Saturday 18 March 2017

I Remember Arnold

12 Arnold Grove
L15 8HP

The birthplace and home of George Harrison.

I was born in 12 Arnold Grove, Liverpool, in February 1943. My dad had been a seaman, but by then he was driving a bus. My mother was from an Irish family called French, and she had lots of brothers and sisters. My mother was Catholic. My father wasn't and, although they always say people who weren't Catholics were Church of England, he didn't appear to be anything. (George Harrison)

In later years Harry and Louise always said they married in 1930. They didn’t. The Catholic Louise French was actually six months pregnant when she married Protestant Harry Harrison on 20 May 1931 at the Liverpool registry office on High Park Street, Dingle. The Priest at her local church, Our Lady of Good Help had offered none, refusing to marry a 20 year old girl who was pregnant by a ‘Proddy Dog’.

With nowhere else to live they moved in with Harry’s mother Jane at 47 Cecil Street, the opposite end of Wavertree to Albert Grove where Louise’s family were living. It was an uncomfortable arrangement. Jane took what little money the young couple had for rent and charged extra for utilities.

47 Cecil Street with the black door (right)

They were still living here when their first child, also named Louise was born on 16 August 1931. As was the custom the Priest from Our Lady of Good Help visited them but instead of offering her and the baby kind words he denounced Louise and declared the new baby a ‘b*stard’ in the eyes of God. Harry threw him out of the house. To make matters worse, whilst Harry was back at sea the interfering Jane took baby Louise and had her christened in the Protestant church. To say there was some friction between the two Mrs Harrisons is probably an understatement.

Harry and Louise had put their names down for a Liverpool Corporation House but it would be years before they got one. With things becoming intolerable in Cecil Street they moved into rented accommodation at 12 Arnold Grove, a two up – two down terraced house in the next street to Albert Grove where Louise’s family still lived. This was ideal for Louise. With Harry away at sea she now had her own family close by to help her with the new baby. Albert Grove and Arnold Grove shared the same private landlord, Mr Miller who would visit every week to collect his ten shillings rent (about £22 today). Miller had probably told Louise’s parents about the vacancy in Arnold Grove.

Albert Grove was named after Queen Victoria’s husband - Albert Grove - whereas Arnold was named after the Queen’s dresser, Frieda Arnold. Both streets were unadopted, meaning the residents had to make their own arrangements for waste disposal and maintenance rather than have the service provided by the local authority.

Number 12 was (and even now, after all these years, still is) very small, yet Harold and Louise would end up living there with their four children until 1950.

Despite its size, the house quickly accumulated items that Harry had collected on his overseas voyages. Pride of place in the front room, which the Harrisons kept ‘for best’ was a leather three piece suite (sofa) which Harry had arranged to have shipped back from America. A leather sofa was unheard of in Wavertree in those days and yet the Harrisons barely used it. The family lived in the back room, the kitchen with its red and blue floor tiles and a fire in the grate.

Louise gave birth to a second child, a son on 20 July 1934. The tradition of naming the child after the parent continued as Harry, Louise and Louise welcomed Harold James Harrison into the world.

On 5 August 1934 Louise and Harry held a double baptism at Our Lady of Good Help for baby Harold and Louise who was nearly three years old. I wonder what persuaded the priest to change his mind?

There are conflicting stories about what caused Harry to leave the merchant navy. The romantic version is that he wanted to spend more time with his new family and less at sea. The other says that John French - Louise’s father – was unhappy with how much time Harry was away from home leaving Louise to bring up the two children on her own, and eventually wore him down, persuading him to take a job on land. Harry decided to leave the White Star line and his life on the ocean once they had enough money saved to tide them over.

Harry finally left in 1936 when Britain was in the middle of the Great Depression. Although Harry had some savings behind him there was no work ahead, and with no qualifications he spent the next two years struggling to find a job. He received ‘dole’ money, 23 shillings (about £40 now) a week employment benefits for perhaps for the full twelve months he was entitled to it.

In 1937 Harry finally found a job with prospects, a bus conductor for the Liverpool Corporation Passenger Trust (the LCPT) for which he received £2 per week (about £70 today). When he discovered that the drivers earned more he began taking lessons. By 1939 he was behind the wheel of a Corporation bus on the south end route travelling from the city centre out to Garston and the new Speke estate.

