Thursday, 12 November 2015

A visit from John & Yoko

Holmrook Special School,
Beaconsfield Road,
L25 6EE

Following on from the previous post, here are some more photographs of John and Yoko taken in Woolton, Liverpool during a stop-over on their June 1969 road-trip from Weybridge to Scotland.

Whether pre-arranged or on the spur of the moment, John, Yoko, Kyoko and Julian visited Holmrook Special School at the foot of Beaconsfield Road, situated almost directly opposite the famous red gates of Strawberry Field, a place so familiar to John from his childhood.

Perhaps this is the primary reason why he chose to visit here with it being so close to both his old playground and ‘Mendips”, his former home on Menlove Avenue, just around the corner.
The photographs of John and Yoko’s visit were first uncovered in 2013 when they were sent to Liverpool musician Dean Johnson, one of the compilers of the book “The Beatles and Me”. They are traditionally dated 26 June 1969, the day the Lennons arrived at Harriet’s house.

As can be seen on the map Beaconsfield Road is only a short drive over the Blackwood Avenue hill from Gateacre Park Drive where they were staying with Aunt Harriet. (click on photo for larger image)

Unfortunately, although the photographs are widely circulating, information about the visit to Holmrook is not. The kids are all wearing hats in the above photo. I can't make out the banner on them. Did John and Yoko provide them?  Why did they visit? How long did they stay? Isn’t it nice to see Yoko smiling so much?

Holmrook closed in 1986. So far I’ve not been able to establish whether it was demolished and Palmerston, the present special needs school here was built on the site or whether it simply changed names. The photo below shows Palmerston in 1986

Today, Palmerston is an outstanding school that provides a high quality education for

 pupils with severe or profound learning difficulties.


“The Beatles and Me”, is a fan-made book with unique stories of fans’ every day encounters with the group.   The book is on Kindle here.

Find out more about the great work Palmerston School does here:

An alternative version of the photo above

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

137 Gateacre Park Drive

137 Gateacre Park Drive

John Lennon's mother, Julia, was the fourth of five surviving children in the Stanley family. The eldest, Mary, was known to all as "Mimi" (1906-1991), and her sisters followed at regular intervals: Elizabeth "Mater" (1908-1976), Anne "Nanny" (1911-1988), Julia "Judy" (1914-1958) and the youngest, Harriet "Harrie" (1916-1972). 

Separated from her husband, Alfred "Freddie" Lennon, Julia met John "Bobby" Dykins in 1946 and began living with him as his common-law wife (Freddie was  never around to request a divorce). Julia and Dykins then had two children, Julia (born 5 March 1947) and her younger sister Jacqueline "Jackie" (born 26 October 1949).

Harriet Birch with her son David, and nephew John Lennon (right)

In 1958 following Julia Lennon's tragic death in a road accident, sister Harriet and her husband Norman Birch were appointed legal guardians of the two girls (17 year old John Lennon had been in the care of his Aunt Mimi since the age of 5). Julia and Jackie Dykins duly moved in with their Aunt and Uncle at the 2 bedroom Dairy Cottage on Allerton Road in Woolton, a home they rented from Mimi.

The fact that John Dykins was the girls' biological father was ignored - he had never legally married their mother.

Shockingly, in December 1965 Dykins also died in a road accident close to Penny Lane. On learning of his death John Lennon decided to do something practical to help his two half-sisters. Aware that Harrie, Norman, their son David and the two girls were living in the cramped Dairy Cottage he provided his Aunt with a budget for a house where they would all have more room.

They chose a brand new three bedroom house on Gateacre Park Drive in Woolton, just over the hill from the centre of the village. John told Harrie to furnish and decorate the house, and send all the bills to him.

John purchased the house in 1967 while it was still at the foundation stage. When it was finally completed towards the end of the year Harrie and Norman Birch moved into their spacious new home. Ironically, having spent years in the crowded two bed-room cottage, both Julia and Jackie Dykins had already moved out as had their own son David.

Julia Baird (née Dykins) describes her first visit to the house John had intended for her and Jackie: (I) was greeted by Harrie at the front door. There was a frosted glass porch, with lots of plants and wood-block floors downstairs. There was a large, L-shaped living room, overlooking the garden, which was still full of rubble from the building work, and a fitted kitchen. The deep plum red carpet from “Mendips” was on the stairs. We walked around the downstairs and then we went up to see the three bedrooms.

John's first visit

At the end of June 1969, just as the Beatles were about to commence sessions for what would become their "Abbey Road" album John decided to take Yoko and her daughter Kyoko on a tour of the Scottish Highlands where he had spent many family holidays as a boy, staying at the home of his Aunt Mater and her husband Bert in Durness, Sutherland.

John had passed his driving test in February 1965, and whilst he remained a notoriously poor driver he decided that he would drive them all the way to Scotland himself in his Mini cooper. Come the day of departure John's son Julian was visiting him and he too was brought on the trip, reportedly without first agreeing it with Cynthia.

