Sunday 15 July 2018

The tragic death of Julia Lennon: 60 Years on.

Sixty years ago today Julia Lennon died.

Tuesday 15 July 1958

My mother was a housewife, I suppose. She was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr. She used to do this little tune when I was just a one - or two-year-old. The tune was from the Disney movie - 'Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well.'

There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women; five sisters. One happened to be my mother. My mother just couldn't deal with life. She was the youngest and she couldn't cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister.

My mother and father split when I was four and I lived with an auntie, Mimi
(John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology) 

From 1946 John lived with his Aunt Mimi (Mary Smith) and Uncle George in their house, 'Mendips', at 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton, Liverpool. Depending on whose account you read, Julia's decision to hand over the care of her son to them was made willingly with the self acceptance that she could not cope with him - the version John seems to have been led to believe -  or after being put under immense pressure to do so by Mimi and their oppressive father, 'Pop' Stanley - the version given by her daughter Julia Baird, John's half sister.

Mimi told me my parents had fallen out of love. She never said anything directly against my father and mother. I soon forgot my father. It was like he was dead. But I did see my mother now and again and my feeling never died off for her. I often thought about her, though I'd never realized for a long time that she was living no more than five or ten miles away. 

She was actually a lot closer. Julia was living at 1 Blomfield Road, only 1.5 miles from 'Mendips', a half hour walk. Although she had tried to visit John when he went to live with Mimi she had eventually been asked to keep away, Mimi arguing that it always upset John when she left. Effectively Mimi curtailed her sister's contact with her own son.

Sometime in late 1953, early 1954 John's cousin Stanley, visiting from Edinburgh decided to go and visit Julia and, without telling Mimi, took John with him for what was later described as a joyful reunion.

I started going to visit her at her house. I met her new bloke and didn't think much of him. I called him Twitchy. Julia became a sort of young aunt to me, or a big sister. As I got bigger and had more rows with Mimi, I used to go and live with Julia for a weekend. 

Her 'new bloke' was John Dykins though Julia confusingly called him 'Bobby', reportedly because she already had a John in her life.

[Twitchy was] otherwise known as Robert Dykins or Bobbie Dykins. Her second husband - I don't know if she married him or not; little waiter with a nervous cough and the thinning, margarine-coated hair. He always used to push his hand in the margarine or the butter, usually the margarine, and grease his hair with it before he left. He used to keep his tips in a big tin on top of a cupboard in the kitchen, and I used to always steal them. I believe Mother got the blame. That's the least they could do for me.

With the benefit of hindsight, reading or listening to Lennon's responses to questions about his mother reveals how little factual information he knew about her or her common-law husband. For example, he seems to think Dykins' christian name was actually Robert. Clearly he only knew what Mimi wanted him to know. 

When I was sixteen my mother taught me music. She first taught me how to play banjo chords - that's why in very early photos of the group I'm playing funny chords - and from that I progressed to guitar. 

I used to borrow a guitar at first. I couldn't play, but my mother bought me one from one of those mail-order firms. It was a bit crummy, but I played it all the time and got a lot of practice. 

I played the guitar like a banjo, with the sixth string hanging loose. My first guitar cost £10. All I ever wanted to do was to vamp; I only learnt to play to back myself
(John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology

Julia bought John his first guitar, a cheap Gallotone Champion acoustic "guaranteed not to split". Julia shared John's love of rock and roll music, despite Mimi's disapproval, and saw her son playing in the Quarry Men.

John's world came crashing in on the evening of 15 July 1958

She got killed by an off-duty cop who was drunk, after visiting my auntie's house where I lived. I wasn't there at the time. She was at the bus stop and he ran her down in a car. 

That was another big trauma for me. I lost her twice. Once when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again at seventeen when she actually, physically died. 

Julia died on Menlove Avenue shortly after leaving Mimi's house. Crossing the road to get to a bus stop she was struck by a Standard Vanguard car driven by an off-duty policeman, 24-year-old Eric Clague.

I am Constable 126 C, Liverpool City Police, and live at 43 Ramilies Road, Liverpool 18. I was the driver of the motor car (private) LKF 630, which was involved in this occurrence. I have heard the statement said to have been made by me to Police Inspector Harte and I agree with it....

Eric Clague
Inquest statement, 1958

Mrs Lennon just ran straight out in front of me. I just couldn't avoid her. I was not speeding, I swear it. It was just one of those terrible things that happen.

Eric Clague

Nigel Walley and John Lennon on Lime Street, Liverpool, May 1958. Two months before the tragedy.

Mimi would often accompany Julia to the bus stop but on this evening she had her slippers on and didn't have time to change into her shoes before the number 4 bus arrived. They parted at the gate -  Julia, Mimi and her long time lodger Michael Fishwick. 

Just as Julia was leaving Mendips, Nigel Walley, turned up looking for John: I went to call for John that evening but his Aunt Mimi told me he was out. Mimi was at the gate with John's mum, who was about to leave. We stood chatting and John's mum said 'Well, you have the privilege of escorting me to the bus stop!' I said 'That will do me fine. I'll be happy to do that.'

The two chatted and laughed their way the 200 yards up the street to the corner of Vale Road where they parted. As Nigel would later recall We walked down Menlove Avenue and I turned off to go up Vale Road, where I lived. I must have been about 15 yards up the road when I heard a car skidding and a thump. I turned round to see John's mum going through the air. I rushed over but she had been killed instantly.

