Saturday 14 May 2016

Bleak House

6 North Mossley Hill Road,

A strange post this. Whilst scouring Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" book for unfamiliar Liverpool locations with a Beatles connection I was intrigued to read that John Lennon's mum Julia gave birth to her second child in a home called Elmswood. I had unknowingly driven past it hundreds of times, North Mossley Hill Road being part of my rush-hour avoiding route to and from work in Liverpool city centre.

Having visited the site, taken the photos and done the research I'm afraid this is a pretty joyless story.

It's also one full of contradictions, and conflicting versions of events as you would expect when investigating a family secret. This family just happens to be John Lennon's.

The SS Moreton Bay docking at Sydney ca. 1932 (Jaksa Kivela)

During 1943, while her husband Alf was away at sea, Julia Lennon lived with their son John at the Dairy Cottage, 120a Allerton Road in Woolton, Liverpool. The cottage was owned by George Smith, the husband of Julia's eldest sister Mimi. Alf returned in spring 1943 following a succession of voyages to and from New York on the Moreton Bay and joined Julia and two and a half years old John in the cottage, the only time John is known to have spent any length of time with both of his parents.

Reportedly Alf was shocked to find that while he had been away Julia had often spent her evenings out at the local pubs and dance halls, drinking and singing with men in the forces. Alf would later blame himself for this. It seems that although he was initially dismayed to learn of Julia's behaviour, on reflection he encouraged her, writing letters telling her that because there was a war on she should go out and enjoy herself.
Alf went back to sea in July 1943, sailing on the Aquitania and then the Samothrace.

Alf Lennon as a prisoner

For reasons muddied by the passage of time he deserted the latter in January 1944 just as he was about to sail from New York to Italy. He was detained for a month before sailing to Algeria in February 1944 aboard the Sammex. During this voyage he was involved (no one seems to know how deeply) in a plot to broach the cargo of beer, spirits and cigarettes and sell it on the black market. Caught red handed by military police he was again detained and in March 1944 sentenced to a month in prison. The money Alf had been sending from his wages for Julia to collect back in Liverpool suddenly stopped.

Julia had left the Dairy Cottage and returned to Newcastle Road to live with her father, "Pop" Stanley, and sister Anne. She also kept visiting the dance halls. It is unclear whether she was made fully aware of Alf's fate when she tried to collect his pay at the Mercantile Marine Offices or whether she simply believed herself a war widow but either way, if she had ever taken their marriage seriously any ideas of marital fidelity now ceased.

Julia took a job as a barmaid at the Brook House, a huge pub on Smithdown Road. Young and full of life she was not short of male attention and began a relationship with a Welsh artilleryman known as Taffy Williams, who was stationed at the Moreton barracks*.

In November 1944 Alf returned to Liverpool after 18 months away. Arriving at 9 Newcastle Road naively expecting to pick things up where they had left off he was met at the door by Julia who told him she was "in the family way". Initially she told Alf that she had been raped by an unknown soldier and then admitted that she knew the man, Taffy Williams.

Alf and his younger brother Charlie went looking for Williams and brought him back to Newcastle Road. According to Charlie, when Williams was put on the spot he confessed his love for Julia, she called him a "bloody fool" and threw him out.  Alf then offered to look after Julia, John and the unborn baby, but Julia rejected the idea, supposedly because Alf refused to get a “land” assignment. With one small child to care for and another on the way she needed some stability at home and was no longer able or willing to live a life where Alf was absent for long periods.

So ended the strange marriage of Alfred Lennon and Julia Stanley. Not a single photograph exists of them together.

In the years before birth control pregnancies out of marriage were not uncommon, especially with the "live for tonight, we could be dead tomorrow" attitude prevailing during the War but that isn't to say such behaviour was considered acceptable. In the eyes of some in the church, girls who found themselves in difficulty had committed a crime against God.

Even at the age of thirty Julia was still considered to be the daughter of the house and on learning of her predicament, Pop Stanley, keen to avoid a scandal and no doubt with Mimi in his ear, took charge of the situation and decided that it would be best for everybody if the baby was adopted as soon as it was born.

Arrangements were made with the Salvation Army for Julia to spend a period of confinement with them at Elmswood, their home in North Mossley Hill Road, not far from Newcastle Road. As the signs of her pregnancy became visible Julia would be hidden here, away from the eyes of prying neighbours until she reached full term. The subsequent adoption of the as yet unborn child would also be taken care of by the home.

Salvation Army newspaper article about the new Elmswood Maternity Home which opened in early 1940 (click to enlarge)

There is very little to be found about Elmswood on-line, and what is available makes grim reading.