In 1969 Britain was yet to be criss-crossed by motorways and the trip up north was a long and arduous one. Nonetheless, John successfully managed the drive for the first part of the journey. After spending the night of 23 June in the Corbett Arms Hotel in Tywyn, a seaside resort on Cardigan Bay, Wales, John planned to stop for a few days in Liverpool, introduce his new wife to his family and show her where he had grown up. It was on this first leg of the journey that he decided the Mini was too small for the four of them to travel such a distance and he phoned his assistant Les Anthony to request a larger car. Anthony duly drove up to Liverpool with an Austin Maxi and returned south with John's Mini.

Kyoko, Yoko, Julian and John at the Corbett Arms, Tywyn, Wales on 23 June 1969

A few days later when John was in Liverpool he telephoned his half-sister Julia from Harrie’s house and asked her if she could come over (from Ireland) to see them as they were going to be there for a day or two. Julia was just about to leave on her second honeymoon and declined the offer. She writes that had she known that she would not speak to him for another four years she would have jumped straight on the ferry and gone to Woolton to see him.

Both of John's Aunts did see him. Philip Norman's book "John Lennon - The Life" states that while they were up on Merseyside John and family visited his Aunt Nanny and her husband Charles Cadwaller in Rock Ferry on the Wirral. This was likely the 25 June, and they may have stayed there overnight before moving across the Mersey to Harriet's the following day.

As nneither Aunt had seen John since his divorce from Cynthia, his "Two Virgins" album sleeve, his November 1968 drug-bust, the marriage to Yoko and their subsequent Bed-Ins for Peace, they only knew of these events from what they had read in the newspapers. Now they had the opportunity to observe their crazy nephew and his peculiar new wife first hand. In June 1969 John and Yoko, perhaps Yoko more so, were heavily into macrobiotic food*.  Present in Rock Ferry was Nanny's son Mike who recalls Yoko commandeering the kitchen to prepare their meals, probably within earshot of a concerned Aunt unable to disguise her disapproval "he can't just eat beans... he needs a proper meal...he's fading away...he's all skin and bones". Reportedly, when Mike's girlfriend produced a bag of jelly babies (of all things) John scoffed quite a few before Yoko voiced her disapproval.

It was a similar story when they arrived in Woolton. When Harrie offered them a roast dinner Yoko reportedly declined and said that she would prepare their macrobiotic food. John, eager not to offend his Auntie (or perhaps he was just starving), ate the roast as well.

John, Yoko and kids with Harriet, Sophie the dog, and the Austin Maxi on Harriet's driveway. These three photographs have been dated 26 June 1969 which is probably the day the Lennons arrived in Woolton. However, I have a feeling these were taken on the day of departure - Do you think John is getting the suitcases in, or out, of the boot? (trunk?)

Gateacre Park Drive in June 1969 (above) and November 2015 (below). The trees have matured and there are more cars but not much else has changed here over the last 46 years.

While the Lennons were in Woolton they called in at Holmbrook Special School, and Julia's former house - Number 1 Blomfield Road – where the then residents welcomed them in – before John continued the journey up to Scotland on 29 June.

"Porrage" : They sent Harrie and Norman a postcard when they arrived at Mater's.

On Tuesday 1 July 1969, John's luck ran out whilst driving near Golspie in the Scottish Highlands. It was said that the roads were narrow and the weather was poor and John panicked when he saw another car heading towards him.  He swerved to avoid it, lost control of the Maxi and crashed it into a roadside ditch. John, Kyoko and Yoko suffered facial injuries and Yoko also injured her back. The three were hospitalised in Golspie's Memorial hospital remaining there for 5 days. Julian was treated for shock but was thankfully uninjured. He was taken to stay at Mater's house in Durness, some 50 miles away and remained there until a furious Cynthia arrived to take him back to London.

The crashed Austin Maxi was later transported to the couple's Tittenhurst Park estate where it was sited in the gardens (photo circa November 1969)

The trip marked one of John's final visits to Liverpool. John Lennon and Yoko Ono left England for New York on August 31, 1971. 

Harrie, the youngest of the Stanley sisters, would pass away in late 1972. She was only 56.

The house on Gateacre Park Drive would cause some problems in later years. Norman continued to live there after Harriet’s death. This was not John’s intention but not knowing what to do about it he suggested that Julia (Baird) ask Norman to leave. According to Julia, it was her understanding that Norman could continue to live there until his death at which point ownership of the house, or money from the sale of, would transfer to Julia and Jackie Dykins. She had no intention of evicting Norman and besides, with a family of her own, plus Jackie’s family the three bedroomed house was not big enough for them all.

John had written to another of his Aunts, Mater, in July 1975: “As for Norman...I always thought of the house he’s in as my contribution towards looking after Julia and Jackie. So I find it strange to hear that they were seldom in the place....and that Norman is living there alone... I would prefer the girls to use it"

That's not to say that John forgot about Norman:

Perhaps through necessity rather than choice Julia did use it. After the birth of her son David in April 1979 Julia and her family moved in with Norman that summer and stayed for almost a year. Before the birth of her son the plan had been to put their own house on the market and buy a larger one but the sale went through so quickly they didn't have another house lined up and faced having nowhere to live. Until they could find a house of their own they would stay with Norman, eventually moving out around April 1980.