And then the Second World War started.

There was an unexpected addition to the Harrison family on 20 July 1940 when Louise gave birth to another son, Peter Henry Harrison, exactly six years to the day after the birth of her first. He was a huge baby, weighing nearly 12 pounds at birth, but a sickly one. According to his sister, Peter was the first baby in England to survive an operation to correct his intestines which had extended into the umbilical cord.

Louise was not present at her brother’s birth. She was in a convalescent home recovering from an illness and would later recall suffering cruelties and indignities from nursing staff. She returned home when he was a month old in August, 1940 just in time for his christening at Our Lady of Good Help on 13 August and her 9th birthday.

The following week the first bombs of the Blitz fell on Wavertree.

On 4 September the goods station at Edge Hill at the top of Wavertree Road was bombed but emerged unscathed. Eight days later bombs fell on Wellington Road, demolishing houses in the street where Harry had lived as a child. Further bombs fell on Wavertree Road on 7 October. This is probably the raid Aunt Mimi would later recall as taking place the night John Lennon was born – there was no actual raid on the ninth.

Wavertree was now a clear target for the Nazis and the Harrison’s were not alone in thinking each night could be their last. Wavertree Playground, known locally as “The Mystery” and a favourite place for the locals to take their children was bombed on the night of 4 November. Adjacent houses were damaged and a gas main was fractured and caught fire only to be extinguished by a water main which fortuitously burst nearby. The Germans had another go at the Edge Hill goods depot on 12 November but missed. Stray oil incendiary bombs instead hit the roof of the post office on Wavertree Road.

A map showing the Edge Hill end of Wavertree - a major target for the Luftwaffe. Several Beatles - related sites are visible including Bridge Road (former site of Massey and Coggins), Cecil Street, Ash Grove (where both George's dad and my own lived as children) and the LCPT social club where Harold Harrison arranged a gig for the Quarry Men. Click to enlarge.

On the evening of Thursday 28 November 1940 Rachael Lucas, known to all as ‘Nancy’ was at home with her mother, Mabel Ashcroft, in Ashfield, a row of terraced housing four streets away from Cecil Street, and five away from the Gas Works which marked the end of Wavertree and the beginning of Edge Hill. Running down the other side of the gas towers was Spofforth Road and it’s artery, Bridge Street (where Paul McCartney would later work for Massey and Coggins) and beyond them the huge railway sidings. Rachael worked as a post-girl delivering mail from the Wavertree post office by bicycle. She’d once knocked a policeman over during a blackout. On another occasion she was out during daylight with her friend when a plane flew low over their heads. They both cheered and waved at the pilot until somebody shouted ‘get down you bloody fools’, just as a second plane came into view hot on the tail of the first. The second plane was an RAF Spitfire or Hurricane. The first plane was German!

As soon as the sirens sounded Rachael and her mother joined families all over Wavertree and ran for the nearest cover, the communal air-raid shelter in the street or the ‘Anderson’ shelter in the back garden, if they were lucky enough to have one. Some preferred to hide under their own stairs, supposedly the strongest point in the house. At the other end of Wavertree the Harrisons huddled with their neighbours in the brick shelter built in the middle of Arnold Grove and hoped for the best.

This was a major attack by 324 aircraft. In the initial raid, Heinkel He 111s dropped 30,960 incendiary bombs. As Thursday became Friday, Dornier DO 17 and Junkers JU-88s dropped a mixed load over Wavertree comprising 356 tons of High Explosives (including 151 ½ ton bombs), Flambo and 30 one- ton parachute sea mines (of which 8 failed to explode).

This was the night when the Junior Instruction Centre on Durning Road was hit by a mine. The building collapsed and of the 300 people taking cover in the basement shelter 164 were killed. Today it is remembered as the worst single loss of life from bombing during 1940-41 in the UK.

The Gas Works on Spofforth Road (above) and the Railway yard were prime targets for the Luftwaffe but it was the houses within a square mile of the Wavertree Road area that bore the brunt of the attack. By the end of the raid 2000 people were homeless and the Gas Works were burning.

