Monday 21 March 2016

The Fab Fore!

Club House,
Lee Park Golf Club,
Childwall Valley Road,
Liverpool, L27 3YA.

Belle Vale is a district of south-east Liverpool which shares borders with Huyton, Netherley, Gateacre and Childwall. The main road in Belle Vale is Childwall Valley Road which runs from Childwall Fiveways through to Netherley. 

The Belle Vale area is also divided with different housing estates having their own local names, such as Hartsbourne, Lee Park and Naylorsfield. I've only ever lived in two houses in Liverpool and Belle Vale is probably equidistant from both of them so I know the area well but I've never really been sure if Belle Vale is the name of the area (or is it Netherley? Or Childwall?) the shopping centre, or just the housing estate. It shares an L25 postcode with Woolton and Gateacre rather than L27 like neighbouring Netherley. Confused?

You're not the only one. When Liverpool City Council erected new district signage in 2005 it did not include Belle Vale as a distinct district leaving the area with something of an identity crisis. District signs were put up on Childwall Valley Road saying Gateacre (southbound towards the Belle Vale shopping centre and Netherley) and Childwall (northbound towards Childwall).  It seems then that the centre of Belle Vale effectively falls within the area identified as Gateacre by the signs, whereas Childwall is deemed to begin north of a new school and health centre.

Prefabricted houses on Braehurst Road circa 1959. Childwall Valley Road looks like a quiet country lane (Carol Barton)

Between 1945 and 1947 over 1,000 pre-fabricated houses were erected on land around Belle Vale to provide affordable rented accomodation for families who had been made homeless after their houses were destroyed during the Blitz. It was one of the largest prefab communities in the country. A new school,
Joseph Williams Primary School was built on Sunnyfield Road to serve the children on the prefab estate. As there was a shortage of older children it took pupils from overcrowded schools further afield which is how Paul and Michael McCartney came to attend the school from 1949 to 1953, travelling there by bus from their home in Speke which you can read about in a future post.  

Beyond the prefabs were Lee Park and Naylorsfield. For the most part they were retained as farm land until the 1960s when part of the land was acquired for development. Michael McCartney would later recall cycling from Speke with Paul and their father Jim through the fields around Joseph Williams on their way to visit their Auntie Gin in Page Moss.

The former site of Joey Williams ringed by a green fence in the centre of this picture with Page Moss and Huyton on the horizon (2010) (click to enlarge).

Shortly after the pre-fab estate and Joseph Williams were built a new golf course was founded at Lee Park. At that time it was extremely difficult for Jewish golfers to obtain admission to a private golf club. In view of this situation, the Merseyside Jewish Golfing Society made efforts to find land and build their own course.

Some of the land at the Lee Hall estate, comprising two potato farms of 300 acres and the old Lee Hall, became available for purchase in 1950. The estimated price was £30,000 including £5,000 to layout the course. In the austere post-war days money could not be borrowed from the banks, so shares were issued and purchased, many by non-golfers within the Community. There was a shortage of farmland in the post war period and planning permission for the proposed 300 acres was not granted. After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that 90 acres could be utilised for the course.

It was the first golf course to be built in Britain since the end of the WW II. Lee Park Golf Club was eventually founded in 1954 and the course, designed by Frank Pennink of C. K. Cotton and Co., was progressively extended from 6 to 9 and then 18 holes.

Despite Jews being prevented from joining other golf clubs, their self-financed club was open to non-Jewish membership, which I think speaks volumes, and today Lee Park proudly advertises itself as the friendliest club on Merseyside.

Lee Park Golf Course, very little of the surrounding housing existed in 1954 (click to enlarge)

Nigel Walley was a close friend of John Lennon and an original member of the Quarry Men. In common with John's other closest childhood mates Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan, Nige lived in Vale Road directly behind John's house on Menlove Avenue. They are pictured above in a photo dated 5 May 1958.