John Lennon was murdered on 8 December 1980.

Towards the end of January 1986 Norman Birch received a letter from a New York law firm acting on behalf of Yoko. The letter offered Norman the chance to buy the house he was living in, 137 Gateacre Park Drive, for a “mutually agreed price and at mutually agreeable terms” before it was put on the open market. In other words, if he couldn’t or didn’t want to buy it, he would lose his home. With only his pension, the letter had the same effect as an eviction notice.

The house had been bought by John through Apple, and after his death, ownership transferred to Yoko. John it transpired, had not secured the house for his sisters, nor had he let Yoko know of his intentions for them. When Julia Baird learned of this she telephoned David, Norman’s son to warn him his Dad risked being evicted.  In turn, David rang Yoko, pointing out that this was Norman’s home, and had been for 15 years. 

Norman did not receive any more threatening letters.

In October 1991, in what must have seemed like history repeating itself, Norman was knocked over by a car almost outside his house and later died in Broadgreen Hospital.

Yoko’s lawyers moved fast. Within weeks they had asked David to clear his father's house. He emptied it in a weekend.

137 Gateacre Park Drive had become a symbol of John's love and care for Jackie and Julia and yet it was taken from them.

The house was handed over to the Salvation Army from the estate of John Lennon on 2 November 1993. At the time of Julia Baird’s book Imagine This, a retired Salvation Army officer was living rent-free in the house. With the knowledge that the house had been intended for her and Jackie, Julia decided to contact Yoko to try and establish why she had given the house away. The call did not go well. Yoko asked Julia to provide evidence to support her contention that John had bought the house for his sisters. Unable to do so, and with frayed tempers, they agreed to speak again the following week when they had had the opportunity to calm down.

Julia subsequently received a telephone call from her cousin Michael. He’d had a call from New York to let Julia know that the return call was off and she was never to darken Yoko’s door again.

In 1998 Julia decided to approach Yoko again, having gathered testimonies from other members of the family to support her claim that John had bought the house in recognition of her and Jackie being his mother's other children.  With help from Cynthia Lennon, and her cousin Stan, who provided her with a copy of John's July 1975 letter to Mater, Julia again wrote to Yoko. Receiving no response she wrote again. And then a third time, which finally prompted a response, from Yoko's lawyer. He explained that upon John's death the house had become Yoko's for her to do with as she saw fit, which she had done. It was clear that the house was not going to be given to the girls, though Yoko did offer them money if they needed some. That was not the issue: it was never about money.

As Julia writes in Imagine This "That was the end of the matter. Having done all I could, I felt it really was time to let it go. Knowing that the house had been intended for us, and that John had wanted to look after us - and having at last been able to demonstrate it was what mattered most".


 Read this book!

* A macrobiotic diet (or macrobiotics), is a dietary regimen which involves eating grains as a staple food, supplemented with other foods such as local vegetables, and avoiding the use of highly processed or refined foods and most animal products. In 1969 this was probably considered really weird but today the benefits of such a diet are more readily accepted.

Corbett Arms Hotel:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Penny Lane: Remastered Promotional film 2015

"The Shelter in the middle of the roundabout" 
Smithdown Place

The release of the new Beatles "1" DVD collection has been trailered by a beautifully remastered copy of the Penny Lane promotional film from January 1967. I've used stills from a scratchy old copy on an earlier post but these are far superior. The photo above shows the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout" in 1967. When I took the photograph below in 2013 it was unclear what the intention was for the additional floor under construction over the former Sgt. Pepper's bistro.
Over the last couple of months work has picked up pace and the renovation is finally nearing completion. It looks like Sgt. Pepper's Bistro is to rise again, with an extra floor to take in the sights of Smithdown Place. From this elevated position patrons will have a 360 degree view of almost all the places mentioned in the song (fire station excepted). I might have to pop in for a coffee when it opens and take advantage upstairs with my camera.

What I still can't understand is the name chosen for the establishment. Yes, Sgt. Pepper's definitely came out the same year as Penny Lane (and the latter was originally intended to be a part of that album) but that is the only connection with the Smithdown Place shelter.

Why not name your bistro "The Shelter in the middle of the Roundabout"? While it's not as blatantly Beatley, the name still ties it to the song that made it famous and will be recognisable to fans who visit here for this very reason without putting off anyone who doesn't like the Beatles. 

Anyway, it's nice to see it looking better than it has for the last decade.

Bus Stop, wet day, she's there I say... (sorry, wrong song) (Penny Lane promo, 1967)

September 2015 was the annual Heritage month and passing Smithdown Place one Sunday I caught a couple of vintage buses doing free excursions along their original routes. I'm no expert on vintage transport but I like a shiny old green bus when I see one, especially one that looks to be the same model as featured in the Beatles' film.

