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 on Ullet Road, not far from 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 at 'Ardmore' their house in Rock Ferry, 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 neither 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".
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* 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: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/wa-4643-corbett-arms-hotel-tywyn#.VkKIn9LhCUk