They'd all known each other since the age of five. Pete and Nigel went to Mosspits Lane School, while John and Ivan went to Dovedale Road. Pete, Nigel and John, together with another friend Rod Davis all sang in the Sunday school and church choir at St. Peter's Church in Woolton. At the age of 11, John, Pete and Rod went to Quarry Bank, Ivan to the Liverpool Institute and Nigel to the Bluecoat Grammar School. At the age of 15 "Nige" left school and became an apprentice golf professional at the Lee Park Golf Club.
When John decided he wanted to form a band he naturally wanted his mates to be in it, whether they had any musical ability or not, and Pete and Nige did not. Ivan Vaughan took over on tea-chest bass, Pete was handed the washboard and John began making plans for Nigel.
Part of Walley's job at Lee Park involved running a golf shop and so with the experience he was gaining from this it was obvious to John that Nige was the ideal person to become the group's manager. With the promise of an even share of the fee from any booking he managed to get them, how could he refuse?
By his own admission, when it came to getting bookings for the Quarry Men a lot of the time he "just winged it". Although he failed to secure the group many paid engagements, he certainly put some effort into it.  Noting that most local shops would post professional looking posters it wasn't long before Woolton and the surrounding villages were papered with signs offering the Quarry Men for hire. He sent flyers to local theatres and ballrooms and paid for small advertisements in the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post. At Nigel's own expense (a cost of 7s and 6d) he had 50 business cards made by a Woolton printer to be displayed in local shop windows or handed to promoters or club owners whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

Nigel managed to secure the Quarry Men two intermission bookings at the Gaumont Cinema on the corner of Allerton Road and Rose Lane on Saturday afternoons, as well as at parties and skiffle contests in the Liverpool area. It was probably through Nigel that the group came to play the Woolton Labour Club which stood on Childwall Valley Road on the site now occupied by the Lee Valley Millenium Centre. This booking took place at some point between 1957 and 1959. 
Ken "Dixie" Dean was in Gerry Marsden's skiffle group: We then changed our name to Gerry and the Mars Bars. At one point we entered a contest at Woolton Labour Club in Childwall Valley Road and after several heats we finally won, beating the Quarry Men. That was the first time I met John Lennon. Also present during the competition was Bob Wooler, who was managing a group in the contest called the Kingstrums. (Bill Harry's Mersey Beat website)

Woolton Ward Labour Club, confusingly on Childwall Valley Road, Gateacre. Today only the three bollards remain (below)

It is the engagement that Nigel arranged for the Quarry Men at the golf club which is most remembered today, not for their performance that evening but for what it led to.

Living on Menlove Avenue close to John Lennon, Alan Sytner, was the son of the noted docklands GP, Dr. Joe Sytner. His family had the money to holiday abroad and from the age of 14 Alan spent his school holidays in Paris soaking up the music and ambience of the Bohemian night-clubs, in particular the cellar club Le Caveau (The Cavern).

By his late teens he was already promoting jazz locally. Frustrated at always having to rent the premises he knew the way forward was to open his own exclusive jazz venue in the city centre. At the age of 21, a life insurance policy taken out by his father at the time of Alan's birth matured and he gained £400 (about £6,742 today). He now had the money to buy his own club. An estate agent showed him a dingy old cellar in Mathew Street, a narrow cobbled alley situated in the business district of the city, permanently in the shadows of the fruit warehouses towering over it on both sides. In Sytner's mind the cellar was a replica of Le Caveau and with the street reminiscent of the Latin Quarter in Paris, he felt he could bring the Left Bank to Liverpool.

Missing the Christmas trade as it was not ready in time, the Cavern opened on 16 January 1957 with the Merseysippi Jazz Band, the Wall City Jazzmen, the Ralph Watmough Jazz Band and the Coney Island Skiffle Group. The club only held 600 so when over 2,000 people turned up Sytner knew he was on to something. With its origins rooted in American Jazz and folk music, Skiffle was welcomed at the club, with "School for Skiffle" auditions held the first Saturday. When John Lennon got word of it, he naturally wanted in.