John Lennon would change buses here to head back to his home in Woolton, appropriately enough the destination for this vintage bus (dating, I believe from the 1970s).

Here are some more stills from the remastered Penny Lane video. 

Has somebody written (Rolling) "Stones" on the sign? (above)

This is a continuation of the above frame. I think this building is the one on the corner of Penny Lane / Smithdown Road which today is a Solicitors office.

I always think of the mounted officer as "the fireman". In the video he turns right out of Penny Lane towards Smithdown Place. Here he's looking up Westgate Road. The Chemist is now a branch of Cash Converters.

He's on Elm Hall Drive here with his back to St. Barnabus Church (1967 and 2015)

The bus passes Bioletti's, the Barber shop on Smithdown Place.

The Beatles 1 CD + Blu-ray Box set is released on 6 November 2015

Friday, 30 October 2015

John Lennon's 75th Birthday Tour #2

John Lennon Day
Saturday 10 October 2015

A Full Day in the Life of Lennon-ness

This is Part 2 of The John Lennon 75th Birthday Tour. You can read Part 1 here.

Our coach took us down Beaconsfield Road, passing the gates of Strawberry Field and Palmerston School again before turning onto Menlove Avenue. Our guide Jackie Spencer pointed out the bus stop on the other side of the dual carriageway where Julia Lennon had been trying to get to on that fateful evening when she was knocked down and killed.  A tragedy for any family.  

We paused for a minute outside 251, “Mendips” the home John shared with his Aunt Mimi for 18 years. The house is now owned by the National Trust and special arrangements are needed to visit. The majority of our party had already done so and thus the coach continued, past the former site of the “Tip” where John and his band of outlaws played as children, and past Allerton Golf Course, a short cut both John and Paul used when visiting each others houses and the location for a couple of Beatles photo sessions with Mike McCartney (1962) and Dezo Hoffmann (1963).

At 120a Allerton Road (Woolton) is the Dairy Cottage, owned by the family of George Toogood Smith and where Alf, Julia and young John lived for a time. Following Julia’s tragic demise, John Dykins was not considered able to bring up their two daughters by himself and the girls were placed in the care of their Aunt Harrie, Julia/Mimi’s sister and her husband (Norman Birch) who were living at the cottage and paying Mimi rent.  Across the road from the Dairy Cottage is the entrance to Woolton Convalescent home. Mimi was working here when she took a shine to the local dairyman, George Smith.

We stayed in Woolton for our next official stop. Facing the entrance to Camp Hill (spectacular views from here over Speke and the Mersey to the Wirral and Wales) is 97 School Lane. This was home for John Dykins after Julia’s death. He had been forced to leave his Blomfield Road council house after the authorities discovered that he had been living with Julia “in sin”. He was re-homed here, arguably in a better house and certainly in a better location. 

After Julia died Dykins seems to have tried to maintain some sort of contact with John who would occasionally call round to the house in School Lane to visit him. However, more often than not John would use the property as a bolt hole when Dykins was at work. 

Unfortunately they don’t appear to have treated the house with much respect. John, Paul and occasionally George would “break in”. The larder window at the back of the property was usually left open and little George, if he was with them, would squeeze through and unlock the kitchen or front door to let the rest of them in. They would play records they had brought with them, that one or the other had pinched from a party and occasionally they'd listen to some of Dykins own collection. Paul McCartney remembers breaking the record player and scratching one of Dykin’s records and subsequently getting a proper telling off from him. George, never without his guitar, would recall waiting for Dykins to leave the house to go to work or the pub and then sneaking in.  To replicate the sound of an amplified guitar George would plug his into the radiogram, only to blow the speaker. Cynthia would also visit the house with John, perhaps for some “alone-time”.

1950's radiogram
Jackie invited the current owner on to the coach to talk a little bit about the house and the lady was kind enough to allow us to take photographs, to the bemusement of some of her neighbours.  This house is certainly not on the usual tourist route.

Some of our party decided to take in the views of Camp Hill. A Norwegian fan, clearly a veteran of Jackie’s tours and well known to her introduced himself to me whilst we were out of the coach photographing number 97. 

“Tor Ivar” he said, “two first names”
I didn’t like to say but until the introduction I thought Jackie was referring to him by a nickname – “Tour” Ivar, because he’d been on so many of them!

School Lane runs into Hillfoot Road and facing us was Allerton Cemetry where Julia was laid to rest. It is also where Cilla Black, a longtime friend of the fabs was recently buried.

