Sunday 9 October 2016

Home From Home

1 Blomfield Road
L19 4UY

...the house where John Lennon was reunited with his mother Julia

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. (John Lennon, 1980)**

Instead of living with his mother, he went to live with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. Then Uncle George died and John began to think that there was a jinx on the male side: father left home, uncle dead. He loved his Uncle George; he was always quite open about loving people. All those losses would really have got to him. His mother lived in what was called 'sin' - just living with a guy by whom she had a couple of daughters, John's half sisters, Julia and Jackie; very nice people. John really loved his mother, idol-worshipped her. I loved her, too. She was great: gorgeous and funny, with beautiful long red hair. She played the ukulele, and to this day, if I ever meet grown-ups who play ukuleles, I love them. She was killed, so John's life was tragedy after tragedy. (Paul McCartney, Anthology)

1 Blomfield Road when it was put up for auction in the Spring of 2015.

One of the highlights of the 2015 John Lennon 75th Birthday tour was a visit to the home his mother Julia shared with her partner John "Bobby" Dykins and their two daughters Julia and Jackie. We were welcomed inside No.1 by the new owner Jackie Holmes and she kindly gave me a tour of the property.

Julia Baird (née Dykins) has written two books about life inside Blomfield Road so we thankfully have lots of detail to accompany the photos on this post.

John Lennon's last surviving grandparent, his maternal grandfather George 'Pop' Stanley died age 74 from broncopneumonia on 2 March 1949 at Sefton General hospital. George had been living in a rented terrace house at 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree with his daughter Julia Lennon, her partner John 'Bobby' Dykins and their daughter Julia. Pop had been the tenant on the house and on his passing the landlord decided to put the property up for sale. He gave Julia and Bobby first option to buy the house but they were unable to afford the mortgage. They suddenly needed somewhere else to live.

Around the same time they discovered Julia was expecting another child and so, pretending they were married they put themselves on the waiting list for a Liverpool Corporation council house. With one young child and another on the way they were made a priority case and it was not long before they were able to move into a property on the Springwood estate where Allerton meets Garston, just under two miles from Menlove Avenue where Julia's son John was living with her sister Mimi Smith.

The junction of Woolton Road and Mather Avenue, close to where the 'Dykins' moved. The train going over the bridge is passing through what is today Liverpool South Parkway station. Note the tram on the right and the complete lack of cars.

With Alf Lennon missing and in any event unwilling to give Julia a divorce she was forced to live 'in sin' but as far as their new neighbours were aware, when Bobby and Julia moved to Springwood in August 1949 they were Mr and Mrs Dykins, and this is how Julia would sign documents from then on.

Blomfield Road, like the rest of the estate was lined with mature elm trees so thick that one could barely see the houses. Sadly when Dutch Elm disease struck Britain in 1967 the trees all had to be felled and were never replaced, contrary to promises made at the time. As a consequence the street looks bare in comparison to how in looked in the 1950s.

Number 1 was a pleasant 3 bedroom semi detached corner council house with a sunny aspect. Privet hedges surrounded the gardens on three sides of the house where the children could play safely and a gate in the back garden hedge led to an allottment at the rear.

When the Dykins first moved in there was still an air-raid shelter at the side of the kitchen window which made a great den for the girls to play in as they were growing up.

The photo above shows the back garden as it looks in 2015. An allotment was originally behind the back fence.

The Hall and Stairs

Julia Baird: Inside there was a kitchen with a separate pantry and two living rooms. Upstairs there was a bathroom, separate toilet and three bedrooms.

The small room at the back looking out over the allotments had a single bed. This was Jackie's room (above). The allotments have long disappeared under additional housing which have changed the view she would have had from her window at the back of the house. When John Lennon began to stay over this is the room he would sleep in, while Jackie moved into her sister's room and shared her double bed.

The picture below shows the rear of the house. Jackie's bedroom window is top left, toilet window centre and bathroom top right. At bottom left is the kitchen window and the small pantry window is visible to the right of the kitchen door.

Julia Baird: My first concrete memory of him is hearing him tip-toeing into Jackie's smaller bedroom on Friday nights, long after we two were supposed to be fast asleep. In the morning we couldn't wait  to rush in and jump all over him. 

On waking the girls would run into John's room and jump on his bed, pulling the covers off and demanding he play with them which usually resulted in John tickling them silly while he regaled them with tales of monsters and mermaids.

Daughter Julia's room (left)

Julia and Bobby naturally had the big bedroom at the front of the house and daughter Julia the room next to theirs, both rooms large enough to fit double beds. Julia Baird would later write that she suspected the beds, and much of the furniture, came from the Newcastle Road house.

