Standing in the footprints of giants – touring The Beatles’ childhood homes in Liverpool
To say that the world is fond of The Beatles is a bit of an understatement. Growing up in America I had always dreamed of visiting Liverpool and seeing firsthand the multiple landmarks that dot the suburbs of the city proper. Last year, on November the 4th, I did exactly that. Although I assume that Beatles fans all over the UK may have visited Liverpool at one point or another, many probably do not realise that with the right amount of homework and preparation, you can actually tour the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. These modest homes serve witness to the writing of some of the most beloved songs ever created. These small homes provided the spark of creativity that forever changed pop culture forever.
Our journey began in London on the morning of the 4th at about 8 a.m. My wife and I were feeling a little under the weather as we had spent the night prior drinking at The Ten Bells Tavern, famous for being the pub Jack the Ripper selected his victims in the late 1800s. We were able to grab a bite to eat as we made our way to the train station. Our train to Liverpool left at 9:07 a.m. out of Euston Station and arrived at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station at 11:20 a.m. The tours of John and Paul’s house (which are not available every day of the week) are at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2:10 p.m. We selected the late tour so that we could kick it around Liverpool for a bit and explore the Royal Albert Docks. It was the right decision.
Upon arriving at Lime Street Station, I found my excitement overwhelming. London was a bit like New York City to me only with a better history. Liverpool seemed a lot more real, a lot grittier, which was great. As we made our way to the Royal Albert Docks, we stumbled upon a Liverpool FC store where I had planned on picking up a kit for me and my friend back home. Kits in tow I exited the store to find a group of transient scousers coming down off of a late-night bender, clearly in the grips of withdraw. A woman in the group started vomiting onto the ground next to the FC store entrance. It was fantastic, but that is not why you are here.
From the LFC store we made our way over to Mathew Street, the home to the original Cavern Club. The vibe of this street is indescribable, unfortunately, the original Cavern Club no longer exists, it was filled in during a construction project for the Merseyrail underground rail loop. A new Cavern Club was built a couple of doors down using about 15,000 bricks from the original Cavern Club. It gives you a feel for what the original used to be like, which feels like a stuffy bomb shelter. Rockabilly music and cheap pints were available while we were there, but it is not worth lingering. Instead, we hit up another spot on Mathew, The Grapes. This low key pub was frequented by the Beatles before they would play at the Cavern. There is a picture of the Beatles sitting at a bench that still exists. When we arrived there was a couple of Liverpudlians sitting at that very bench, who offered up the spot to us weary travellers which initiated a lengthy and welcomed conversation. From there it was on to the Royal Albert Dock.
The Royal Albert Dock is stunning. I couldn’t help think of two things relating to The Beatles Here. Firstly, this would have been the port that brought the lads the blues and early rock records that would influence their (and our) entire futures. Secondly, this would have been the port where John’s merchant marine father Alfred would came in and out of his life as a child. Most of the dock is pretty commercial, small shops set up to accommodate tourism, but the structures themselves are breathtaking. There is a Beatles museum called “The Beatles Story Exhibition” near the Dock as well that we skipped for the sake of seeing actual Liverpool (although it looks very well put together). Walking north from the dock you will come across the Royal Liver Building that most people likely think of when they picture Liverpool. Near this building are life-size statues of the lads walking around as teenagers.
Paul McCartney’s childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton, Liverpool was purchased by The National Trust in 1995. After the McCartney’s left the modest home in 1964, the Jones family moved in and lived there for 30 years. Once in the hands of The National Trust, they restored the home to the way it was when Paul lived there. It is amazing to sit in the parlour where ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ among a dozen other songs were written. There is a piano in the room, which is not original to the McCartney home, but was played by Paul on a trip through Liverpool with James Corden last summer.
