Monday, 28 December 2015

Mackets! Mackets! Mackets!***

174 Mackets Lane
Hunts Cross
Liverpool 25



On New Years Day 1950 the Harrisons moved in to their new house in Speke. Unfortunately they hated it almost from the moment they arrived. Having spent nearly twenty years in Wavertree on a Liverpool Corporation house waiting list the Harrisons promptly put themselves on another one. It was another twelve years before they were able to move.


(above) 174 Mackets Lane. George Harrison's third home from August 1962. 


Mackets Lane shops (built 1936) in 1954. That the area was a work in progress is evident by the condition of the road. The photo below shows the reverse view, looking in the direction of George's house, 1954 blended with 2015. There weren't many nail bars, sun-bed shops and tattoo parlours when George lived here.


The area is named after the ancient cross-roads at Speke Road, Hillfoot Avenue and Woodend Avenue, which formed the southern boundary of (Much) Woolton. Evidence indicates that the cross-roads was called Hunt'sCross because of fox hunts meeting there before setting off.



In the 1960s the medieval stone pedestal of the village cross had to be moved a short distance, to the corner of Hillfoot Road and Speke Road, to allow Hillfoot Avenue to be widened. According to local folklore, whosoever takes the stone shall be possessed with the power of the Hunt. It is also said that legendary highwayman DIck Turpin stayed in Hunt's Cross on his way to York and stabled his horse Black Bess there.



George was very familiar with the area. Whilst living in Speke he had taken a Saturday job working as a delivery boy for E.R. Hughes, a butchers shop just around the corner from Mackets at the junction of Hillfoot and Woodend Avenues. Cycling around Hunts Cross and Speke with bleeding white paper parcels he became friendly with Tony Bramwell who lived at 26 Hillfoot Avenue, and would often call in at his house for a cup of tea and a jam buttie. George had taken the job to pay for his Hofner President guitar and it was whilst working for E.R. Hughes that he learned that one of the other lads, Tommy Askew, had a Dobro resonator guitar.  Askew went to college with a lad from Tuebrook called Les Stewart who had his own quartet, and around this time in early 1959 George would join them, whilst still remaining in a group with John and Paul.


Hunts Cross was considered "posher" than Speke, sharing its L25 (Woolton) post code with properties such as "Mendips" on Menlove Avenue, and the Harrisons would always tell people that they lived "in Woolton" but this was still very much a Corporation house in a new overspill development and George still had bare lino on his bedroom floor. Nonetheless, this was by far the best house the family had lived in - bigger, semi-detached with front and back gardens and a garage and driveway for George and his brother Peter’s cars, and close proximity to the local shops, something they never had in Speke.

 


(above) The shops on Hillfoot Avenue at the junction with Woodend Avenue (on left). The Butchers where George worked is now either the Chinese Chippy or the Barbers. The photo below shows the reverse view and was taken during the 1950s. The girls are standing where the red car is parked on the above photo and the butchers is on their left. On their right is Woodend Avenue. This is how it would have looked to George, cycling from Speke up Woodend to get to work every Saturday.
(Click on photos for larger images)


Woodend Avenue, 1951 - George's approach from Speke

In George’s 1980 autobiography “I Me Mine” he would remember Mackets Lane as the place where he was living when his career was “getting going”. As a consequence, although the house was much preferred to the one in Upton Green it was never as much a “home” given the long periods George was away from it with the Beatles. He would only live in the house around 16 months before work commitments forced the group to move down to London at the end of 1963.


A postcard from George to his next door neighbours, circa May 1963 and a reply to a fan called Jill, March 1963 (note on both he writes Woolton, rather than Hunts Cross)

The new house quickly became known to local fans and before “Beatlemania” made such things impossible it was not unusual for some of them to be invited inside. Towards the end of 1962, Susan Houghton (a Cavern regular known to the Beatles as “Sue Cement Mixer”) and a friend were hanging out with George at home when he decided he wanted the songs “Chains” and “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” for his record collection and asked the girls if they wanted a ride into town where he could buy them. According to Sue “We went into NEMS together and he got (the two records) and the Beatles sang them that night, I think for the first time. Then (George) said, “I need to go and pick my mother up now,” so we got back in the car and drove out to some big factory where she worked, way out of Liverpool (it was the magazine printer Bemrose, in Aintree), then he took her home and then he drove each of us home. He had a gentleness with us which I could never have envisaged." (from The Beatles - All These Years - Extended Special Edition: Volume One: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn)

There appears to be only one photo of George inside 174 Mackets Lane but he was photographed at least twice in front of the house.

