Thursday 23 May 2024

20 Forthlin Road

20 Forthlin Road,
Liverpool 18

Co-authored by Beatles historians Steve Bradley and Mark Ashworth. 

Simultaneously published on Steve's blog here: Link

Days after spending an afternoon with Paul McCartney's brother Michael,  Steve messaged me again to see if I wanted to join him for a tour of 20 Forthlin Road.  Naturally I jumped at the chance. We enjoyed our visit so much we decided to share our experiences in this co-authored blog, a first. I've let Steve take the lead and incorporate my observations at the appropriate time. 

The former McCartney family home in Allerton
The former McCartney family home in Allerton

A stolen drum-kit, egg-boxes on the wall, and the smell of lavender. A visit to Paul McCartney’s childhood home.

Recently my friend and fellow Beatles blogger Mark Ashworth joined me for a tour of Paul’s childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton. This blog has been co-authored by us both, in true Lennon / McCartney style.

In the care of the National Trust, the home has become a must-see attraction among Liverpool’s Beatles tourism destinations. Furnished in the 1950’s style of the McCartney family’s occupancy, we are given the opportunity to step back in time to experience the ordinary post-war family home of Jim and Mary, Paul and Mike. 

Mark: In 1995 the house came to the attention of the National Trust who chose to buy the property as a means of preserving the site of historical interest for the public. The Trust set about recreating the look and feel of the property as it would have been at the time the McCartney family lived there, with the same level of care and attention as would be afforded the finest stately home. The restoration took three years at a cost of £47,000 (around £93,000 or $117,000 now) with fixtures and fittings, wallpaper, paintwork, furniture, and fireplace all restored in a 1950’s style. Luckily, they had Mike McCartney’s many photos taken both inside and out to use as a reference. 

At the end of April 1956, the McCartney family moved for the last time to this three-bedroomed brick-built terrace house at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton. Built to a design by the City Architect Sir Lancelot Keay, it had a front parlour which led off to the left from the hallway, and a door led through from the parlour to the rear dining room, overlooking the back garden. The dining room was connected to the kitchen, which in turn connected to the hall. The house was owned by the local authority to whom the McCartneys paid rent of one pound, nineteens shillings and ten-pence a week (around £60 or $75). Jim was earning £400 a year (around £8,300 or $10,445 in 2024) at the Cotton Exchange, which was less than Mary. Because of Mary’s occupation as midwife and health visitor a phone was installed, which in 1956 was still something of a rarity in working-class areas of Liverpool. 

The kitchen at 20 Forthlin Road, restored by the National Trust. Photo credit; Liverpool Echo.
The kitchen at 20 Forthlin Road, restored by the National Trust. Photo credit: Liverpool Echo.

We were greeted by custodian and tour guide Andy Jones, who shows us the alleyway beside the house. It leads to the rear garden with storage where the boys kept their bicycles, and where Paul was snapped by Mike through the window. Andy is determined to offer a memorable visit for fans. His commentary relies on facts shared with him by Mike McCartney, avoiding the need for mythmaking, or speculative storytelling. It feels like we’re stepping into a real home, not a ‘Beatles Museum’ - this is a living documentary of 1950’s Britain. 

Aspirational Mary was proud to call this place home, seeing it as a step-up socially from their earlier home in Speke. Tragedy struck when the family cruelly lost Mary to cancer in October 1956, leaving Jim to raise his two sons with help from the extended family. Jim’s sister Millie visited weekly to do laundry, she would be celebrated in the Scaffold’s ‘Lily the Pink,’ and her husband inspired Paul’s ‘Uncle Albert’. 

Seagulls squawked above us, a sure sign you’re near Liverpool. “Music was always in the house” Andy explains, “Jim always encouraged music, it was a great distraction.” After Paul saw Lonnie Donegan at the Liverpool Empire in November 1956 – just eleven days after losing his mum – his future was assured. The boy threw himself into music as a distraction from grief; the lawn is where Mike photographed Paul playing guitar, his candid shot capturing a boy lost in a world of his own. 