Operating as the Elmswood Women's Social Services Centre from January 1940 the home had a fee paying, private maternity facility, the fees from married mothers helping to fund the poor or un-married whose illegitimate babies would often be separated from them and put up for adoption - to Bernardos, The Church of England association for Waifs and Strays (Now the Childrens Society) and others.

There were many non-private patients, the unfortunate mothers coming from all over the country, not just from the Liverpool area. During their confinement these girls had to work for their keep and were used as little more than servants, having to perform domestic jobs in the home such as the washing, cleaning, and the laying of the fires. Isolated from her family, Julia must have felt she was at rock bottom.

“She spent the entire pregnancy indoors in her room. We would see her behaviour now as depression. My mother was being told daily ‘you are not keeping this baby, you have done a dreadful thing”' (Julia Baird, daughter of Julia Lennon)

A search on the  provides some first-hand recollections of Elmswood: 

This is where I was born, to an unmarried mother, in 1942. My mother spoke of this period of her life only rarely, and when questioned (as) the story of my beginnings in this establishment do not make good reading. My mother was there pre my birth and for 4 months following. She was unable to breast feed and she was given, what I believe to be a food supplement, called ' Bengers**' to spoon feed me. She also had to work, carrying up coal from the basement to upper floors, as well as other domestic jobs.

According to my mother the girls were constantly reminded of their ' sins' and were harassed to give their babies up for adoption.  Mum had a studio photograph of a baby, whom she said was the child of another mother who refused to give up her baby for adoption. Either the child's name was Jean, or the mother. Another mother jumped from an upper floor window during her time there.

Mum said that the pressure to give up their babies was unrelenting. However, she refused to give me up and eventually returned to her family who were, to a man, aghast at my physical state.

Eventually, her family sent for her to return home, some 240 miles away. My uncle sent her the train fare as, by then, she said she had nothing. When she left, for a 240 mile train journey in February of 1943, guess what she was given to feed me for the entire journey - a bar of chocolate for a 4 month old baby. My poor physical state was as a result of the inadequate, and totally unsuitable, diet I had been fed.

Before my mother passed away I asked, out of curiosity, what would have happened to me if she hadn't returned home then. Her reply was simple ' You would have starved to death'. (njsou276)

There are other, similar stories....

My mother went to this Salvation army home 6 weeks before the birth of her baby. She had a referral from her doctor. Before the birth she had to wash the clothes and clean for the new mums in the home. The carrying the coal fits in with my birth mothers account of washing the nappies for the mothers who had delivered. The coal would obviously be used to boil the water, amongst other things.

My birth mothers own parents had died young, so she had no get out clause. My real father went to visit her and me in the home - he told them he was her brother and was allowed to go for a walk with her and the baby.

My birth mother said she would never donate money to the Salvation Army as she was treated badly and persuaded to hand (me) over to better parents. She asked to meet my adoptive parents and she was introduced to them and handed (me) over. She saw that they were respectable and well dressed - at this point she too believed the spin that (I) was going to a better home than the one she could have provided.

My adoptive parents had to have two references, one was provided by the local vicar. My adoptive dad gave (Elmswood) a donation of fifty pounds. They also gave my adoptive parents a second baby from (my birth) mother 18 months later. Again he donated fifty pounds for the baby. They asked him if he wanted the baby before it was born.

I was shocked to hear about the 'Bengers' being spoon-fed to the baby. My adoptive parents said my brother was in a poor state of health. My birth mother only mentioned that she breast fed me - not sure about my brother - who they found out had heart problems...the way the poor were dealt with was terrible (PamWarrington21)

I was born at Elmswood, North Mossley Hill Road; Mum was there as a private patient but she was really upset about the fact that the unmarried mothers who were there were basically used as servants and, as commented on earlier, these poor girls were made to do the washing, lay the fires, clean etc., I have no idea why I was born there, my sister who is older, was born at home. My birth was registered in the District of Liverpool South, sub district of Wavertree. (Liz Culshaw)

On 19 June 1945, five weeks before the end of the war, Julia Lennon gave birth to a daughter she named Victoria Elizabeth Lennon. Taffy Williams, the father, was not named on the birth certificate.

Giving up her baby was most definitely not her choice and one can only imagine the gut-wrenching heartbreak Julia must have been feeling knowing she was going to have to give up her new born baby girl.

The Liverpool County Court records shows that an application for adoption was made by Pedar Pedersen on 23 July 1945, Julia had only a matter of weeks with her little girl.