When the Beatles woke up on the morning of Saturday 7 December 1963 they must have known the day ahead of them was going to be hectic even by their standards. That night they would perform two “houses” at the Odeon Cinema in London Road, the first of eight consecutive nights on a tour which would take them to Lewisham the following day, continue through Southend on Sea, Doncaster, Scarborough, Nottingham, and Southampton before concluding at the Wimbledon Palais, London on 14 December.

Before all that there was only the small matter of taping an episode of the BBC television show “Juke Box Jury” at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool between 2.30pm and 3.15pm, in front of an audience of 2,500 members of the Northern Area Fan Club before performing a special concert appearance in front of the same crowd between 3.45pm and 4.30pm, recorded by the BBC TV cameras and broadcast this same evening between 8.10pm and 8.40pm in a television programme entitled “It’s The Beatles”.

If that wasn’t enough, the group then left the Empire and travelled the short distance to the Odeon Theatre, giving two performances as part of their Autumn 1963 tour, the only occasion when they would play this venue. The Empire concert and the two Odeon houses on this night were the Beatles first homecoming shows in four months.



The calm before the storm: It must have been nice for George to wake up in his own bed that morning and share some normality with his parents, albeit one apparently shared by a press photographer who snapped George eating his breakfast and later saying goodbye.



George saying goodbye to his dad Harold. Within a year George would be able to buy Harold a second tank top, the following year, even more.


Two months later it was George's 21st Birthday. With Beatlemania in full swing both in Britain and America the men from the press descended on Mackets Lane on Tuesday 25 February to capture a special mail delivery for George.  He received so many cards and presents that the baskets of mail were delivered by THREE whole postal workers.








My family changed, but in a nice way. They were so knocked out with the whole idea of what was happening. Anybody would be. Everybody likes success, but when it came on that scale it was ridiculous. They loved it.

My mother was a nice person, but she was naive; as we all were in Liverpool in those days. She used to write to anybody who'd written to us, answering the fan mail. She'd answer letters from people saying 'Dear Mr Harrison, can you give us one of Paul McCartney's toenails? Still, to this day, people come up to me brandishing letters that my mother once wrote to them. Even back when I was a kid, she had pen-pals, people who lived in Northumberland or New Zealand or somewhere, people she'd never met: just writing and sending photographs to each other. (George Harrison, Anthology)

Of all the Beatles’ parents, George’s mother Louise was perhaps the most accommodating to fans taking the time to reply on her son’s behalf to many of the letters fans sent to Mackets Lane.

One such fan was Lilie Ferrari. Like many girls she had a crush on George. When she wrote to him, she scarcely expected a reply, but an admiring letter did come back - from Louise. It was the start of an extraordinary, enduring correspondence.

In 1963, I was 14 and, like almost every girl in Britain, I fell in love with a Beatle. "My" Beatle was George Harrison. From the first photograph I saw of the Fab Four, I was drawn to his dark eyes, serious face and enigmatic demeanour. He rarely smiled, even when he was being funny, and this made him all the more mysterious and enticing. Compared to the uncouth boys I had to deal with at school every day, George was a delicate, idealised vision of what I thought boys ought to be like. If he had pimples, I never saw them. If he swore, I never heard it. I never saw his hair greasy, his armpits damp, his shoes scuffed. In short, he was perfect.

We had just moved to Norwich, and I had missed a Beatles concert by a few weeks; but a girl in my class had somehow obtained all the Beatles' home addresses (I daren't think how, looking back) and was selling them at playtime for half a crown each. A bargain, I thought, handing over my two-and-six eagerly. Immediately upon the exchange, 174 Mackets Lane, Liverpool, became the repository of all my fantasies.

That day I hurried home to compose my first letter to George. I had discovered the joy of words, and wasn't about to be intimidated into single syllables by writing to a Beatle. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but in spite of my best intentions I suspect it was a gauche jumble of repressed adoration, along the lines of "You're the best Beatle" and "I much prefer “From Me to You” to “Come On” by the Stones". I don't remember waiting for the postman every morning. By then the Beatles had started their journey into the stratosphere (it was the year the term Beatlemania was coined) and I guess I assumed I was too small a cog in the great Beatle wheel to merit any kind of response.