Andy delighted us when he produced a deck-chair from the garden cupboard, enabling us to replicate the photo from Paul’s album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. 

The guitar was Paul's salvation during desperately difficult months, as 1956 slipped into 1957, the year he would meet a fellow guitarist from Woolton. 

Andy helpfully pointed out details loved by trivia buffs like Mark and me; the former location of the washing line pulley, and the original fenceposts hidden by the hedge. We pulled up photos on our phones of the Beatles photo session here with Dezo Hoffman on 25th March 1963. A sunny spring day after a long cold lonely winter, the Fab Four were posed on the roof of the outhouse, overlooking the police-dog training ground. Andy explained where Dezo climbed up precariously onto a narrow wall to capture the image. Just four lads snapped in a provincial English council-house garden; eleven months later they were the biggest group in the world.


The boys pose for Dezo Hoffman on the roof of the outhouse, and the same location today.
The boys pose for Dezo Hoffman on the roof of the outhouse, and the same location today.

Jim was a proud member of the Speke and Garston Horticultural Society; he tended plants and vegetables in the garden. Andy pointed out the sheltered corner of the garden where Jim planted seedlings, another detail that would have been lost to time had Mike not shared it with Andy and the National Trust. Andy reported that if the boys were locked-out they would climb the back wall, getting in via the bathroom window; “they didn’t see a drainpipe, they saw a climbing frame” he explains with a smile. Inside, Andy puts his slippers on, which reinforces the feeling we’re visiting a friend’s home, rather than a museum. He warmly invites us in, in the same way Jim McCartney admitted the teenaged Lennon, Harrison et al. 

Growing up with the comedy of the Scaffold, Andy taped Beatles records onto cassettes as all our generation did, then was gifted albums as Christmas presents. His fascination developed when he attended Art College in Liverpool, the same one as John, Cynthia, and Stu, he tells us proudly. He was a regular at the Mathew Street Festival and the Cavern, while gradually expanding his knowledge of the group from library books. When he met his future wife Liz – in the Jacaranda – she lived on Newcastle Road. Clearly the Beatles were weaved into Andy’s life long before he arrived at Forthlin. 

The kitchen is furnished with 1950’s cupboards and appliances, detailed with vintage food packets on the shelves. Teacups hang on hooks waiting to be used – Lennon was snapped here by Hoffman, pouring from a teapot. A photo of Mike’s captures his widowed dad stirring a pot on the stove – he was soaking his sons underwear in the days before most homes had a washing machine. The McCartney’s original kitchen sink – retrieved from decades as a plant-bed in the garden – is back in its rightful place. 

The Fab Three in the backyard at Forthlin. Photo overlay with Mike McCartney original, by Mark Ashworth.
The Fab Three in the backyard at Forthlin. Photo overlay with Mike McCartney original, by Mark Ashworth.

We step into the adjacent dining room, where Jim employed primitive soundproofing, affixing cardboard egg-boxes to the walls in the hope of deadening Quarrymen rehearsals. After Mary passed away the family dined here less, the boys instead preferring to eat in front of the television in the living room. 

Mark; Despite being short of money, Mary was house proud. She had a passion for Sanderson wallpaper, but she could only afford roll-ends. As a result there were three different types of wallpaper in the front parlour (living room), ranging from blue chinoiserie (Chinese), to an abstract pattern, to imitation stone-wall, chosen by Paul and Michael. The ‘carpet’ was an assemblage of runners (long narrow strips of carpet, intended for staircases) stitched together. 

Here, among furniture that replicates the styles of the day, the room is cosy and welcoming, comfortable rather than luxurious. Lavender scents the rooms, which Jim placed in the ashtrays to mask the smoky odour of his pipe. 

Accompanied – appropriately – by a blackbird singing in the garden, we relaxed in the armchairs as Andy continued his narrative. He explained that guests are invited to sit down, enhancing the visitor experience of a home, not a museum. We examined Mike’s photo of Paul sitting on the piano – that Jim had bought from NEMS - spotting two guitars, Mike’s banjo, and the trumpet Mike played, borrowed from Cousin Ian Harris. A powder blue drum-kit sits in the foreground, a simple handwritten beatles on a sheet of paper is stuck to the bass drum. The kit’s provenance was dubious, it allegedly “fell off the back of a lorry.”