Another close friend of Cilla's was the Birkenhead born comedian and TV presenter Paul O'Grady, who had given a stunning eulogy at her funeral. Paul is best known for his comedic drag-queen creation Lily Savage and "she" was brought to mind when Jackie played us another Lennon track, a 1979 home demo of his song "Serve Yourself". Several versions of this song have been heard over the years but this particular take is notorious for the copious amounts of swearing, all delivered in a thick Scouse accent put on to amuse Yoko. Unfortunately Jackie then decided to share with us that somebody had once pointed out the resemblance between John's fake accent on the song and the voice of Lily Savage. Warning: If you have never heard Lily Savage, do NOT look her up on Youtube. You will never hear "Serve Yourself" the same way again. (It's like when I found out where the edit was on Strawberry Fields Forever - I ALWAYS hear it now)

Anyway, passing close to Tony Bramwell’s old house on Hillfoot we headed out to Speke for our next stop, Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Now not having been been on one of these tours before the thought did cross my mind that we were about to fly to Amsterdam which considering what I paid for the day would have been incredible value for money!

Yellow Submarine at the entrance to Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Now the check in and departure lounge of Liverpool John Lennon Airport is not somewhere you would normally visit unless you were er... departing - the cost of the short stay car park would put most people off for a start. However, due to the special nature of our tour Jackie had arranged for a bus load of people to wander into the airport with no intentions of getting on a plane because here, on the main passenger walkway overlooking the check-in hall is a 7ft bronze statue of John by local sculptor Tom Murphy.

Liverpool has a number of Beatles' statues with likenesses of varying quality. I think this sculpture of John is one of the better ones. It was unveiled by Yoko Ono and the then Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth QC in a ceremony on 15 March 2002 to mark the completion of the check in hall at the airport and re-naming and re-branding to Liverpool John Lennon. 

Leaving a rose for John, we took the opportunity to study the wall panels over the check-in area, each with a different verse from one of his songs. before we were told it was time to head back to the bus. Next stop: Lunch

Possibly the most shambolic recreation of the 'Abbey Road' cover ever staged

With us all back onboard our John jaunt proceeded through Speke, passing the original Liverpool airport, where George and Paul would come to spot planes, where John Lennon would work for a time during summer 1958 and most famously where the Beatles made a triumphant return to the city in July 1964 for their film premiere. Admiring the Speke Matchworks, a fine art-deco building much loved by George Harrison we headed for Allerton and I caught Woolton Carpets, formerly the infamous Wilson Hall, out the corner of my eye.

The traffic island that the buses turn around outside Liverpool South Parkway station has a topiary of the four Beatles. 
In 2008 somebody chopped off the head of "Ringo" after the real one made what some considered to be anti-Liverpool remarks. I’m not sure when John offended somebody (well, not recently anyway) but his leafy representation looks to be in a bit of a bad way too.

The coach pulled in on Mather Avenue, at the junction with Mostyn Avenue. From here it was short  walk through the Springwood Estate to our next destination and another major highlight of the tour,  No. 1 Blomfield Road.The house is privately owned and not normally accessible to the general public but thanks to the generosity of the present owner, Jackie Holmes, who just so happened to be on our tour, we were all invited to have lunch in the former home of Julia Lennon and John Dykins.

Julia called Dykins "Bobby", reasoning that there was already one John in her life, and they lived here with their two daughters Julia and Jackie from Spring 1949 until 1958.  John Lennon visited his mother's house frequently and would often stay over when he needed some time away from his Aunt Mimi.  When he later formed the Quarrymen Julia was happy to let them rehearse in the house and would sometimes sit in with them and offer encouragement.  Already thrilled to be allowed access to the house our tour party had perhaps the biggest and nicest surprise of the whole day when we entered the living room to find two original members of the Quarrymen - Rod Davis and Colin Hanton - waiting for us!

 Rod Davis (second left) and Colin Hanton (fourth from left) back in Blomfield Road

This was the first time I'd met them and I can't stress how great they were. Original members of the group that went on to change the world yet seemingly oblivious of their own place in musical history, Colin and Rod were happy to chat and pose for photographs and tried to accommodate any other requests made of them. Although Rod no longer lives here both he and Colin still reminded me of typical Liverpudlian Dads, and that's one of the highest compliments I can give.

After a lovely buffet served in the kitchen (thanks to Mike and Louise) our guide appeared with a chocolate birthday cake and we joined the Quarrymen in a rousing "Happy Birthday" for John. A tray of brandy Alexanders (brandy and chocolate milkshake, a favourite of John's) was offered and despite strong protestations that lasted a least a millisecond we were, completely against our will you understand, persuaded (under duress) to raise a glass to him.

Or three...

Enjoying lunch in the back garden of 1 Blomfield Road (pre- brandy Alexander-gate)

To get away from this wanton debauchery I decided to explore the house with the owner, Jackie Holmes as my guide.

Some Beatles' books will tell you that given the favourable acoustics they liked to rehearse in the bathroom, standing in the bath and perched on the toilet.  Jackie pointed out that this would have been impractical and unlikely because in reality the toilet is in a separate room to the bath! This observation was supported by comments made Rod Davis as he told our tour party that his memory of the house was rehearsing in the living room.

