a pounding, it had the Co-op livery stables, I think that the horses were untouched. We lived on Cambridge street and took the blast which blew in the parlour window, the frame, the whole works. I believe a navy bomb disposal man got awarded the highest possible medal for his courage. Nights to remember, we spent a lot of time in the community underground air raid shelter in Piggy Much Square. (Hugh Jones, Rootsweb)
Sixteen people lost their lives in Ashfield that night.

Rachael and her mother survived the raid. Their home did not. The blast had blown the front of the house out. Amazingly, standing in the street untouched amongst the rubble was their upright piano. It didn’t have a mark on it.

Rachael Lucas was my maternal Nan. When I was a child I’d ask her to tell me the story about the piano that survived the bombing over and over again. She’d always remind me “They were going for the gas works but missed and got us”.

A few years ago I found this photograph of a piano in a bombed out street in Liverpool. I couldn't believe it. Was this my Nan's piano? With further research I established that the photo was taken in Bootle but the similarities are plain to see.

Because it was further away from the Gas works 12 Arnold Grove had fared better. Emerging from the shelter the Harrisons were relieved to find their house was still standing. It was not completely unscathed. The shockwaves from a huge sea mine had blown all the windows in and the shards of glass had lacerated the American leather sofa. Louise Harrison would later recall her mother joking ‘If I’d known that was going to happen we could have been sitting on it all these years!’

One of the parachunte sea-mines that miraculously failed to explode. Score Lane, Childwall, about 1.5 miles from Arnold Grove.

The last bombs to fall on Liverpool did so in January 1942 so I was surprised to learn that the two oldest Harrison children were evacuated so late in the Blitz. It seems that between 1942-43 Louise, then 10 and Harry,7 were sent to Wales, staying with different families. Harry reportedly enjoyed his stay with a family who had two teenage sons while his sister stayed with a childless couple.

Around May 1942 Louise found that she was pregnant again and this time it was planned. With her oldest two children of a similar age it’s said that Louise wanted a playmate for Peter.

Call the midwife!

On Thursday 25 February 1943 George Harrison was born in the front upstairs bedroom of 12 Arnold Grove at ten minutes past midnight, entering a world he later described as “deep in the Second World War, deep in Liverpool, and deep in winter”. He was overdue and weighed a massive 10 ½ pounds with eyelashes, long hair, full finger nails and brown hair.

In those days Dads were not permitted in the room during the birth. The midwife informed Harry he had a new son and he would later remember tiptoeing up the stairs to meet him. He was shocked by what he found, “a miniature version of me’’. He couldn’t believe how alike they looked.

The next day Harry went to register the birth at Wavertree Town Hall without first consulting Louise about a name for the new baby. Walking the short distance along the High Street he decided on George and later reasoned if (the name) was good enough for the King it should be good enough for him.

He was baptised as Georgius Harrison on 14 March 1943 at Our Lady of Good Help. His sister Louise and his aunt Mary (Fox, formerly French) were godmothers but for some reason there was no godfather.

I had two brothers and one sister. My sister was twelve when I was born; she'd just taken her Eleven Plus. I don't really remember much of her from my childhood because she left home when she was about seventeen. She went to teacher training college and didn't come back after that.

My grandmother - my mother's mother - used to live in Albert Grove, next to Arnold Grove; so when I was small I could go out of our back door and around the back entries (they called them 'jiggers' in Liverpool) to her house. I would be there when my mother and father were at work.

'Arnold Grove was a bit like ‘Coronation Street’, though I don't remember any of the neighbours now. It was behind the Lamb Hotel in Wavertree. There was a big art-deco cinema there called the Abbey, and the Picton clock tower. Down a little cobbled lane was the slaughterhouse, where they used to shoot horses.

My earliest recollection is of sitting on a pot at the top of the stairs, having a poop - shouting, 'Finished!' Another very early memory is as a baby, of a party in the street. There were air-raid shelters and people were sitting around tables and benches. I must have been no more than two. We used to have a photograph of me there, so it's probably only because I could relive the scene when I was younger, through the photograph, that I remember it.

VE Day Party 8 May 1945 - from right Harry, Peter, Louise, and George aged 2. Note the brick air-raid shelter behind Harry.

Our house was very small. No garden. Two up and two down - step straight in off the pavement, step right out of the back room.

Each room downstairs was about ten feet square (very small) and yet despite the lack of space the front room was never used. It had the posh lino and a three-piece suite, was freezing cold and nobody ever went in it. We'd all be huddled together in the kitchen, where the fire was, with the kettle on, and a little iron cooking stove.

Like many home of the time, there was no central heating, no bathroom and no indoor toilet. The winters could be freezing. 

George later remembered that in the winter there used to be ice on the windows and in fact you would have to put a hot water bottle in the bed (keep nipping upstairs to keep it moving) then whip your clothes off and leap in. And then oooooooooooohhh, lie still and then by next morning you'd just got warm and then you'd wake up, "come on, time for school", put your hand out of the bed. Freezing. Oh dear.

Harrison recalled that he and his brothers dreaded getting up in the morning because it was literally freezing cold and they had to use the outside toilet. 