Two views of Julia and Bobby's bedroom

Julia Baird has a clear memory of watching her mother stand in front of the mirror, brushing her thick mop of auburn hair, and getting ready for a rare night out with Bobby, invariably dressed in her best, and only, evening gown, a fluffy pink satin creation trimmed with gold and silver stars with pink layered netting over the full skirt. "She looked like Cinderella about to go to the ball".

I took this photo during my tour of the upstairs of the house with the present owner Jackie Holmes.

This is a cupboard in the main bedroom, the floor of which is lined with a piece of carpet. Jackie revealed that hidden underneath the carpet is some vintage lino.

There is a possibility that it was originally from the kitchen or bathroom floor. It certainly looks old enough to have been in the house during the 1950s. Perhaps Julia Baird will one day be able to confirm whether she has any recollection of it.

My Son John: Julia Lennon and a ticklish John during the summer of 1949 when she was pregnant with her fourth child Jacqueline. The picture was taken at "Nanny's" house in Rockferry, Wirral at around the time the Dykins moved to Springwood.

Another picture taken in Rockferry. Julia Lennon with her new baby daughter Jackie in early 1950.

On 26 October 1949 Julia gave birth prematurely to Jacqueline 'Jackie' Dykins. She was nearly two months in hospital initially weighing only two and a half pounds. Julia remembers the day her sister was brought home to Blomfield for the first time and placed in a pram in the kitchen. I could hardly see her. She was still very very tiny. In fact I had bigger Teddy Bears! I inspected her head with my hands, looking at her with my fingers. I was helped to kiss her. I am sure I approved. Happy memories.

As the summer 1949 photograph shows, John did still see his mother from time to time but he had no idea where she was living. Mimi, it seems, had no intention of telling him, reasoning it would make everybody upset.

Nobody seems to be able to determine the exact date that John found out where Julia lived. It may have been as early as Easter 1950 or as late as 1953 when his sixteen year old cousin Stanley returned from Edinburgh to visit his family in Liverpool. He went to see Mimi and told her he was going to visit Julia. He asked her if he could take John to see his mother. Mimi forbid him. Stanley chose to ignore her. Under the pretence of taking John around the corner to visit their Aunt Harriet in the Dairy Cottage they instead went straight to Springwood.

It must have been a shock for John to realise how close she was living to him. Rekindling his relationship with his mother he began to visit frequently, without telling Mimi.

John: I saw my mother infrequently and I often thought about her. Distances don't mean much when you're small. I didn’t realise for a long time she lived only a couple of miles away.

Julia gave me my first coloured shirt. 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,  otherwise known as Robert Dykins or Bobby Dykins - 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.

John as a waiter in Magical Mystery Tour (1967): Bobby Dykins inspired?

When I got older, big enough to go on the bus on my own, I saw her all the time. She became a sort of young aunt or big sister to me. When I started having the usual teenage rows with Mimi, I used to go live with my mother for the weekend.

At the age of 17 John would stay over more and more, sometimes for weeks at a time, usually when he had rowed with Mimi.  

Author Mark Lewisohn observes in Tune In that whilst Mimi provided the motherly stability John professed not to need, but did, Julia provided the fun and trumped his loathing of convention with her own. As Lennon admitted, Julia was more like an Aunt or a big sister.

Pete Shotton: The part Julia played in John’s life was more that of an indulgent young aunt than a responsible parent.

They would listen to records together on Bobby's wind-up gramophone, mainly by Elvis Presley- their shared love of him led Julia to name the pet cat Elvis which was fine until 'he' gave birth to a litter of kittens!

The Kitchen

"Good morning Madam, can I help you?"

Julia loved playing imaginative games with her kids. She would turn the kitchen into a Co-Op*  so they could play shop. She would take on the role of the nice lady shopkeeper whilst John, when he was there, would put on a fake paper moustache and play the part of the cashier. Her attention to detail went someway beyond the norm. Julia Baird recalls that the real Co-op shops had an overhead wire with a shuttle which carried the change between the counter and the cash till. Her mother improvised using their indoor clothes-line creating a rope-pulley system on which she attached a small tin cup. Taking paper 'money' from her daughters and their friends in payment of their 'purchases' Julia would place it in the tin cup and send it across the kitchen to John. He would send back the girls' 'change' in the cup only for Julia to admonish him in a mock posh voice: "Madam says you have shortchanged her". John, playing along, to an extent, would reply in a similarly posh voice: "Just you tell Madam from me, she can't count!"