Mark: As a host, Andy is absolutely the right man for the job; he has spent a lot of time poring over Mike’s photographs picking out the details, to get to the story they are telling. Displaying Mike’s pictures in the rooms where they were taken brings the house to life. Like windows through time, they provide the visitor with a series of vignettes that together create a portrait of life at 20 Forthlin Road.

Paul and his instruments. Photo credit; Mike McCartney
Paul and his instruments. Photo credit; Mike McCartney

In 'Many Years from Now,'  author Barry Miles writes: Paul and John would usually work in the living room, where there was a comfortable three-piece suite of a sofa and two armchairs, arranged in front of the fireplace. To the right of the fire was the television with a radio beneath it. The room was south-facing, with a large sash window which filled the room with afternoon light despite the lace curtains and full-length curtains that convention required. To the left of the fireplace stood Jim’s old upright piano.

Mike shared the story with Andy of how he captured a November 1962 photo of Lennon and McCartney writing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ here in the Forthlin Road living room. Mike asked Paul to sit on a low side-table so he could capture them both in the same frame. The original table, Andy revealed, had been made by a carpenter neighbour of the McCartney’s Ardwick Road home, gifted to the family, and is now replaced with a replica. “John and Paul would sit here, their guitars extending in opposite directions” said Andy, creating a sense of history in the room, “and they changed music forever. Where we are sat is where it all started, it’s ground zero of pop culture” 

Mark; Among the songs Paul composed here, at least in part, alone or with John (some remain unreleased) are: I Lost My Little Girl, When I’m Sixty Four, Suicide, In Spite of All The Danger, I’ll Follow The Sun, Love Of The Loved, A World Without Love, I’ll Be On My Way, Like Dreamers Do, Some Days, You’ll Be Mine, Well Darling, You Must Write Every day, Just Fun, Too Bad About Sorrows, Thinking Of Linking, Years Roll Along, Please Please Me, Love Me Do, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, Catswalk, Hot As Sun, Looking Glass, Cayenne, Winston’s Walk. 

The wallpaper on the fireplace wall was recently reprinted to add authenticity to the decoration of the room. A combination of Mike’s contemporaneous photos, and memories he discussed with Paul, enabled the National Trust to collaborate with a wallpaper manufacturer to recreate the 1950’s brickwork design.  

Mike McCartney at Forthlin Road. Photo credit; PA Media
Mike McCartney at Forthlin Road. Photo credit; PA Media

Mark; When the house opened to the public in 1995 the wallpaper wasn’t the pattern Mike remembered, something which had bothered him for nearly 30 years. Despite years of searching the Trust was unable to source any original rolls. Using his photographs the National Trust took them to a wallpaper designer who with the aid of a computer was able to replicate the stone-wall pattern so that new rolls could be produced from it   

Andy cares for the home day-to-day and keeps it clean – he had been dusting prior to our arrival, he said – while for maintenance tasks he calls in colleagues from nearby National Trust property, Speke Hall. The Trust are grateful when visitors offer 1950’s furniture but generally they decline. There is enough furniture in the house to create the mood and tell the story; there has to be enough room for groups of guests to walk around safely. 

Previously a teacher, Andy’s experience informing groups of people and holding their attention were skills he transferred to the National Trust. He was hugely excited to be offered the job two years ago. The house is open five days a week in spring then seven days in summer. He greets visitors at Mendips too, a rota of custodians ensures a warm welcome at each property. 

Once on October 9th Andy welcomed a New Yorker into Mendips – the guest had been eye-witness to a terrible event on West 72nd Street on December 8th 1980. Andy invited the visitor to turn John’s bedroom light on, to remain lit overnight on the occasion of Lennon’s birthday. Forging a connection that spanned the Atlantic, and the intervening decades, Andy gave the visitor a sense of closure from the horror he had seen.