I rushed over. It wasn't a gory mess but she must have had severe internal injuries, To my mind, she'd been killed instantly. I can still see her gingery hair fluttering in the breeze blowing across her face.

Where Julia and Nige said goodbye. The  corner of Vale Road is on the right, the house on the extreme left is on the corner of the Vineries and Menlove Avenue.  The bus stop is just to the left of the street lamp.

Menlove Avenue in 1932. The trams ran down the centre of the road, the tracks screened on both sides by hedges to protect pedestrians and other road users. Within a few years of this photo being taken 'Mendips' would be built on the land just past the car on the left heading towards Hunts Cross.

This is the same view taken in the early 1960s. Trams stopped running in 1957 and eventually Liverpool corporation covered most of the tracks with tarmac, or in the case of Menlove Avenue, created a central reservation by turfing over them. The hedges that screened the tram tracks were also removed. 'Mendips' and the neighbouring houses can now be seen on the left. The aerial show below shows the scene of the tragedy as it looks today. 

It seems Julia cut through the hedges screening off the old tram tracks.  She was struck as she stepped onto the road from the hedge. Clague probably had no chance to avoid a collision.
Contrary to John's belief, Clague was not drunk at the time, and he was driving under the 30mph speed limit. He was, however, a learner driver who was driving unaccompanied.
Mimi and Fishwick had just reached the kitchen when they heard the screech of tyres and bang. For a split second they looked at each other before running out of the house and across the road where a small crowd of onlookers had gathered. One said that an ambulance had been called. 

Mimi cried hysterically as they waited for an ambulance.

At about 9.45pm the deceased left my home (in Menlove Avenue) and went in the direction of a bus stop on the opposite side by The Vineries. Shortly afterwards I was informed that she had been injured. I went to the scene... she was unconscious. I went with her to Sefton General Hospital... she was dead on arrival.

Mimi Smith
Inquest statement

I was staying with Julia and Twitchy this weekend. The copper came to the door, to tell us about the accident. It was just like it's supposed to be, the way it is in the films, asking if I was her son and all that. Then he told us, and we both went white. 
(John Lennon)

John and Dykins rushed by taxi down to the morgue at Sefton General hospital but John refused to take a last look at his mother. 

We got a taxi over to Sefton General where she was lying dead. I didn't want to see her. I talked hysterically to the taxi driver all the way, ranted on and on, the way you do. The taxi driver just grunted now and again. I refused to go in, but Twitchy did. He broke down. Twitchy took it worse than me. Then he said, 'Who's going to look after the kids?' And I hated him. Bloody selfishness.

He also wouldn't speak to Nigel Walley for months afterward: whether it was because seeing him reminded John of what had happened, or because on some level he blamed him, 'Nige' wasn't sure: I didn't see John much after that because he became a bit of a recluse. It worried me because, deep down, I wondered whether he blamed me for the accident and was thinking 'If only Nigel Walley had stayed a minute longer talking to my mum'. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Julia had not married John Dykins. She was still Julia Lennon and actually 44 years old. A post-mortem examination revealed she had died of massive brain injuries caused by skull fractures, The next report gets it right.

An inquest held a month later recorded a verdict of death by misadventure . Eric Clague was acquitted of all charges. When the verdict was announced Mimi reportedly stood up and rushed to the dock threatening Clague with her walking stick. She was pulled away by the courts ushers and collapsed on a chair, weeping.

At the time I thought of sending the family my condolences, but I thought it would only make matters worse. They were very angry and upset by what had happened, naturally so, I suppose.

Eric Clague, 1998

In 1964, when The Beatles became world-famous, Clague realised he had killed the mother of John Lennon.

Like everyone else I started reading in the papers about them and they were never off the TV. I read that John Lennon's mother was dead and that he used to live in Menlove Avenue.

I put two and two together and realised that it was his mum that I had killed. Everything came back to me and I felt absolutely terrible. It had the most awful effect on me. The Beatles were everywhere, especially in Liverpool, and I couldn't get away from it.
Eric Clague

Clague later left the police force to become a postman.

My postman's round took in Forthlin Road, where Paul McCartney (lived). At the height of The Beatles' fame I used to deliver hundreds of cards and letters to the house.

I remember struggling up the path with them all. But of course they just reminded me of John Lennon and his mother.
Eric Clague, 1998

Julia was buried in Allerton Cemetery, a short walk from Blomfield Road. 

Her death deeply affected John:

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. We'd caught up so much, me and Julia, in just a few years. We could communicate. We got on. She was great. 

It made me very, very bitter. The underlying chip on my shoulder that I had got really big then. Being a teenager and a rock'n'roller and an art student and my mother being killed just when I was re-establishing a relationship with her.

I thought, 'F*ck it, f*ck it, f*ck it. That's really f*cked everything. I've no real responsibilities to anyone now.' 

John would later refer to her in the songs Julia, Mother and My Mummy's Dead. His first son, Julian, was named for her.


  1. There's so much pain in all this. Best thing is silence and prayer. Best thing is that now...they may be all together. Hope love wins everything.

  2. There's so much pain in all this. Best thing is silence and prayer. Best thing is that now...they may be all together. Hope love wins everything.