In the back garden you can see the drain pipe Paul would scale to break into his house when he would stay out until quarter till three when his father would lock the door. Around the house, there are several photographs of the McCartney’s life inside the house shot by Paul’s brother. After a charming tour chock full of private and unpublished Beatles’ stories, you are given about 10 minutes to explore the property and are invited to play whatever you want on the piano in the parlour. My wife chose ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, Paul chose ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’.
From there it is a short drive over to John’s childhood home of Mendips at 251 Menlove Avenue. It was here that John lived with his Aunt Mimi until mid-1963 when he was 22-years-old. The property is beautiful and larger than the home once owned by the McCartney family. At Mendips, Aunt Mimi would take in student lodgers to make extra money and to fill the larger home. Mimi ran a tight ship and didn’t approve of John’s association with the scruffy poor kid he would bring to the home, George Harrison. The house has multiple photo albums containing photos of life inside of Mendips that visitors are encouraged to thumb through. After the tour, you are given about ten minutes to wander the property as you see fit.
Yoko Ono purchased Mendips in 2002 out of fear it would be exploited for profit by a would-be buyer. Ono had fond memories of the excitement John would express as the two would drive by the house whenever they were in Liverpool. John spoke of the home so fondly that Ono felt as though she knew it without ever going inside. Outside of the house is the spot where John’s mother Julia was hit by an off duty police officer, forever changing his relationship with women and people of authority. This is where the Beatles tour offered by the National Trust ends, but it doesn’t have to.
Upon leaving Mendips at dusk, satisfied Beatles fans began to load into the van transporting us back to downtown Liverpool. Deep down I had this burning feeling knowing that Strawberry Field was a short walk away and I would never see it. I asked the driver how I get back to Liverpool if I decided to stay. His response was, “You get on the fucking bus now and I take you to Liverpool, but you’re going to stay anyway aren’t you?”, and I did. As the van pulled away I was flushed with the feeling that we were stranded in a strange city that we knew nothing about, thousands of miles from home as it was beginning to become dark. A Clockwork Orangeand visions of ultraviolent muggings came to mind as we started making our way towards the Strawberry Field’s gate. In reality, the neighbourhood and the surrounding area is super posh and quiet. The gate is about a quarter of a mile away from Mendips. Looking into the site, I imagined John scaling the walls with his friends and playing hide and seek until the orphanage that once stood there contacted Mimi to keep John off of the property. She did so by telling him they would hang him if he returned, hence, “There’s nothing to get hung about”. Today there is a tourist centre that just opened which boasts, “…an interactive visitor exhibition, community café, shop, calm garden spaces for spiritual reflection and – at its heart – a Steps to Work programme for young adults with learning disabilities and other barriers to employment”.
If you continue down Beaconfield Road (which is where the gate is) and turn onto Church Road, you will eventually find St. Peter’s Church, it is about a mile from the gate. Across the street from the church is the spot when John and Paul met on July 6, 1957. Behind the church is a cemetery where you can find the grave of one Eleanor Rigby. If you continue down Church road you will come to an intersection where you will find The Elephant Pub and Bakehouse, the pub Lennon drank at the night of his mother’s funeral. You can catch a bus at this intersection that will take you down Penny Lane to your ultimate destination of downtown Liverpool. We arrived just in time for the Bonfire Night fireworks over the Royal Albert Dock, which was simply life-changing.
Before we caught our train back to London, there was one final Beatles spot I wanted to check out, The Philharmonic pub. When asked what the price of fame was, John Lennon’s response was, “Not being able to get a pint at The Phil”. After being bogged down by fame, Lennon craved a simpler life that he had once taken for granted. Following his footsteps and raising a pint to the man seemed like the least we could do. We filled our bellies with bangers and mash and crashed out on the train after a perfect day.
So if you are interested in this one of a kind musical pilgrimage, plan ahead. Contact The National Trust and reserve your tickets a couple of months in advance. Don’t be one of the sad people leaning over the gate to glimpse the exterior of each home, get in there and dig into the experience. I can honestly say the entire experience changed my life.