Mike McCartney photo of Paul looking through window of the outhouse. Photo overlay by Mark Ashworth.
Mike McCartney photo of Paul looking through window of the outhouse. Photo overlay by Mark Ashworth.

We climb the stairs where Andy leads us to what was originally the two boys’ shared bedroom, at the back of the house. Andy had asked Mike why they initially shared a room in a three-bedroomed house? Mike thought for a moment then answered candidly, “because we loved each other.” It’s these details, again, that bring the story to life, and turn a house into a home. After their mum passed, Paul switched to a smaller bedroom of his own at the front of the house, granting privacy to each boy as they grieved for Mother Mary. His clothes, though, remained in a shared wardrobe in Mike’s room. After a bath a still-wet Paul would enter to grab some clothes, on one occasion photographed here by Mike “picking the biddies from his brush” (biddies is Liverpool slang for hair-nits).

Paul with hair brush (photo credit: Mike McCartney)

This was Mike’s photography studio where he experimented with stylish self-portraits, capturing himself in half-light like a famous album cover would one day for his brother. Sheets were hung across the windows to create a darkroom; drying prints were held on a line by hair-clips he acquired from his apprenticeship as a salon stylist. Mark had seen Mike’s photos a thousand times but admitted he was learning more about them today from Andy’s commentary, that was informed by his chats with Mike. Again we gratefully acknowledged the details in Andy’s story-telling, bringing history to life. Mike’s photos help tell the story, they give the house a sense of time and place, shaping our understanding of McCartney family life. 

Jim and Mary’s bedroom had originally been closed to the public, remaining private for the resident curator. In recent years Paul and Mike agreed with the National Trust to open the room to public view, adding to our commemoration of their lives and our celebration of their legacy. We stood quietly and reflected on the life and loss of a 47-year-old mother of two, who confronted her failing health here with dignity, courage, and her faith. 

The National Trust have great attention to detail, even the plug sockets and light switches are in 1950’s style. Sunlight streams across the landing from where we look into a small room containing the toilet, separate from the bathroom. Here, the two boys’ handwritten graffiti on the walls is being slowly uncovered by restoration experts, delicately scraping away generations of wallpaper and paint in the hope of revealing another McCartney original. 

Paul's modest bedroom. Photo credit; National Trust / Annapurna Mellor.
Paul's modest bedroom. Photo credit; National Trust / Annapurna Mellor.

Paul’s small front bedroom is humbling. The space is almost filled by the single bed, a small table, and a chair. Details help support the story; record sleeves and a guitar on the bed, books on the table. Jim wired-up headphones so Paul could listen in bed to the downstairs radio, enjoying the Goon Show or catching snatches of rock ‘n’ roll on Radio Luxembourg. A teenage boy dreamt of fame here, imagining the impossible.

By 1964, Beatlemania had reached Forthlin Road. Visiting fans knocked on the door at all hours, the garden gate was stolen by a souvenir hunter, and a neighbour was picking daisies from the garden to sell to fans. When Jim McCartney spotted a Rolls Royce outside he urged Mike to grab his camera to photograph the beautiful car; when Paul emerged from the vehicle Jim realised beyond doubt that his son was now rich and famous. Jim and Mike moved to the Wirral, a fine detached home in leafy Heswall. They took their well-worn, familiar furniture with them from Forthlin Road, but soon realised it didn’t suit their beautifully appointed new residence. 


One day Andy was in the front garden when a car pulled-up outside the house. It was Paul, back in Liverpool to attend a LIPA graduation. Andy invited Paul for a private viewing, but Macca politely declined. Andy respected his privacy by not requesting a photo with him – pleasing Paul – and I do the same here by not reporting the detail of their conversation, that Andy shared with us. 

Mark; Paul has still only been back inside the house once since he left in 1964. Fortunately for us the visit was captured on film for the Carpool Karaoke segment of ‘The Late Late Show…with James Corden’ in 2018, and I was lucky enough to be outside the house when Paul came out. 