I certainly remember the night the gas works went up. Imagine it was on Alfred Street but I am not too good at remembering all the street names now. I lived on Spekeland Vale, and remember the night and the next couple of days – tremendous damage to the surrounding area of the gas works (Nita Jones, Rootsweb)

The street was Spofforth Road that took a pounding, it had the Co-op livery stables, I think that the horses were untouched. We lived on Cambridge street and took the blast which blew in the parlour window, the frame, the whole works. I believe a navy bomb disposal man got awarded the highest possible medal for his courage. Nights to remember, we spent a lot of time in the community underground air raid shelter in Piggy Much Square. (Hugh Jones, Rootsweb)

Sixteen people lost their lives in Ashfield that night.

Rachael and her mother survived the raid. Their home did not. The blast had blown the front of the house out. Amazingly, standing in the street untouched amongst the rubble was their upright piano. It didn’t have a mark on it.

Rachael Lucas was my maternal Nan. When I was a child I’d ask her to tell me the story about the piano that survived the bombing over and over again. She’d always remind me “They were going for the gas works but missed and got us”.

A few years ago I found this photograph of a piano in a bombed out street in Liverpool. I couldn't believe it. Was this my Nan's piano? With further research I established that the photo was taken in Bootle but the similarities are plain to see.

Because it was further away from the Gas works 12 Arnold Grove had fared better. Emerging from the shelter the Harrisons were relieved to find their house was still standing. It was not completely unscathed. The shockwaves from a huge sea mine had blown all the windows in and the shards of glass had lacerated the American leather sofa. Louise Harrison would later recall her mother joking ‘If I’d known that was going to happen we could have been sitting on it all these years!’

One of the parachute sea-mines that miraculously failed to explode. Score Lane, Childwall, about 1.5 miles from Arnold Grove.

The last bombs to fall on Liverpool did so in January 1942 so I was surprised to learn that the two oldest Harrison children were evacuated so late in the Blitz. It seems that between 1942-43 Louise, then 10 and Harry,7 were sent to Wales, staying with different families. Harry reportedly enjoyed his stay with a family who had two teenage sons while his sister stayed with a childless couple.

Around May 1942 Louise found that she was pregnant again and this time it was planned. With her oldest two children of a similar age it’s said that Louise wanted a playmate for Peter.

Call the midwife!

On Thursday 25 February 1943 George Harrison was born in the front upstairs bedroom of 12 Arnold Grove at ten minutes past midnight, entering a world he later described as “deep in the Second World War, deep in Liverpool, and deep in winter”. He was overdue and weighed a massive 10 ½ pounds with eyelashes, long hair, full finger nails and brown hair.

In those days Dads were not permitted in the room during the birth. The midwife informed Harry he had a new son and he would later remember tiptoeing up the stairs to meet him. He was shocked by what he found, “a miniature version of me’’. He couldn’t believe how alike they looked.

The next day Harry went to register the birth at Wavertree Town Hall without first consulting Louise about a name for the new baby. Walking the short distance along the High Street he decided on George and later reasoned if (the name) was good enough for the King it should be good enough for him.

He was baptised as Georgius Harrison on 14 March 1943 at Our Lady of Good Help. His sister Louise and his aunt Mary (Fox, formerly French) were godmothers but for some reason there was no godfather.

I had two brothers and one sister. My sister was twelve when I was born; she'd just taken her Eleven Plus. I don't really remember much of her from my childhood because she left home when she was about seventeen. She went to teacher training college and didn't come back after that.

My grandmother - my mother's mother - used to live in Albert Grove, next to Arnold Grove; so when I was small I could go out of our back door and around the back entries (they called them 'jiggers' in Liverpool) to her house. I would be there when my mother and father were at work.

Arnold Grove was a bit like ‘Coronation Street’, though I don't remember any of the neighbours now. It was behind the Lamb Hotel in Wavertree. There was a big art-deco cinema there called the Abbey, and the Picton clock tower. Down a little cobbled lane was the slaughterhouse, where they used to shoot horses.

My earliest recollection is of sitting on a pot at the top of the stairs, having a poop - shouting, 'Finished!' Another very early memory is as a baby, of a party in the street. There were air-raid shelters and people were sitting around tables and benches. I must have been no more than two. We used to have a photograph of me there, so it's probably only because I could relive the scene when I was younger, through the photograph, that I remember it.

VE Day Party 8 May 1945 - from right Harry, Peter, Louise, and George aged 2. Note the brick air-raid shelter behind Harry.

