Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Quarry Men, Rosebery Street and King John

Rosebery Street,
Liverpool 8

Most historians today would argue that King John was one of England's most unsuccessful monarchs. However, for us Scousers there was at least one significant achievement during his reign. He founded the borough of Liverpool.....

Prince John was born on 24 December 1167. As the youngest of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was not expected to inherit land of any significance from his father and he was certainly not expected to become a future monarch. However, fate intervened and following a failed rebellion by his elder brothers between 1173 and 1174 John became King Henry's favourite son. He was appointed the Lord of Ireland in 1177 and given lands in England and on the continent. William, Henry and Geoffrey, John's eldest brothers, all died young and by the time Richard I became king in 1189, John was placed as a potential heir to the throne.

John unsuccessfully attempted a rebellion against Richard's royal administrators whilst his brother was participating in the Third Crusade. This period has of course provided the backdrop to a great many dramatisations of the "Robin Hood" story with John cast as the principal villain of the piece. Despite his treachery, Richard appears to have looked upon his younger brother as little more than a yapping puppy and forgave him. When Richard was killed in 1199, John was proclaimed king of England.

John had inherited the Princedom of Ireland from his father. When news reached him that the Norman barons were encroaching on some the Irish kingdoms and causing trouble King John decided he would visit Ireland and exert his authority over them as his father had done before him. To do this John needed a suitable port on the west coast from which to embark.

In 1207, during a tour of the country he arrived at Liverpool, a fishing hamlet which he had gifted at the beginning of his reign to Henry Fitzwardin of Lancaster. With Ireland on his mind John now paid more attention to the sheltered pool leading into the wide Mersey estuary and realised that it was the perfect place to establish a port.

John asked Fitzwardin to exchange the town for other lands. It was an offer Fitzwardin could literally not refuse. John became the Lord of Liverpool soon afterwards. On 28th August 1207 he issued an invitation to settlers to come and live in his new port, in return for which he would give them the privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants of a royal borough on the sea. This meant that "Liverpul" as it was named in King John's charter, was now a part of the country where things could be bought and sold.

Rosebery Street, no.s 57-65 (1974)

"Our first appearance was in Rosebery Street. They had this party out in the street. We played from the back of a lorry. We didn't get paid. We played at blokes' parties after that; perhaps got a few bob, but mostly we just played for fun. We didn't mind about not being paid."  
John Lennon, 1967 (The Beatles by Hunter Davies)

On Saturday June 22, 1957, John Lennon’s first band, The Quarry Men, performed two sets of skiffle and rock'n'roll during street celebrations marking the 750th anniversary of King John's issuance of the Royal Charter. Street parties were held throughout the city, each competing with its neighbour in the lavishness of decoration, food and outdoor entertainment that had not been seen since the Coronation.

As Philip Norman accurately points out in his book "John Lennon - The Life" the "backdrop of grimy Victorian brickwork and celebration flags make it more like a scene from the late 19th century than the mid 20th".

Like several streets, Rosebery Street in the heart of Liverpool 8 catered for its younger residents by having a skiffle group perform. Following low key appearances at movie intermissions, parties, skiffle contests, one or two golf clubs, a youth club, church halls, a school dance, and a jazz club called The Cavern, John Lennon (guitar), Eric Griffiths (guitar), Pete Shotton (washboard), Rod Davis (banjo), Len Garry (tea-chest bass), and Colin Hanton (drums) played on the back of a stationary coal lorry  giving one performance in the afternoon, and another in the early evening.

Mrs Marjorie Roberts of 84 Rosebery Street was responsible for arranging the event and the Quarrymen were invited to play on the recommendation of her son Charles who was friends with Colin Hanton.  Charlie took the three photographs of the Quarry Men in action, unwittingly capturing the earliest known images of John Lennon in performance.


Charles Roberts outside his house displaying a flyer for the Quarry Men in his window

Charles was also responsible for stencilling the Quarrymen logo on Hanton's bass drum. Reportedly, Colin had wanted "The Quarrymen" written across the front but as there was insufficient space to write it as one word across the circumference of the drum Roberts staggered the name in two words at diagonal angles. As a result the vintage photograph of the drum-head (seen below) has been cited by some as evidence for the name being split in two words "Quarry Men". In fact there does not appear to have been an agreed way of writing the name of the group. On the poster the group name was written as one word.

The coal lorry was owned by the resident of number 76, who allowed the group to run a microphone lead through his front window.

According to Colin Hanton they were all "half cut" on pints of black velvet (a heady mix of cider and Guinness)!


L-R: Colin Hanton, Eric Griffiths, John Lennon, Len Garry, Pete Shotton, Rod Davis. But who is the bespectacled lad bottom right?

In recent years there has been some speculation as to the identity of the young man in the white sports coat on the bottom right of the  above photograph. Buddy Holly style glasses aside, he does bear more than a passing resemblance to the young Paul McCartney. Although Paul had a school mate living in the nearby Dingle and may have been visiting the area on this day, I'm sure that in the 50 odd years since the photograph was taken Paul would have mentioned it by now. According to all published sources, John and Paul would not be officially introduced until exactly two weeks later.