The four children shared the back bedroom. In his infancy George had slept in his parents room but he later moved in with his siblings, Louise in one bed, Harry and Peter in another and George in a cot.

A later resident of Arnold Grove was Anthony Hogan, author of From a Storm to a Hurricane, the biography of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. I asked him to describe the layout of the house: The front door goes straight into the living room which would have been about 12 foot square (I’m guessing here). At the back was a small kitchen. The stairs are at the back of house. They go up from the kitchen towards the front door if you get what I mean. Upstairs is a tiny landing 2 foot x 2 foot. The front bedroom was the largest, and ran the length of house across. The back bedroom runs towards back of house and is smaller. (Anthony’s son) had a single bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers etc. There was not much room with that in there, so imagine it with all those kids in there. The houses were extended when we lived there. It was all knocked through so it had space. Loved it there, the fans were funny at times. We needed a larger house. Liked it there though.

A lot of the garden was paved over (except one bit where there was a one-foot-wide flowerbed), with a toilet at the back and, for a period of time, a little hen-house where we kept cockerels.

Peter (with chick) and George in the backyard at No. 12

There was a zinc bathtub hanging on the backyard wall which we'd bring in and fill with hot water from pans and boiling kettles. That would be how we had a bath. We didn't have a bathroom: no Jacuzzis. Good place to wash your hair, Liverpool. Nice soft water.

I had a happy childhood, with lots of relatives around - relatives and absolutes. I was always waking up in the night, coming out of the bedroom, looking down the stairs and seeing lots of people having a party. It was probably only my parents and an uncle or two (I had quite a few uncles with bald heads; they'd say they got them 
 by using them to knock pub doors open), but it always seemed that they were partying without telling me. 

I don't remember too much about the music, I don't know whether they had (anyone performing) music at the parties at all. There was probably a radio on.

There was always music in the house, some of it quite unusual for the times. Louise enjoyed listening to Indian classical music on ‘For the Indian Forces’ every Sunday morning on BBC radio. It’s tempting to think her unborn fourth baby was absorbing all this from the womb.

My eldest brother, Harry, had a little portable record-player that played 45s and 33s. It could play a stack of ten records, though he only owned three. He kept them neatly in their sleeves; one of them was by Glenn Miller. When he was out everything was always left tidy; the wires, the lead and plugs were all wrapped around, and nobody was supposed to use it. But as soon as he'd go out my brother Pete and I would put them on.

We'd play anything. My dad had bought a wind-up gramophone in New York when he was a seaman and had brought it back on the ship. It was a wooden one, where you opened the doors; the top doors had a speaker behind and the records were stored in the bottom. And there were the needles in little tin boxes.

He'd also brought some records from America, including one by Jimmie Rodgers, 'the Singing Brakeman'. He was Hank Williams's favourite singer and the first country singer that I ever heard. He had a lot of tunes such as 'Waiting For A Train', and 'Blue For A Train' and that led me to the guitar.

Harold Harrison with his four children. 

In the late 1970s George took (his second wife) Olivia to see the house. No one was in so they sat outside in the car and tried to imagine what it was like inside. George suspected the new owners had at some point knocked the fireplace out, installed “one of those little tiled jobs” and probably now had running hot water.

I had wondered whether George only went back the once. Did he ever take his son Dhani to have a look? Did the new owner ever let him in?

Anthony Hogan was able to confirm that George did make a return visit: Did you know George once turned up at the house with his wife. (The lady living in number 12) Kath told us she answered a knock and he was standing there. He said he had once lived there and asked if he could come in to look. He had a cuppa with Kath.

(Somebody) put a plaque up once without telling her. She came home and found it on her house. She was so upset by it. I removed it for her. I should have kept it as it would be worth a bit now.

Certainly the current owners appear to want no part of the Beatles industry and this is something one should bear in mind visiting any of the Beatles' former homes – for the most part they are still occupied by ordinary people and their privacy should be respected. I’ve stood at the corner of Admiral Grove and witnessed a group of tourists peering through the window and leaning against the front door of number 12 to pose for photographs. I think I’d get fed up with that every day…..

George’s brother Harry would later recall: Our little house was just two rooms up and two rooms down, but, except for a short period when our father was away at sea, we always knew the comfort and security of a very close-knit home life.

George had similar fond memories of Arnold Grove:  It was OK that house, very pleasant being little and it was always sunny in the summer. But then we moved, after about 25 years on the housing list, we moved.

It was actually nearer eighteen years since Harry and Louise had applied for a council house. At the time of their original application they had one child, Louise, who had since grown up and moved on. Now they had three more – Harry, fifteen, Peter, nine and six years old George. On 1 January 1950 the Harrisons left Wavertree and moved to a newly built home at 25 Upton Green in Speke. Unfortunately they quickly wanted to move back. George: As soon as we got to Speke we realised we had to get out of there, fast...the place was full of fear and people smashing things up.

The Harrisons got on another list.


The George Harrison quotes are taken from his biography, ‘I Me Mine’ and interviews given for ‘The Beatles Anthology’. The Books “Thats The Way God Planned It” by Kevin Roach, and “Tune In” by Mark Lewisohn were also of assistance.

Thanks to Anthony Hogan for his personal memories.

I hope you enjoyed the Rutles' joke ;)