Andy explained he “chooses not to dress like Paul,” as this would cheapen the visitor experience and attract theme-park comparisons. Andy employs his own style that works for the role; his presentation is smart but informal, traditional but stylish - supporting the dignified way the National Trust preserved the history that Andy now presents as a story. He explained the challenges of the role – delivering the same narrative four times a day but keeping it interesting and fresh for each tour group. He recognises diversity in his guests; all ages, all nationalities, all levels of Beatles knowledge, and enthusiasm. He can’t just read a script but must present a dialogue that will “draw the story out of the walls.” He is determined to do justice to Jim and Mary, and to Paul and Mike; his warm welcome and ethical integrity ensure the history is in safe hands. Andy was a fan and an observer, now as a custodian of Liverpool Beatles history he “feels like he is part of the story.”   

Mike McCartney photo of Paul in the backyard. Photo overlay by Mark Ashworth.
Mike McCartney photo of Paul in the backyard. Photo overlay by Mark Ashworth.

Mark: I think we both agreed that we had met someone with just as much passion for detail as ourselves. Truly, in Andy the National Trust found the right person for the job. He really gets it. My overwhelming impression of the house is how welcoming it feels as soon as you walk in. I felt like I was visiting a friend’s house rather than a stuffy museum exhibit, somewhere warm and comfortable where you can just sit down and have a chat. Oddly, I didn’t have this feeling visiting ‘Mendips’. 

Not only have the National Trust managed to successfully recreate the visual appearance of these houses at the time Paul and John lived in them, but they’ve also somehow been able to evoke the contrasting atmospheres – the difference between Aunt Mimi’s formal ‘house of correction’ where John’s ‘little friends’ would be directed to use the back doorand Jim and Mary’s home filled with matriarchal aunts, eccentric uncles, and budding teenage musicians, all of whom were equally welcomed.

We discussed the heritage celebrated by the home – particularly Mike’s photos that bring the story to life. It’s not just a Beatles story, but an expanded narrative telling the story of a family. “The Beatles mean so much to everybody, we’ve all got our stories” said Andy, “it’s an emotional journey. We’ve celebrated with the Beatles; we’ve cried with the Beatles at funerals; it means so much to us for personal reasons.” The day the ‘Now and Then’ video premiered, visiting fans watched it on a tablet in the living room. In the exact spot where John and Paul had written songs in a Liverpool Institute exercise book, the Beatles’ musical history came to an end. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, Andy admitted - even hearing this story from him months after the event, was a powerful moment. 

Mark; As the National Trust brochure claims, ‘from this ordinary council house emerged a sound that touched the lives of millions.’  Forthlin Road was the backdrop to a critical cultural moment that shaped not only Liverpool history, or British history, but global history. 

Thank you Andy, and the National Trust, for preserving an ordinary home that produced extraordinary things. From Mike’s photography to Paul’s music, from the comedy of the Scaffold to Beatlemania. 


National Trust curator Andy Jones, with Beatles historians Mark Ashworth and Steve Bradley
National Trust curator Andy Jones, with Beatles historians Mark Ashworth and Steve Bradley

You can book a National Trust visit to the Beatles’ homes here:

Thank U Very Much… Andy Jones of the National Trust for being a fantastic guide to the home. He expertly and caringly curates this McCartney family legacy, on behalf of the National Trust, and us all. Liverpool-based Beatles historian and blogger Mark Ashworth for accompanying me on the visit, and for his research and contribution to this blog. 

... and to Wilmslow-based Beatles historian and blogger Steve Bradley for inviting me, and for allowing me to contribute to this blog.

*BBC TV ‘Hidden Treasures of the National Trust’: Series 1, Episode 3.  Available to watch here on i-player.

Conversions from pre-decimal currency are purely to give an indication of approximate values.  

Authors; Beatles historians Steve Bradley & Mark Ashworth

First published 23rd May 2024

© Arrive Without Travelling Limited 

Paul's album cover photographed by Mike McCartney in 1957, copied by Steve in 2024
Paul's album cover photographed by Mike McCartney in 1957, copied by Steve in 2024

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