Our house was very small. No garden. Two up and two down - step straight in off the pavement, step right out of the back room.

Each room downstairs was about ten feet square (very small) and yet despite the lack of space the front room was never used. It had the posh lino and a three-piece suite, was freezing cold and nobody ever went in it. We'd all be huddled together in the kitchen, where the fire was, with the kettle on, and a little iron cooking stove.

Like many home of the time, there was no central heating, no bathroom and no indoor toilet. The winters could be freezing. George later remembered that in the winter there used to be ice on the windows and in fact you would have to put a hot water bottle in the bed (keep nipping upstairs to keep it moving) then whip your clothes off and leap in. And then oooooooooooohhh, lie still and then by next morning you'd just got warm and then you'd wake up, "come on, time for school", put your hand out of the bed. Freezing. Oh dear.

Harrison recalled that he and his brothers dreaded getting up in the morning because it was literally freezing cold and they had to use the outside toilet.

The four children shared the back bedroom. In his infancy George had slept in his parents room but he later moved in with his siblings, Louise in one bed, Harry and Peter in another and George in a cot.

A later resident of Arnold Grove was Anthony Hogan, author of From a Storm to a Hurricane, the biography of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. I asked him to describe the layout of the house: The front door goes straight into the living room which would have been about 12 foot square (I’m guessing here). At the back was a small kitchen. The stairs are at the back of house. They go up from the kitchen towards the front door if you get what I mean. Upstairs is a tiny landing 2 foot x 2 foot. The front bedroom was the largest, and ran the length of house across. The back bedroom runs towards back of house and is smaller. (Anthony’s son) had a single bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers etc. There was not much room with that in there, so imagine it with all those kids in there. The houses were extended when we lived there. It was all knocked through so it had space. Loved it there, the fans were funny at times. We needed a larger house. Liked it there though.

A lot of the garden was paved over (except one bit where there was a one-foot-wide flowerbed), with a toilet at the back and, for a period of time, a little hen-house where we kept cockerels.

Peter and George in the backyard at No. 12

There was a zinc bathtub hanging on the backyard wall which we'd bring in and fill with hot water from pans and boiling kettles. That would be how we had a bath. We didn't have a bathroom: no Jacuzzis. Good place to wash your hair, Liverpool. Nice soft water.

I had a happy childhood, with lots of relatives around - relatives and absolutes. I was always waking up in the night, coming out of the bedroom, looking down the stairs and seeing lots of people having a party. It was probably only my parents and an uncle or two (I had quite a few uncles with bald heads; they'd say they got them by using them to knock pub doors open), but it always seemed that they were partying without telling me.

I don't remember too much about the music, I don't know whether they had (anyone performing) music at the parties at all. There was probably a radio on.

There was always music in the house, some of it quite unusual for the times. Louise enjoyed listening to Indian classical music on ‘For the Indian Forces’ every Sunday morning on BBC radio. It’s tempting to think her unborn fourth baby was absorbing all this from the womb.

My eldest brother, Harry, had a little portable record-player that played 45s and 33s. It could play a stack of ten records, though he only owned three. He kept them neatly in their sleeves; one of them was by Glenn Miller. When he was out everything was always left tidy; the wires, the lead and plugs were all wrapped around, and nobody was supposed to use it. But as soon as he'd go out my brother Pete and I would put them on.

We'd play anything. My dad had bought a wind-up gramophone in New York when he was a seaman and had brought it back on the ship. It was a wooden one, where you opened the doors; the top doors had a speaker behind and the records were stored in the bottom. And there were the needles in little tin boxes.

He'd also brought some records from America, including one by Jimmie Rodgers, 'the Singing Brakeman'. He was hank Williams's favourite singer and the first country singer that I ever heard. He had a lot of tunes such as 'Waiting For A Train', and 'Blue For A Train' and that led me to the guitar.

Harold Harrison with his four children.

In the late 1970s George took (his second wife) Olivia to see the house. No one was in so they sat outside in the car and tried to imagine what it was like inside. George suspected the new owners had at some point knocked the fireplace out, installed “one of those little tiled jobs” and probably now had running hot water.

I had wondered whether George only went back the once. Did he ever take his son Dhani to have a look? Did the new owner ever let him in?