Julia Baird would later recall that John was at the house so often they didn't regard them as anything “special”. He was simply her brother who didn't lived with them all the time. He would often come to the house at lunchtime, skipping school dinners, and sometimes bringing a friend or two with him. If he was there when they returned home after school he'd help them with their homework, especially if it required a drawing or two.

Unlike the regimented routine over at Mendips there was no such devotion to tidyness, domestic protocol and set mealtimes although Julia's niece Liela (Harriet's daughter) a frequent visitor to Blomfield would later recall that 'there was always a stew or casserole on the stove" and if anybody turned up unexpectedly when they were about to eat an extra place at the table would be set for them.

Julia was not one for chores, doing the housework only out of necessity and when there was nothing else to occupy her. She refused the offer of a washing machine in the house, favouring the local chinese laundry on Mather Avenue. Bobby however was fond of the latest gadgets. He had one of, if not the, first car in Blomfield Road, an Armstrong Siddley and when their first telephone was installed he rushed down the road to the nearest public phonebox and rang Julia just to make sure theirs worked. They were also one of the first houses to have a television, no doubt another excuse for John to pay them a visit.

On 9 October 1954, the year in which John's visits became less secretive and more frequent he celebrated his 14th birthday with a special tea in the kitchen at Blomfield, Bobby presenting him with a homemade lemon and orange peel cake.

As John and Julia became closer she taught him banjo and piano at the house. Becoming more proficient on the banjo he would play along to a record, Julia slowing the speed until John could keep up with the tune.

During a later interview John would recall that the first tune I ever learned to play was "That'll be the Day". My mother taught it me on the banjo sitting there with endless patience until i managed to work out all the chords. She was a perfectionist. She made me go through it over and over again until I had it right. I remember her slowing down the record so that I could scribble out the words.

However, in another interview he would claim that ("Ain’t That A Shame" was) the first song I was able to accompany myself on taught me by my mother. I learnt it on banjo. My mother taught me quite a bit, my first lessons really. Most of our stuff then in the early days was just twelve bar boogies, nothing fancy.

Rather than the Fats Domino original it was probably Pat Boone's hit version of "Ain’t That A Shame" that Julia knew from the radio. She taught John how to play it on her banjo, a mother of pearl backed instrument the seafaring  ‘Pop’ Stanley had brought back from one of his voyages and had himself used to tutor Julia.

Other songs followed including "Don’t Blame Me", "Little White Lies", "Ramona" and "Girl of My Dreams". They also shared a fondness for music hall songs, especially George Formby.

Eric Griffiths (Quarry Man): We used to skive off school, buy ten Woodbines and a bag of chips then go to Julia's house. She always let us in.

When John and Eric first acquired guitars they would take them to Julia's for tuition. They would have to tune the first four strings to Julia's banjo so the top two strings of their guitars were left loose. When they later performed with the Quarry Men John and Eric played their guitars using banjo chords.

Paul McCartney: She taught him the banjo and that's quite something for a mother to do. My family were musical as well but there certainly weren't any women around who could play the banjo! She was always teaching us new tunes. I remember two in particular "Ramona" and, oddly enough "Wedding Bells are Breaking up that old Gang of Mine".

From Summer 1957 Paul became a frequent visitor to Blomfield with John. He got on extremely well with Julia, as all of John’s mates did.

Pete Shotton (The Quarry Men): We all loved (Julia) because she took nothing seriously, except having a good time. I remember her once walking up the road with us, wearing an old pair of spectacles with no lenses in. When we ran into someone we knew, she'd casually slip her finger through the frame and rub her eye, while we all fell about in the bushes cracking our sides.

Paul McCartney: I always think of Julia as being an exceptionally beautiful woman. She was very, very nice to us all. John just adored her not simply because she was his mum because she was such a high spirited lady. She was very lively.

Julia Baird believes her mother had a soft spot for Paul and heard her tell John You must bring Paul home for something to eat. Poor lad, losing his mother.

Bathroom rehearsals

When John formed the Quarry Men Julia let them rehearse in the house and often took part herself.

Julia Baird would later write that she and her sister Jackie heard and saw it all. Our house became a refuge for (The Quarry Men). Most of the other parents simply weren't prepared to put up with the noise but at Blomfield they were always welcome.

She vividly remembers the Quarry Men, with Julia in their midst, squeezing with into what she describes as one of the smallest bathrooms in Britain trying to play their instruments whilst perched on the side of the bath or propped against the wash basin, so cramped it was difficult to close the door. But they would stay in there,rehearsing for hours because of the great acoustics produced by the tiled walls and if they happened to arrive while Jackie and Julia were having a bath the girls would be unceremoniously removed from the water, bedtime put on hold until the boys had finished.