“I know that my mother fed the baby for six weeks. She fed her as Victoria and she was taken away as Ingrid.” (Julia Baird)

Baby Victoria was adopted by Julia's friend Margaret Pedersen (nee Edwards*****) and her husband Pedar. Even though they were friends Julia was not allowed to make contact with her. The Pedersens renamed the baby Ingrid and Julia had the impression that they moved to Norway.

That seems to be the last that anyone knew about her.

When Julia finally returned home to Newcastle Road around August 1945 she was very ill and suffering from what today would be recognised as post-natal depression. She was thin, gaunt and depressed. Despite this she had to go back to work to support herself.

On hand to help with Julia's recovery was her sister Anne (nicknamed "Nanny") who would later recall that she “took her hot food in the morning, came home, took the cold food away, and gave her more hot food. She wouldn’t eat.”

Physically it took Julia a long time to recover from Victoria's birth. It seems doubtful that she ever really recovered emotionally from giving her baby away.

Consider this. Within a year John was also taken from her.

The only known photograph of John Lennon with his mother Julia.

There are conflicting stories concerning whether John Lennon was ever told about his half-sister's existence.

Certainly at four and a half years old John was aware enough to notice when his mother started to show the signs of her pregnancy. She was sent to Elmswood in early 1945 and John was sent to live with his Uncle, Alf's brother Syd and his wife in Maghull for several months before she came to term. When John saw Julia again, she no longer had a bump. Did he ever question why? What explanation was he given?

To my knowledge John never mentioned Victoria in any interviews. Some sources state that John was told of Victoria's birth by his Aunt Harriet in 1964 which left him "so overcome by emotion, wanting to find his sister that he placed an ad in the paper, and hired detectives to look for her. They searched Norway for Victoria, and came up empty handed,and John never found her. He died never knowing her."

If the story is true, the detectives were looking in the wrong place. Norway was a red-herring. The Pedersens had changed Victoria's name to Ingrid and had settled in Crosby, just up the coast from Liverpool***.

There was no question of the Stanley family telling Julia and Jackie, John's younger half-sisters, that their mother had had another daughter before they were born.

Julia Baird (nee Dykins) had to wait until she was 38 years old to find out. It was a complete shock. Whilst giving an interview to the Liverpool Echo's features editor Bill Smithies she was taken aback when Smithies mentioned her mother's four children. Baird would later write "It was said in a split second but the look on my face told him I knew nothing about a fourth child". Smithies apologised profusely.

Julia immediately went to see her Aunt Anne, "Nanny" who had been living in Newcastle Road at the time of Victoria's birth. It took Julia three visits before Anne revealed the truth. When she finally admitted the truth she told Julia never to raise the subject again.

In her 1988 biography, "John Lennon:  My Brother" Julia wondered whether the sister she had never met knew that she was John Lennon's sister and had two younger sisters. From her own experience she concluded that it was doubtful given the lengths the Stanley family had gone to hush the matter up.

I wonder if they went so far as to plant the story about the baby being taken to Norway?

In fact Ingrid did know she was John Lennon's sister.In 1966 she wanted to get married and required her birth certificate. When she found it she found she discovered she was related to the Beatle. 

She first went public in August 1998 and later retold the story in 2000:

As soon as I became aware that John was my brother I started to collect every cutting on him I could find and hid them in a drawer in my bedroom. I was terrified in case my parents found out. It would have been a betrayal of them.

I felt I couldn't contact John when my adoptive mother was still alive. I felt an incredible loyalty to her because I believe she knew I was dad's real daughter and she took me in as her own daughter with no obvious resentment about his affair with Julia.

I knew Mum kept a tin box in her wardrobe that contained family papers. When no one was around I opened it, trembling. I found a yellowing, dog-eared adoption paper that had been issued by Liverpool County Court. Then I saw my full name: Lillian Ingrid Maria Pedersen, and my birth date. Above that were the three words I had been looking for: Victoria Elizabeth Lennon - the name I was born with. My real mother's name, Julia Lennon, was also there. I burst into tears.
(Ingrid Pedersen, 2000, Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun)

Julia Baird made no attempt to find Victoria/Ingrid, not wishing to disturb her life or that of her own family. However, once Ingrid went public with her story Julia managed to obtain her phone number and various members of the family spoke with her on the phone. Despite giving Ingrid a no-pressure, open invitation to visit them, as of 2007 she hadn't.

They did meet unexpectedly, and briefly, on 8 December 2000. On the twentieth anniversary of John's murder English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque on the front of Mendips, his former home at 251 Menlove Avenue in Woolton, Liverpool. Members of John's family were present for the ceremony, including Ingrid.