Anthony Hogan was able to confirm that George did make a return visit: Did you know George once turned up at the house with his wife. (The lady living in number 12) Kath told us she answered a knock and he was standing there. He said he had once lived there and asked if he could come in to look. He had a cuppa with Kath. 

(Somebody) put a plaque up once without telling her. She came home and found it on her house. She was so upset by it. I removed it for her. I should have kept it as it would be worth a bit now.

Certainly the current owners appear to want no part of the Beatles industry and this is something one should bear in mind visiting any of the Beatles' former homes – for the most part they are still occupied by ordinary people and their privacy should be respected. I’ve stood at the corner of Admiral Grove and witnessed a group of tourists peering through the window and leaning against the front door of number 12 to pose for photographs. I think I’d get fed up with that every day…..

George’s brother Harry would later recall: Our little house was just two rooms up and two rooms down, but, except for a short period when our father was away at sea, we always knew the comfort and security of a very close-knit home life.

George had similar fond memories of Arnold Grove:  It was OK that house, very pleasant being little and it was always sunny in the summer. But then we moved, after about 25 years on the housing list, we moved.

It was actually nearer eighteen years since Harry and Louise had applied for a council house. At the time of their original application they had one child, Louise, who had since grown up and moved on. Now they had three more – Harry, fifteen, Peter, nine and six years old George. On 1 January 1950 the Harrisons left Wavertree and moved to a newly built home at 25 Upton Green in Speke. Unfortunately they quickly wanted to move back. George: As soon as we got to Speke we realised we had to get out of there, fast...the place was full of fear and people smashing things up.

The Harrisons got on another list.


The George Harrison quotes are taken from his biography, ‘I Me Mine’ and interviews given for ‘The Beatles Anthology’. The Books “Thats The Way God Planned It” by Kevin Roach, and “Tune In” by Mark Lewisohn were also of assistance.

Thanks to Anthony Hogan for his personal memories.

I hope you enjoyed the Rutles' joke ;)


  1. Great read Mark. I have newspaper cuttings about that plaque being put up on number 12 and how upsetting it was for Kath. It happened late 2003 or early 2004 I hadn't lived in Liverpool long when I saw it on the front page of the Echo. If I remember rightly the story reported that it had appeared whilst Kath was out shopping it wasn't there when she went out and when she came home there it was. I know that David Bedford was somehow involved in it. I'll dig out the articles and get copies to you

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm working on a follow up to this piece so the articles would be most welcome.

  2. Great piece as always Mark. When I was in Liverpool for the first time a few years ago I took one of the black taxi Beatles tours, and the driver/guide refused to take us to Arnold Grove, saying it was too dangerous an area to venture into. I've always puzzled over that (especially as I'm from east London, where danger is our middle name) and perhaps the real reason was not to harass the residents. Cheers, Lefty

    1. Thanks Lefty. You've hit the nail on the head there. The taxis are no longer allowed to go to Arnold Grove because the conduct of some of the drivers (not all, but some) was less than respectful to the people who live there.

  3. Terrific informative article. But how do we know that the bus George Harrison's Dad used to drive was the south end route from the city centre out to Garston?

    1. Thanks Gary. [1] The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four by Kenneth Womack: "The long reach of the Great Depression left Harold unemployed for another two years until he landed a position as a bus driver on the Liverpool Corporation's Speke - Liverpool route. [2] Tune In by Mark Lewisohn: Harry was committee chairman of the Speke Bus Depot socail club... (of course, I'm not saying he was chairman committee of the Speke club immediately - this might not have taken place until he lived in Speke from 1950)

    2. Good to know, Mark. I see now that Mr Harrison drove the #81 and also what he called in Hunter Davis's 1967 book "the Big 500", a 67 minute limited-stop journey across Liverpool. I'll have to get The Beatles Encyclopedia, haven't got that one. I'm quoting your site in a an article, Mark, how do you want to be called? Mark 'Ashwom' ?

  4. I live in a house I bought off George French who happens to have been George Harrisons Uncle. I wonder if this was why he was named George? My neighbour who is still living used to play with young George in the summer holidays when he would stay with his uncle in my house. The house is in Warrington were he later bought his mum a house possibly to be closer to this relative?

    1. Probably named after his uncle George, his mother’s brother. Their father was John French from County Wexford, Ireland. He emigrated to Liverpool in 1890.