I saw daughter Jackie's bedroom overlooking the back garden which became John's room whenever he stopped over. Jackie would bunk in with her sister Julia.  A large faded painting of a Lancaster bomber hung on the wall and although it was probably put there by the last owners I thought it would have been an appropriate choice for a family living there during the post-war 1950s.
I stood in the room where Julia and Bobby slept and tried not to think of some of the confusing teenage memories John would later relate about his mother. I preferred to think of the happy childhood stories as told in the books of Julia Baird about how thrilled she and her sister were whenever their big brother stayed. Sixty four years ago on 9 October 1954 John celebrated his 14th birthday here with a cake made for him by Bobby. John's relationship with him was generally good but he sometimes put it to the test, on one occasion setting fire to his mattress whilst smoking in bed.

Full of sandwiches, chocolate birthday cake and one too many brandy Alexanders our tour resumed in a more, shall we say 'relaxed' way than before lunch.

Passing close to Forthlin Road we reached the junction of Mather and Booker Avenues, and Jackie related a humorous tale about what John thought he saw one dark night on the walk home from Paul's house.  When I wrote about the Penny Lane area in a previous blog I noted that the fire station at the end of Mather Avenue was still going strong. Unfortunately it has recently closed, another victim of government cuts.  Just over the road and also under threat is Allerton library where Mike McCartney once loaned books teaching him the art of photography. Opposite, near the corner with Rose Lane was the site of the former Plaza (later Gaumont) Cinema, where Paul and George saw the advert for Link furniture.

Dovedale Road School

Dovedale Road is a street with its share of Beatle memories. It has the school where John and George went, it has Dovedale Towers, formerly St. Barnabus Church Hall where the Quarrymen once performed, and at number 69, formerly the home of Michael Hill, John's Quarry Bank schoolfriend, the scene of a momentous event in John's musical education. It was here that Hill delighted in blowing John's mind by playing him his Belgium bought 78rpm single of Little Richard's Long Tall Sally b/w Slippin' and Slidin' for the first time.

A place heavily associated with the Beatles is Penny Lane which is where we stopped next. Exiting the coach outside the row of shops featured in the 1995 video for the "Free As A Bird" single we trooped over the road and into the Penny Lane Development Trust , a community centre which aims to offer opportunities to the local populace.

The Quarrymen: Rod Davis, Colin Hanton and Len Garry
When we arrived at the trust there was already quite a crowd gathered including Rod and Colin from the Quarrymen. They'd left Blomfield Road ahead of us. I was delighted to meet a third member of the band, Len Garry who was just as friendly and accomodating with photos and autographs as his two bandmates.

The three had been invited by the centre's manager, Julie Gornell, to officially unveil a Penny Lane street sign as part of the celebrations for John's 75th birthday.

Before the unveiling, a prepared speech was given by Rod because "When it's kissing beauty queens I'm third in the queue, but when it's making speeches they stuff me to the front.. because I can read!" We heard how Penny Lane was a special place in John's life, living close to it with his mother, walking down it with friends, and playing sport on the very field where we were all standing when he attended Dovedale School. Rod added that, in reality, John "would probably have been playing cards at the back of the field, he didn't really like sport". He then explained that the reason the PLDT now had its own street sign was to enable "all the lovely people, that's you... well there's a few ugly ones" to have their picture taken with it when they visit. After a comedic countdown leading to the unveiling (Len Garry : "One....."!) the street sign was revealed.

Julie Gornell presents the Quarrymen with another birthday cake after unveiling the street sign. You can watch a video of the speech below:

Me with the Quarrymen. Len Garry joked that I had the right jacket to join the group! (photo by Carmen Villoria)

I had a little chat with Rod Davis after the unveiling. Today I live about a mile from his former home on Kings Drive in Woolton and I asked him what number he lived at (129). This was very close to where my Dad lived on Woodvale Road, and he attended St. Peter's Church Sunday School and youth club at the same time as many of the Quarrymen. Rod told me that in the late 50's Colin was living a 4 Heyscroft Road, the continuation of Woodvale, so he lived even closer to my Dad, and cutting across both was Halewood Drive where another Quarryman, the late Eric Griffiths had lived. John Lennon was literally walking the streets outside my Dad's house! Rod couldn't picture my Dad's face but he recalled the name (and Dad's sister) and asked me to pass on his regards when I saw him. I told Rod my Dad had unfortunately passed away in 2013 but thanked him for his kind words. (I only wish I'd met the Quarrymen a few years ago and I could have asked Dad what his memories of them were - I only ever asked him about John). This was a nice personal moment for me.

Unfortunately due to our tight schedule we were unable to stay at the PLDT to watch the musical act perform but I was glad to have had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the Quarrymen - great fellas all.

The next part of our journey took us up Church Road, past St. Barnabus Church, the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout", Bioletti's barbers and a couple of banks all well visited on the Beatle tourist route. We admired the splendid Blue Coat School, formerly an orphanage where Alf Lennon and his sister Edith were schooled between April 1924 and August 1929, and as our coach manoeuvred around the Picton Clock island, a stones throw from George Harrison's birthplace in Arnold Grove, Jackie drew our attention to the former Abbey Cinema where John and his mates would go on a Saturday morning. Descending Church Road we past Holy Trinity Church where George Harrison's grandparents married in 1902 before pulling up at the end of Newcastle Road.  