But one day a letter with a Liverpool postmark did come, addressed to me in careful looped handwriting. I opened it with trembling fingers and, instead of a letter from George, found one from his mum, Louise.

I bellowed a great scream that brought the family running: my mother was Ivy Ferrari, a romantic novelist churning out Mills and Boon paperbacks with titles like Nurse at Ryminster, Doctor at Ryminster, Almoner at Ryminster. I couldn't believe it - I might be a fan of her son, but Mrs Harrison was evidently a fan of my mother. I felt as if I had been raised from one among millions to a special place in Mrs Harrison's head. After a few niceties and general bulletins about "the boys'" progress, a question leaped off the page: "Are you," she asked, "by any chance related to a writer called Ivy Ferrari, who writes doctor-and-nurse romances?"

Of course I wrote back to tell her that I was indeed Ivy Ferrari's daughter. I was happy to have made the connection - but so, it seemed, was she. I couldn't quite grasp it. Beatles were glamorous; my mum was a harassed woman with inky fingers, unruly hair and scruffy skirts who sweated over a typewriter all day. How could they compare? In the past I might have been indifferent to the overwrought love lives of the fictional staff of Ryminster hospital, but now they seemed to take on a glamour of their own.

George never wrote to me, and my mother never wrote to Mrs Harrison, but the two of us began a correspondence that lasted for several years - years that took her from the Mackets Lane council house to a smart bungalow in Appleton, George from gangling teenage guitarist to married man, and me from schoolgirl to young woman.

I sent Mrs Harrison signed copies of my mother's novels. She sent me signed pictures of the Beatles. I asked her intense questions ("Which one is your favourite, besides George?" Answer: "John, because he does the tango with me in the kitchen and makes me laugh"). She interrogated me about the mysteries of my mother's creations, such as whether my mum knew any real doctors like Dr David Callender. ("He was fairly tall and tough-looking, with tawny-brown hair and a lean, intent face. His eyes were dark and compelling, so full of fire and life they drew me like a magnet . . .") On my 15th birthday, Mrs Harrison sent me a small piece of blue fabric, part of a suit George had worn at the Star Club in Hamburg. Once, I got a crumpled newspaper cutting containing a photo of the Beatles with their scribbled signatures on it, and a big lipstick kiss, which, she said, had been planted there by John Lennon.

She always answered my questions, and offered up teasing glimpses of life as the mother of a superstar - "I'm sitting by the pool with Patti (George's girlfriend/wife). Had a lovely time at the film premiere" - remarks tantalisingly combined with more mundane observations about knitting and cakes. Of course I never mentioned "real" boys who had caught my eye - that would have been somehow unfaithful to George. That was the only omission I can remember - apart from never articulating how I felt about her son, because I wanted her to think of me as a "normal" girl, and not the wide-eyed obsessive I really was. She sent me notes that George wrote her on used envelopes: "Dear Mum, get me up at 3, love George." She wrote on the backs of old Christmas cards and odd bits of paper - I never knew why. She told me funny stories about her upbringing in Liverpool, a world of men in caps on bikes and old ladies with jugs of gin. I told her about my life in Norfolk, about my sisters, my pony, the dog, my mother. I told her things I didn't tell anyone else - my fear of failure, my terrible, hidden shyness, my longing to have real adventures, lead a different kind of life to the quiet, rural existence I endured. She was my invisible friend, the silent recipient of everything I had to say.

After several years the gaps between our exchanges grew longer, as real life began to get in the way of teenage fantasies. I can't remember which of us wrote the last letter, but by the time I was 18 and working in London, the correspondence had petered out.

Soon after we had slipped from each other's lives, I found myself standing a few feet away from George himself, in the Apple boutique on London's Baker Street. He looked tired and unapproachable. The George that I had conjured up in the kitchen of Mackets Lane, propping notes for his mum on the mantelpiece, seemed a kinder, gentler prospect than the gaunt-looking superstar standing before me who might just tell me to get lost. He was close enough to speak to, but I've never been sorry that I backed away in silence.(Lilie’s story appeared in the Guardian).