Julia Baird's cousin Stanley Parkes "pointed out to me that Ingrid was hovering outside the house. We spoke to her and I walked up the road with her for a few minutes to talk". After the ceremony there was a reception at Liverpool Town Hall and Julia asked her to go with them. "The cars were waiting and we had to go, but Ingrid and her companion didn't come and sadly we haven't seen her since".
(Julia Baird: Imagine This, 2007)

The history of Elmswood

Elmswood, built between 1850 and 1890 was owned by the cotton merchant Nicholas Duckworth**** (1817-1889).  Pevesner (2006) describes it as: "Tudor Gothic in pale ashlar, with barge-boarded gables, oriel and a huge square-headed, traceried stair window. This window apparently part of an extension, dated 1878 with the initials of Nicholas Duckworth on the porch to the right. The first phase might be by Cornelius Sherlock. Further extensions and subdivisions for its present role." 

Nicholas Duckworth died at Elmswood on October 27, 1889. He was buried with his wife, Lucinda Ann Eyes, at Holy Trinity Church on Church Road, Wavertree, leaving a personal estate valued at £286,029 19s 4d.

At some point afterwards Elmswood became the home of Alderman Burton Ellis, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool before being bequeathed to the Salvation Army. The opening ceremony of the Elmswood Maternity Home took place on 25 January 1940.

Julia Lennon (nee Stanley) gave birth to Victoria Elizabeth Lennon here only five years later by which time the regime at the home could already be considered questionable.

Things do not seem to have improved during the 30 years Elmswood operated as a maternity facility.

Here's a story from 1960:

My mum used to frequent the Jacaranda club where the Beatles used to play. She often had coffee with John and Paul. Sometimes a steel band* would play at the Jacaranda club and one of her friends had an affair with one of the black members of the band. I remember my birth mother saying that because the child was coloured, she was told at the home that potential parents wouldn't be able to be found. Adoptive parents did not want to adopt a coloured baby! Therefore, that baby had to be fostered and she had to tell her prospective husband that she had a child and she was forced to keep in contact with it. My mum felt sorry for this woman as she did not want to keep the baby.

Another friend of my birth mother was unmarried and pregnant - she went to her GP and the GP offered to terminate the child if she posed for some girlie pictures. Nude poses - she agreed as wanted to illegally abort the child. This worked well for her - but sad that she had to offer her body as a bribe.

It all sounds very sordid. I think some womens believed the indoctrine - they were unmarrried and did not deserve to keep their babies.I believe my mother genuinely thought that the other parents were better and could offer the child a better life. The social security system was not on the side of unmarried mothers. Maybe, the girls thought it was better to have babies under medical supervision - not sure if it was provided but they would have been experienced birthing women at the home; other than have the baby and leave it on the steps of the church. I am not saying the Salvation Army people were right, but what was the alternative?

It would be interesting to hear peoples stories to see how they were treated by the system and to publish findings to prevent this happening ever again to women.
By being so honest about my mothers experience - I hope that I do not offend anyone - as this is a very sensitive subject. I just hope my stories helps other make sense of what happened in Liverpool at Mossley Hill. (PamWarrington21)

The home was closed in May 1969, before re-opening as Elmswood House, a children's home on 24 June 1970, with accommodation for 22 girls and 12 boys. It closed finally in 1982.

For many years it was the Mossley Manor Nursing Home, which it still was when I took my photographs on 4 February 2015, hence my respectful distance.

Four months later a report in the Liverpool Echo caught my attention:

A Mossley Hill care home was shut down because it was “visibly dirty”, there was an “overpowering” stench of urine and vulnerable residents were not being washed, according to the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Magistrates granted the CQC and Liverpool council emergency powers to close the “dangerous” Mossley Manor Care Home, on North Mossley Hill Road.

Reportedly some residents – including disabled pensioners and dementia sufferers – were left with no hot water and the home was in a “bad state of repair”, the CQC said.
The building, which was home to 44 residents was shut down after they were found to be at “significant risk” 
(Liverpool Echo, 8 June 2015)

The gateway to the premises is now sealed off and the house is invisible from the road. 

Added link 2020 from Liverpool Echo 


I wonder what went wrong at Elmswood? The Salvation Army usually has a glowing reputation in humanitarian matters. There don't appear to be any horror stories about Strawberry Field, their other, more famous premises in Liverpool so I can only hope that the treatment girls received in Elmswood was the exception rather than the rule.

I promise my next post will be a happier one!


