Over 50 years after they first took the charts by storm, The Beatles are still as strong a draw as ever.
Millions of tourists flock to Liverpool each year, eager to take in the birthplace of the Fab Four and see where it all began, and there is no better way to immerse yourself in the history of pop’s greatest band than with a tour of the childhood homes of John Lennon (Mendips on Menlove Avenue) and Paul McCartney (20 Forthlin Road in Allerton), operated by the National Trust.
Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow, bought Mendips in 2002 when the previous owner died. She then donated the property to the National Trust, and asked them to “restore the house to what it once was, and tell John’s story”. 20 Forthlin Road has been within the ownership of the National Trust for 16 years.
Each home has been meticulously restored to the homes that Lennon and McCartney would recognise from their younger years, using photographs and eyewitness accounts to restore original fixtures and fittings, and source identical items of furniture.
Mendips belonged to John’s aunt and uncle, Mimi and George. He moved in with them as a child after the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. The McCartneys (Mary and Jim, Paul and his brother Mike) moved to 20 Forthlin Road from Speke in 1955.
As visitors are guided around the homes, locked in a 1960s timewarp, they are regaled with stories of Lennon and McCartney’s childhoods, told passionately by husband and wife team Colin and Sylvia Hall, who are custodians of Mendips and Forthlin Road respectively.
There are amusing and heart-warming tales to be told inside these homes. Aunt Mimi would insist that all visitors enter the house through the back door to “save the carpets”, and George would encourage John’s reading by showing him copies of the Liverpool ECHO. At Forthlin Road, father Jim would plant lavender in the front garden, and use the plants in the ashtrays to negate the smell of cigarette smoke.
The foundations of what would go on to be The Beatles are also laid bare; John wrote Please Please Me in his Mendips bedroom, and he wrote I Saw Her Standing There with Paul at Forthlin Road. When he was 14, Paul sat at the family piano and composed the tune for what would eventually be When I’m 64.
But there were also stories of heartbreak. John’s mother Julia was killed in a road accident in 1958, while Paul’s beloved mother Mary died of breast cancer in 1956, aged just 47. Paul says that it was this unique bond with John that brought them closer together in their early years.
However, overall both John and Paul would say that their childhood homes were happy places, and there are many snapshots of those carefree times in the modern day Mendips and Forthlin Road homes.
5 things to look out for at Mendips:
- The blue plaque – You’ll see the famous plaque on the front of Mendips, but you won’t find one at 20 Forthlin Road. Why? Mendips custodian Colin Hall explains: “English Heritage only award blue plaques when the subject reaches 100 years old, or has been dead for 20 years. So we’re grateful that Paul’s house doesn’t have one yet, and we wish John’s house didn’t.”
- The green bicycle – Leaning on the wall at the side of the house is an emerald green Raleigh Lenton Mk 11. This is a replica of the bike John was bought by his Uncle George as a reward for passing his 11+ exams.
- The front porch – Visitors to Mendips are encouraged to stand in the porch and belt out their favourite Beatles hit as, according to Paul McCartney, it has a “great bathroom acoustic”.
- The creaky floorboards – As you walk into John’s old bedroom, you’ll notice a noisy floorboard across the doorway. John would have to take great care when sneaking home from his late night gigs at the Cavern; one step on the creaky floorboard and he was at the mercy of Aunt Mimi. When Yoko Ono donated Mendips to the National Trust, she asked that the creaky floorboards were left just as they were.
- The dining room guestbook – Be sure to sign the guestbook at the end of your tour; Colin says that the books are regularly sent to Yoko Ono for her to read.
5 things to look out for at 20 Forthlin Road:
- The piano – Visitors are invited to play a tune on the piano during the tour, and some famous faces have taken up this offer, including Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry and Judy Collins.
- The egg trays – There’s a stack of empty egg trays on the top of one of the kitchen cabinets. Jim used these for noise insulation, which was surely needed with Paul, John and George constantly rehearsing in the dining room.
- The back drainpipe – After Paul’s mum died, his father would insist that the two boys were home on time for dinner; if not, they were locked out. When this inevitably happened, Paul and Mike would run round the back of the house, climb up the drainpipe, and through the bathroom window, which they always left on the latch for such an eventuality.
- The replica guitar – In the small front bedroom, which Paul moved into after his mother died, is a replica of his first guitar, which he still uses today during his gigs. The Zenith Model 17 acoustic guitar was bought on eBay, and the sender, rather fittingly, was from Hamburg, where the Beatles first toured in the early 60s.
- The commemorative plaque – 20 Forthlin Road may not be eligible for an English Heritage plaque, but when the house was turned over to the National Trust, Paul asked for just one thing to be included; something to remember his parents by. The simple wooden plaque above the front door reads: “In loving memory of Mum and Dad, Mary and Jim”.
Originally posted 2016-02-10 12:26:45.