Baird would later discuss these sessions with Paul McCartney who recalled: We were really jammed in, couldn't move. Don't forget it wasnt only us in there but all our instruments as well, also a pig nose amplifier that we carried around. +

Rod Davis (Banjo player in the band): When we would go to practise at Julia's she would say something like, 'I don't like those horrible guitars, let me have a go of your banjo' and I have a clear recollection of her standing with her back to a fireplace playing my banjo.

Don't believe everything you read. In describing these bathroom sessions some Beatles' books will suggest that one of the Quarry Men would be perched on top of the toilet seat during rehearsals. It was during my visit to Blomfield that Rod Davis helpfully pointed out that this would have been difficult because the toilet was in a separate room to the bath. It still is. In Rod's memory most of their rehearsals took place in the living room.

Quarry Men back in the living room at Blomfield 2015. Rod Davis (second from left) and Colin Hanton (fourth from left)

July 15 1958

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday 15 July 1958 Julia decided to visit her sister Mimi at "Mendips". John was at home when she arrived but later went out around Woolton with some of his mates before making his way over to Blomfield. Around 9.45 Julia said goodbye to Mimi and set off for the bus stop on the opposite side of Menlove Avenue. Tragically she never made it. As she stepped through the hedge in the central reservation and onto the northbound side of the dual carriageway she was hit by a reportedly speeding car, driven by an allegedly drunk off duty policeman and killed instantly.

John would later recall what happened next in detail: An hour or so after it happened a copper came to the door to let us know about the accident. It was awful, like some dreadful film where they ask you if you're the victim's son and all that. Well, I was, and I can tell you it was absolutely the worst night of my entire life.

I lost her twice. Once when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again at seventeen when she actually, physically died. That was very traumatic for me. That was really a hard time for me. 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. (John Lennon, 1980)

Spare a thought for Julia's daughters, John's half sisters Julia and Jackie who were not even told that their mother had died. The children in the Stanley family were always protected from any truth which the adults thought unpalatable. Instead they were packed off to Scotland where they stayed with their Aunt, Julia's sister 'Mater' for six weeks. They missed the funeral and while they were away the girls were made wards of court. Despite being their biological father the Court decided Bobby had no rights to the girls as he was not married to their mother. Devastated by the loss of Julia the loss of his two daughters must have broken him.

He also lost his home. The inquest following Julia's death alerted the Corporation to the fact that their tenants were not married. Bobby was told to move out. He did so and found a house at 97 School Lane a short walk through Woolton Woods and over Camp Hill from the centre of the village.

When Julia and Jackie eventually returned to Liverpool they found that they would no longer be living with their father at Blomfield but in the Dairy Cottage with Harriet, Julia's youngest sister. Whenever they asked where their mother was they were told she was very ill. 

Nearly two months had passed by the time they were finally told the awful truth.



+ Amplifier in bathroom. Paul’s small green bakelite Elpico AC-55 which he bought from Currys. The first of the QM to go electric.
* Co-Op.  The Co-Operative Store Supermarket.

** Harriet was actually the youngest of the five Stanley sisters. Julia may have appeared lively but John's opinion that his mother couldn't cope with life was probably formed without the knowledge that she had given birth to another baby, Victoria, in 1945 the result of a wartime extra-marital affair. The Stanley family forced her to give the child up for adoption leaving Julia with untold psychological damage over the loss. It's not clear whether John ever found out he had another sister. See my post about "Elmswood".

Colour stills of life inside Blomfield Road taken from the movie "Nowhere Boy" (2009) starring Aaron Johnson as John and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia. The film is based on Julia Baird's book 'Imagine This, Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon' which also provided much of the detail for this post.

Two doors away, at 5 Blomfield Road was the home of Arthur Pendleton. Around the age of fourteen John acquired a mouth organ. Julia Baird recalls that although her mother couldn't play it herself she  knew her neighbour could and sent John to Arthur to learn the basics.

John and Yoko last visited Blomfield in 1970 in their white Rolls Royce and were shown around number 1 by Georgie Wood, the new tenant. Wood would be name-checked on the Beatles "Let It Be" album.

The Auction 2015

Blomfield Road was sold at an auction held in Liverpool Town Hall on 31 March 2015.

Described by the Auctioneer Adam Partridge as the 'ideal' house for those interested in memorabilia the three bedroomed property had been given a guide price of £100,000 but reached £155,000 in a bidding process lasting just under a minute.

The winning bidder Jackie Holmes had previously bought George Harrison's house at 25 Upton Green for £156,000 in 2014. In 2016 she added Ringo's house in Admiral Grove to her collection!

Thanks to Jackie for letting me look around.