Some sources say Williams was stationed at barracks in Mossley Hill although I can find no record of there being a barracks there. The nearest one was probably on Mather Avenue near the "Penny Lane" Fire Station.

** What was Benger’s Food?  I did a bit of research and it seems to have been somewhere between baby milk and invalid food.  The entry in ‘Family Doctor’ (1938) described it thus:-  "As it contains a very small quantity of fat, Benger’s Food is made with milk to make good the deficiency.  It is a mixture of wheat-flour and an extract containing the digestive ferments of the pancreatic juice.  When a mixture of the food with milk is kept at blood heat, these juices partly digest the proteins of the milk and the food, and convert the starch in the food into sugar.

This action may be allowed to go on for five to forty-five minutes, and in the end there may be very little starch remaining unconverted.  This makes it a very suitable food for babies and invalids.  According to the time allowed for preparation, the milk mixture may be graded to the capacity of the child.  As the baby grows, and its own pancreatic juice comes into operation, less time will be required."

*** at 86 The Northern Road, in Crosby, L23

**** Read more about Nicholas Duckworth on the following sites: 

***** There is the unconfirmed suggestion that Margaret may have been at Julia's wedding to Alf Lennon. Certainly an M. Edwards is recorded as Julia's attendant (or bridesmade). While she may be a completely different person, is it possible that this was a misprint or mis-transcribing of M. Eden, Margaret's maiden name?

The photographs of Ingrid Pedersen with her adoptive mother and as a young girl are all over the internet but presumably originated from Ingrid who must own the copyright.

You can watch a brief interview with Victoria here   

Quotes from Julia Baird (Dykins) from her book "Imagine This" and "John Lennon My Brother" as well as several interviews found on-line.

The actress Kim Cattrall was born at Elmswood on 21 August 1956, probably in the private maternity unit. Her family moved to Canada when she was three months old.


  1. Has anyone explained how the broadcaster Smithies knew about this family secret when it is clear that it was kept from Julia Baird and her sister?

    1. Good question James. I wonder if he's still around to ask.

  2. anyone know any more about Taffy Williams at all? really interested to find out more about him.

  3. I grew up in Carnatic Road, which is very close by. I had a Saturday job doing deliveries and used to cut through the private path past Elmswood in 1968-69. I remember the girls standing at the windows, which were secured with heavy mesh, and shouting, screaming, letching and jiggling bits at me. A scary place for a 15 year old lad. Even then, just before it closed, nobody knew anything about what it was for or who the girls were.

  4. I was born at Elmswood in April 1956. My Mum and Dad were married and knew nothing of the horrors of the place. Was anyone else born there around that time ?

  5. I was born there in 1959.. my mother was unmarried and came over from Lisburn in Ireland.The adoption was arranged by a doctor friend of my adoptive parents . They met my birth mother briefly as I was handed over at six weeks old , she returned to Ireland and there is no trace of her since. I’m saddened to hear the horror stories from other posts . My birth mother told them they would be able to give me a better life. I’m saddened that she was likely forced into giving me up as it appears that women were bullied into believing this. Luckily I have had a good life and my parents are still alive.I doubt they err aware of the mistreatment of the unmarried mothers.

  6. I was born there in 1959

  7. amazing research and fascinating to read (albeit very sad)

  8. Marvellous to learn all this about Elmswood. I'm 73 and born in Elmswood in 1948. My birth mother was just 18. I was adopted by a loving couple at 6 weeks old. I lived my childhood days so near in Ashlar Road. My beautiful adoptive mother died when I as 13. I spent many years from age 44 knowing of my birth mother and blood family and being part of their lives too. Mum would tell me that she had to scrub floors every day and that she gave birth to me in a room on her own. Then this grand tall lady came in took me away. My bith mum knew I'd be so well cared for. I am so pleased that I was adopted as life with my real mum was not how I would have wanted to live, now knowing so much.

  9. Do any records still exist ?

  10. Yes the records for Elmswood are still held by the Salvation Army’s office in London.

    1. I was born there in 1946 and was told the records for that period were destroyed and nothing is now available. If they are I would be interested in obtaining them.

  11. Very interesting to me that Ingrid is on the record from multiple sources that it was clear that Pedar Pederson was in fact her biological father. She was so sure of this that it was a key component in her reasoning for not speaking out until her adoptive mother died, not wanting to humiliate her. Bizarrely, her words are always ignored, and it is assumed nonetheless that Taffy Williams was the father despite Julia's emotional rejection of him which led to the tragic forced loss of her baby, and the fact that she did not name him on the birth certificate. There is clearly more to this story that is not known.