Jackie tells of her admiration and respect for Yoko Ono outside 9 Newcastle Road 

The house where it all began. John Lennon was conceived here, reportedly during January 1940 when Alf was on a week's shore leave from the Duchess of York and following his birth that October this became his first home. John would live at number nine (number nine...) Newcastle Road on and off until 1945.

I had been fortunate to go around the house when it was unoccupied in 2013 just before it went on sale. At the time the estate agents placed a value on the house of between £150k and £250k but on the day of the auction it actually sold for a staggering £480k! Reportedly sold to an anonymous, though clearly wealthy, American "Beatles' fan" the smart money would be on Yoko Ono.

Work was going on inside the house. We tried peering through the windows for clues. Was the original interior being preserved or ripped-out? We could see nothing but aware of the new security camera that had been installed over the front door we decided not to press our luck and headed back to the coach, only stopping to snap a picture of the street sign.

It was time for some fun. Our next destination was the "Broad Walk", the long and winding path around the lake at Sefton Park, popular as a romancing spot back in the 1920s. This was the place where 16 year-old Alfred Lennon first met 15 year-old Julia Stanley in 1929. For a larf Jackie Spencer asked one of our party to volunteer to play the part of Alf, preferably somebody wearing a hat, and sharing the same initials it was only right that Jackie play the role of Julia herself. Step forward Mr Kim Mortensen.

Jackie Spencer (Julia Stanley): You look silly.
Kim Mortensen (Alfred Lennon): You look lovely. May I sit with you?
Jackie Spencer (Julia Stanley): Only if you take off that silly hat.

In real life Alf then chucked his bowler hat into the lake and a relationship began. Understandably, Kim wanted to keep hold of his.

Someone wondered aloud how much would that bowler hat be worth now, the earliest piece of Beatles' related memorabilia? We returned to the coach and Tor Ivar made plans to return with his snorkel mask.... 

We left the park and made our way along Park Road, the start of Dingle, past the site of the former tram sheds that Richy Starkey would pass on his way to Dingle Vale school every morning , Steble Street, where he'd go to bathe and on towards town. Jackie pointed out the "Dickens" streets, where Alf Lennon's home on Copperfield Street once stood, and Head Street, behind the cast-iron church of St James.

Passing Great George’s Place, the former site of the David Lewis Theatre where the Beatles first ever fan club evening took place we headed for the Dock Road and Jackie began the story of Alf Lennon's life on the ocean waves, accompanied by the record Alf made in 1965 "That's My Life".
Listening to  Alf's one and only attempt on the pop charts as we approached the White Star building where he would sign on for work, I couldn't help thinking how much he sounded like Paul O'Grady.
Perhaps subconsciously trying to follow in his father's footsteps John Lennon once tried to sign on at Merchant House but being under-age approval had to be sought from a parent or guardian. They duly contacted Mimi who would entertain no such ideas and told John to come home because his tea was ready.

We were on the Dock Road, a place of Cyclopean walls, huge tobacco warehouses Dublin Street and early Beatles photo sessions. It is also where the first Lennons arrived in Liverpool, refugees from Ireland's Great Famine circa 1845.

It turns out Jackie Spencer does actually love Yoko Ono and as we were here for John's birthday it was only right that we heard Yoko’s happy birthday song for John “Yes I’m Your Angel”. I noted the vocal similarities to the Muppets' Miss Piggy as we drove through Waterloo and I felt I was finally facing mine.

With the brandy Alexanders kicking in it was time for some more giggles. Crosby Beach to the north of Liverpool is home to Antony Gormley’s Another Place – a piece of modern art consisting of 100 cast iron sculptures of the artist's own body, facing towards the sea and spread over a two mile stretch of the beach between Waterloo and BlundellsandsAfter first being exhibited on the beach of Cuxhaven in Germany in 1997 the piece moved to Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium before moving to Crosby where they have now become a permanent fixture. Originally a further move was planned for November 2007 but lobbying by art lovers and local businesses (the statues bring in tourist revenue) led to an agreement in March 2007 that Another Place would stay put.  Co-incidentally given the purpose of our visit, the place it had been intended to move them to next  was New York. From the city where it started for John Lennon to the city where it ended.

It has become customary to dress the statues. Over the years the public have added all manner of hats, scarves, coats, Santa Claus outfits and the like, something Gormley himself appears to have no problem with, seeing his piece as an organic evolving work - apparently some of the statues sited further into the sea are now encrusted with a species of barnacles usually only found in the waters around Australia. It appears they arrived on Merseyside attached to a tanker or cruise liner and liking the look of Crosby decided to "jump ship" and attach themselves to the figures!

As a nod to New York, and in acknowledgement of his birthday the idea was to dress one of the Gormley's as an approximation of John. It was easier said than done.