More intriguingly, Rosebery Street is only a twist and shout across Princes Road from High Park Street and the neighbouring Admiral Grove, the home of Richard Starkey. This was definitely Starkey stomping ground so I wonder in later years whether John ever mentioned performing here and whether Ringo recalled watching him?

Rosebery Street, no.s 39-53, on 24 September 1970

The area was familiar to both sides of John's family.  His father Alfred had been born in Copperfield Street in 1912, and the Stanleys, his maternal family, had lived in various houses within Liverpool 8 including Windsor Street, Berkley Street, and Head Street where his mother Julia was born in 1914.

Julia was in the audience for the second show accompanied by her daughters - John's (half-) sisters - Julia and Jackie Dykins.  John had advised Julia to get off the bus on Princes Road but not at which bus stop. One assumes they got off at the Princes Park end as step-sister Julia recalls walking nearly the whole length of the street without finding him until "suddenly we heard the faint strains of that decidedly familiar sound".  Familar because the group often rehearsed in the Dykin's home in Garston. Following their ears they found the Quarry Men perched up on a lorry parked across the middle of the street "playing their hearts out... as the younger Rosebery residents jived around them in a swirling mass". 

John caught sight of them and hauled the two girls up onto the tailboard of the lorry while Julia leaned on a nearby lamppost, enjoying the show.

Interestingly Julia Baird (née Dykins) has recalled that on the day of the Rosebery Street performance John's group were calling themselves Johnny and the Rainbows because they all wore different coloured shirts. As the photos confirm, none of the band were wearing matching attire but the aforementioned logo on the drum head appears to tell a different story.

It was during this second Quarry Men set that Colin Hanton overhead a group of local youths from nearby Hatherley Street plotting violence against the musicians, singling out "that Lennon" in particular. Not waiting for applause the minute the group finished playing they ran to the sanctuary of Mrs Roberts' house while the mob banged on the windows demanding John come out. In the end a policeman warned them off and gave John and the Quarry Men safe escort to their bus stop. Not being able to go anywhere without assistance from the police was something John was to become tiresomely familiar with in the coming years, but on this day in 1957 it was likely his very first experience.

The Liverpool Post and Echo media company gave Rosebery Street an award for the best-decorated street outside the centre of Liverpool.

The Rosebery Street residents celebrated with a second party, but the Quarry Men were not invited back.

Rosebery Street residents on hearing that the Quarry Men are not returning (possibly).

Rosebery Street in better times viewed from the junction with Mulgrave Street looking towards Granby Street.

Granby Street at Rosebery Street, 24 September 1970

Rosebery Street awaiting demolition. As of today (2013) the neighbouring Hatherley Street is in a similar condition but still standing. For how long remains to be seen....

Rosebery Street from Princes Avenue before (above) and after demolition (below)

Rosebery Street today from Princes Avenue.


The photographs taken of Rosebery Street before demolition come from


Thanks to these guys for getting there before me

The photo of the second Rosebery Street party comes from Paul Frost's Facebook page - I Love Liverpool The City.

Video of Liverpool's 1957 celebrations can be seen here:


John Lennon, My Brother (Julia Baird with Geoffrey Giuliano, 1988) Grafton. ISBN 978-0-246-13315-1.

Imagine This – Growing up with my brother John Lennon (Julia Baird, 2007). Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-83924-9.

A very Big thanks to Charles Roberts, without whom.... 

Charlie's photos are available to buy on ebay and from


  1. Hi - the guy in the right hand corner was not Paul and he did not meet John and the Quarrymen until early June at St Peters,
    Charles Roberts.

    1. Thanks Charles. I hope you are THE Charles Roberts mentioned in this post. If so I hope you don't mind me using your photos. I believe you sell copies of them now - I would be happy to post a link to your site or bring this to peoples attention. Best wishes, Mark (PS: Thank you for having the foresight to capture this moment in history, however insignificant it might have seemed on the day)

  2. Brilliant pictures. My grandparents, William & Bridget Hughes lived in one of the houses on the right (looking towards Mulgrave St) and brought up 9 kids in their tiny terraced house. I used to stay there at weekends and my uncles would take me to Anfield to see the greatest team in the world.

  3. Great article. After the band left, my grandfather kinda chased them cos someone eas ill in one of the houses. He kept the tea chest and broom handle. He claimed he still had it when he told us this story in the 80's. The story only came out cos a cousin got a copy of Philip Normans "shout" for Christmas. Unfortunatly like Triggers broom my nan had changed the broom head and handle several times. John must have forgiven my granddad as he used to hitch back to Liverpool from Camel Lairds and got picked up by The Beatles several times when they'd played in Wales. The girl on the top of the ladder is my mum. She was 13 at the time.

  4. I used to live in No 1 Rosebery Street as a youngster. I have such memories of the road and going across Princes Drive to go to school in a morning. It was a different world. It's so sad that it's all gone and seems to be industrial and commercial now. I was there 1963-1970