Nigel just needs that helping hand ..

Dr Sytner was a member of the Lee Park golf club so Nigel approached him to see if he would ask his son to book The Quarry Men at the Cavern Club. After passing on the information, it was suggested that the group should play at the golf club first, so as to assess their talent.

They were told that as the appearance would be something of an audition, they wouldn’t be paid. However, they would have all the drink that they wanted, a slap-up meal and the hat would be passed around. 

At this point the group also included John Lennon and Eric Griffiths on guitars, Rod Davis on banjo, Pete Shotton on washboard, Colin Hanton on drums, and, if he hadn't already left at this point to concentrate on studies, Ivan Vaughan (or his replacement Len Garry) on tea-chest bass. 

Rod Davis: I remember this booking particularly well because the zip on my cheap pair of jeans I'd bought for 7 shillings 6 pence split seconds before I went on stage, so I spent the entire set crouching behind a banjo thanking the Lord I wasn't a ukelele player.

It's said that the Quarry Men nearly choked when ar
ound 75 people turned out to see them. According to Nigel John was extremely quick witted that night throwing out one liners in between songs and courting the audience's approval. With his eye on the prize John probably stopped himself from cracking any of the anti-Semitic jokes which were prevalent at the time.

The night turned out to be a huge success. When they completed their performance they took advantage of the free food and drink and the hat, when passed around, brought them £15 - more money than they’d ever received from a gig before*. Not only that, Alan Sytner liked the group and booked them on the Cavern.

After playing at the golf club audition, he phoned Walley a week later and offered the group an interlude spot (reportedly on 21 February 1957), playing skiffle between the performances of three jazz groups at The Cavern Club.

Unfortunately, John was to upset Sytner when they did appear. 

Nigel Walley: We were doing skiffle numbers, but then John started singing a rock and roll song. Alan Sytner sent a note up (which John thought was a song request).

It read: 
"Cut out the bloody rock"

The clubhouse at Lee Park (left) has been extended progressively since the early days and now includes modernised locker rooms and showers, a large informal Spike Bar overlooking the course and a dining area for more formal functions.
Lee Park may not be the only golf club the Quarry Men played in this area because Childwall Golf Club is half a mile away and I have seen several sources, one quoting Colin Hanton, saying the Quarry Men also performed here between July and September 1957. This booking was reportedly arranged by Nigel Walley with Alan Sytner's help*. 

Of course, if someone says they played a golf course in Childwall theres a 50/50 chance they're actually referring to Lee Park, which as I explained above could easily be classed as being in Childwall. But never mind, I was in the area so I thought it was worth taking a look. I'm glad I did.  At worst If this fine art deco building, situated off Naylors Road and dating from around 1938 has nothing to do with the Beatles at least I got a couple of nice photos. This is how I spent some of my 39th birthday - trudging through the snow to take photographs of golf clubs for you, dear listeners!

Childwall Golf Club is situated in Naylors Road, Liverpool 27 (click to enlarge)

Here's a map showing Lee Park Golf Club, Childwall Golf Club, Joseph Williams School, Page Moss and the surrounding area (click to enlarge) 


£15 in 1957 equates to £252 today,  so the Quarry Men must have thought they'd struck gold.



The Rod Davis quote is from an interview with BBC Radio Merseyside's Spencer Leigh for his On TheBeat programme, broadcast Saturday 6 August, 2011.


Thank U Very Much (by Mike McCartney)
* There Are Places I'll Remember (Ray O'Brien)
Tune In (by Mark Lewisohn)  


  1. Lee Park Golf Club was finally originated in 1954 and the sequence, planned by Frank Penn ink of C. K. Cotton and Co., was increasingly protracted from 6 to 9 and then 18 holes.

  2. i lived in lee park and remember first seeing the beatles at the cavern and caddied at the golf club for 5 shillings i was 15 years old the golfers were very friendly