It turns out putting a t-shirt on a 6ft statue whose arms don't bend is harder than you would expect. Do you put it over the arms first and then try and stretch it over the head? Or over one arm and the head and then try for the other arm? Then there's the other thing that kept getting in the way. Just like his big brother Dickie Lewis.

It was suggested that following on from the Sefton Park re-enactment the naked statue might be the perfect companion for anyone brave enough to try and emulate the "Two Virgins" sleeve. Luckily we got the t-shirt on in the nick of time.

"How does this go over his head?" (L) Covering his modesty (R) 
The fine ladies and gentlemen of our tour party (below) taken by our tourguide

It was mid afternoon and the light was beginning to fade as we left our "John" staring out across the Irish Sea towards the home of his ancestors. Beyond there was New York, the place so many hoped to eventually reach when their famine boats arrived on the Liverpool docks.

Our next port of call was Seaforth. Passing an old Beatles' venue, Lathom Hall, with its garish Blackpool illuminations style "Hippie" outside we pulled in past a big traffic island on the road to Litherland to view some superb Beatles themed artwork.  Earlier in the trip we'd seen Dublin Street but this mural was pure Belfast Street art.

The side of an end terrace house on Croxteth Avenue has been transformed into a representation of John Lennon's 1975 "Rock n Roll" album cover. The wall alongside shows all four Beatles' heads in the half-light black and white style of the With The Beatles album and alongside them, smaller portrayals of Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. This is a fine piece of work created by artists from both sides of Northern Ireland's political divide to celebrate Litherland's links with the Beatles. Belfast Loyalist Mark Ervine and Republican Danny Devenny came together to create the striking mural. With the motives being peace and art I think John would have approved. Jackie Holmes left another rose in recognition.

It was time to head back into town to conclude our mad day out. The coach parked up on Hope Street parallel to the magnificent Anglican Cathedral built in sandstone from the Woolton quarry we'd seen earlier. Disembarking for the final time we thanked our driver and walked over to Gambier Terrace.

John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and others shared a first floor flat at 3 Hilary mansions on Gambier Terrace. Our party stood outside the front door whilst Jackie produced a photo on her tablet of the famous “Beatnik Horror” tabloid picture taken inside the flat and we questioned whether John was in the photo with his back to the camera or not.  Personally I think that John was away at the time the photograph was taken (probably when the Beatles were in Scotland in 1960), and somebody only decided John was one of the unknown people in the photograph after he became famous.

And so our tour officially ended on Hope Street at the suitcases installed by John King in 1998 at the junction with Mount Street, by LIPA (Paul and George's old Liverpool Institute) and the Liverpool School of Art (John and Stuart's former college). Although I'd passed this art installation, entitled "A Case History" many times I had not known that each of the sculptured cases supposedly "belonged" to some of the Hope Street Quarter's most illustrious names and organisations including L.I.P.A., Charles Dickens, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Performing her final tour guide task of the day Jackie thanked everyone for coming and hoped we'd all enjoyed it. (We had). The significance of one particular case was that it was based upon the container John and Yoko used to send their 1969 "Acorns For Peace" campaign around the world. They posted several heads of state two acorns each, requesting that they plant them for peace. Only two heads of state, Golda Meir of Israel, and Pierre Trudeau of Canada planted the acorns. In a nice co-incidence we had members in our tour party from both countries.

We also had a couple from Texas struggling to understand Jackie's Scouse accent. Now John and Yoko certainly did some crazy things, from naked album covers to erotic lithographs. But they categorically did NOT send "gay porn to world leaders!"

ACORNS!! (photo by Claire Jackson)

Formalities over it was time for a drink and what more appropriate a place to do this than Ye Cracke, a favourite art school watering hole of John and Stuart Sutcliffe in nearby Rice Street. Of course, with it being a Saturday night the pub was rammed, and there was no chance any of us were going to get into the "War Office", the quaint little nook where traditionally the older men had sat and drank. Whenever John had no money, which was most of the time, he would go into the War Office, tell a few jokes and then demand a pint from anyone he'd successfully made laugh.

The only way I could get a shot of the War Office was by aiming my camera through the glass window at the top and hoping for the best. My camera lens did not go unnoticed by today's equivalent of John and Stuart! 

After I had said my thanks and made my goodbyes I  walked down Hardman Street, passing the bombed out church of St Luke's. I looked across Berry Street to Seel Street and the Blue Angel club, before crossing and heading on down Bold Street, already filling up with early evening drinkers. I passed the former Odd Spot club on my right before making my way into Central station and home.

A big thank you to Jackie Spencer, Jean Catharell and Jackie Holmes.

Dedicated to everyone on the tour that Saturday.

And we brought back lots of lovely souvenirs.......

John in Hamburg badge
 Poster, badge and facsimile Ration book with one piece of chocolate attached

The autographs of three Quarrymen - Colin, Rod and Len
(plus Donovan and Pattie Boyd obtained at the 2015 Beatles Convention)