Working nearly 9 years in Mathew Street I was a frequent and familiar visitor to The Beatles Shop. In addition to selling Beatles records and souvenirs they also provide a free valuation service to anyone considering parting with their memorabilia, and with this being Liverpool, there are a lot of fans who had regular access to the Beatles, obtaining autographs, photos and other keepsakes before the group gained national fame. Those wishing to sell are encouraged to place their formerly cherished items in the annual Beatles Auction held in August at the former Liverpool Institute. Some have made small fortunes doing so.

I was present one lunchtime a few years ago when two ladies visited the shop. After talking about this and that one lady produced a set of black and white photographs she’d taken of George outside his house on Mackets Lane. Now George is my favourite Beatle and his home on Mackets Lane is a 5 minute drive from my own house. I have to pass the house most days so these pictures were of particular interest.  She was invited to put the photographs in the auction but ultimately decided against it.  I was pleased I’d seen them but frustrated I was unlikely to do so again.







To my surprise five or six years on, whilst researching photographs for this blog I came across a site showing what looked to be the photographs I’d seen in the Beatles shop. I can’t be 100% sure they’re the same ones - in my mind George had his E-type Jaguar on the driveway - but the chances are high that they are. According to the auction site, the photographs were taken by one of George’s neighbours.

By the length of George's hair I was originally dating these as early to mid -1964. When I first saw the photos I wondered if they were taken the day after the Liverpool premiere of "A Hard Day's Night" in July 1964 (by a knowledgeable fan who might have expected to find George staying overnight at his Mum and Dad's house) but it seems the Beatles flew in and out of the city on the same day.  However, the fact that his suit looks more 1963 bothered me, and having recently seen some photos of George in Liverpool during filming of the BBC TV special "The Mersey Sound" in August 1963 I'm now inclined to go with that date - the Beatles were in Liverpool and Southport for a few days filming and it makes sense that he spent some time at home during this period.


Unpublished photographs of George Harrison on the drive of 174 Mackets Lane

The six photographs (including the one of Louise above) show George either arriving home or perhaps leaving, opening (or locking) the gate to the driveway and getting in (or out) of his car, the make of which I can't identify. All good solid information there!




Peter Harrison (left) outside 174 Mackets Lane. Harold and Louise with a fan (below)






The house became too well known and the Harrisons were constantly pestered by hundreds of Beatles fans and potential pen-pals who regularly descended on Mackets Lane. Understandably fed up seeing faces peering through their front window, Harry and George's brother Peter (who was still living there) painted a plywood board black and installed it behind the curtains to serve as a blackout screen. Concerned about how his fame was having an effect on his Mum and Dad's privacy, and wishing to give them some peace and quiet, George bought them “Sevenoaks”, an attractive bungalow in Appleton, near Warrington, the latter described as “an honest town with some character of its own but chiefly known as being about halfway between the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester”*

They moved quietly using a small van to move all but the most bulky items of furniture. Allegedly even the Liverpool Corporation didn’t know they were going until after they had left. The ruse worked.  On occasion a determined American tourist would track Mr and Mrs Harrison to Appleton but on the whole they were able to live their lives quietly away from “Beatlemania” – even though George dropped in for a visit occasionally.



Louise, George and Harold Harrison at "Sevenoaks", Appleton, Warrington, in 1966

Driving along Mackets Lane on a daily basis one can't help but notice the constant presence of Fab Four Taxi Tours cabs parked on the pavement outside George's old house. On several Saturday mornings I've  spotted no less than four taxis parked outside at the same time. Obviously this proves that people visiting Liverpool still have a healthy interest in the Beatles, and the demand to be shown their old haunts is clearly there, but you can't help but feel sorry for the people who live in the house now. The present owners have to live with a daily invasion of Beatles' fans photographing their house and on occasion disturbing their privacy,  just as the Harrisons did 50 years earlier.




Source:

http://www.warrington-worldwide.co.uk/2013/12/02/neighbours-in-beatle-house-protest/

* Derek Taylor writing in “I Me Mine” (1980)

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/mar/26/popandrock.georgeharrison

Thanks to Tony Bramwell for confirming the location of E.R. Hughes' butchers shop. 


*** This is a pun on a request George was asked to read out on one of the Beatles BBC radio shows.

Edit (Feb 2016): I've since found out that George's car was a Jaguar Mk2 which is the same model that the fictional TV detective "Inspector Morse" drives! What a beautiful car.


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