In search of John Lennon in Liverpool

John Lennon Photo by Sipa Press/REX Shutterstock

John Lennon Photo by Sipa Press/REX Shutterstock - Credit: Sipa Press/REX Shutterstock

He would have been 75 this month but the city of Liverpool is still full of reminders of one of its most famous sons. Stephen Roberts takes a sentimental journey

‘Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.’ I could see cloud, but little sky as I approached Lime Street, the conclusion of my journey and the starting point of my search for John Lennon. I hoped for better weather, as I needed pictures.

Lennon was born 75 years ago on October 9, hence my pilgrimage. He also died 35 years ago in December, destined to remain forever young a la James Dean. Recent debate suggests some ‘concern’ that too much limelight has shone on John for this reason.

‘Imagine all the people. Living for today.’ This wasn’t difficult at Lime Street where I emerged into a throng. By 3pm I was ensconced in my hotel and ready to pursue my quest.

First was the Liverpool College of Art in Hope Street. A bright lad, who passed his 11+, yet failed all his ‘O’ Levels, Lennon ended up here, a disruptive student evicted before his final year. Sun was emerging as I surveyed the porticoed building, a onetime Mechanics’ Institution, where Dickens gave readings.

On the pavement is ‘A Case History’, piles of luggage, cast in concrete, ‘labels’ referring to local individuals and institutions, including Lennon, whose contribution is a customs label from when John and Yoko sent acorns (symbols of peace) to heads of state.

Mention of peace appropriately brought me to the Kings Dock, where the Peace Monument sits outside the Echo Arena. Globe, CND symbol, electric guitar and doves combine in honour of Lennon. ‘Peace on Earth. For the conservation of life.’

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Walking back towards the centre took me past the Albert Dock, where the Fab 4 Café and the Beatles Story attracts pilgrims. One of them, an oriental lady, stood right outside, asked for directions.

Mathew Street is the heart of Liverpool’s Beatles story and has been dubbed ‘Beatle Street’. The Cavern was their spiritual home, where they performed 274 times. The original club was demolished, but its replacement was constructed from original bricks to the same dimensions. Here is a Liverpool wall-of-fame and a statue of Lennon by Arthur Dooley, cool, casual and contemplative.

‘Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.’ I could, as it was now that my camera died, half-way through my assignment. A moment before I was feeling satisfied and contemplating supper. Now, I was spending money and wondering if John was looking down having a laugh.

The next morning I was back at Lime Street, journeying to South Parkway, the station for Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Another smile crosses John’s face I fancy.

At nearby Blomfield Road, on the corner, at No 1, Lennon used to visit his mother Julia, when he was aged around 11. This statement betrays a troubled childhood, a merchant seaman father, often away and a mother who could not always cope, resulting in John living with his aunt Mimi. Lennon was labelled a ‘rebel’ and a child others were advised to steer clear of. At Blomfield his mum played him Elvis records by all accounts.

A relatively short walk away is Forthlin Road. No 20 is owned by the National Trust, but was the McCartney family home. The two families did not always see eye to eye about their sons’ friendship, but the fledgling band was permitted to rehearse in the front room, where Lennon, now 18, wrote his first song.

A fair old hike brought me to Calderstones School, one time Quarry Bank High, which Lennon attended from 1957, having passed that 11+ (hence the ‘Quarrymen’, formed by the 15-year-old). He showed artistic talent, but was roundly condemned for larking about, disrupting others.

Arriving among shops in Allerton Road, I rested feet and took a coffee. Timing is everything and I set off again in drizzle, which became torrential. Faced with a decision at the busy A5058-A562 junction, I chose incorrectly and headed off the wrong way, getting soaked in the process. Cue more laughter from John no doubt.

I finally got my bearings and after guidance from a helpful Liverpudlian, pitched up at 251, Menlove Avenue, Mimi’s semi-detached residence, and Lennon’s childhood home (another National Trust property). He has a blue plaque here relating that this was home from 1945-1963. His mum often visited here.

Other sensible folk arrived in taxis; clearly the way knowing enthusiasts take this on. They glanced at this bedraggled figure; I smiled. I heard the guide mention a bike propped up here. It recalls Lennon being given one for passing that 11+, but having got his bike, appearing to give up the studies. Typical John I thought. When Lennon was 17 his mum was killed by a car while walking home from here. You couldn’t say his life was a bed of roses.

I retraced steps with increasingly sore feet, emerging into an area termed ‘Penny Lane’. Just off Church Road is terraced Newcastle Road. No 9 was an early home of Lennon’s, where his mum waited for cheques from her husband, which stopped when he went AWOL in February 1944. John would have been three. When Alfred finally turned up six months later, he found Julia had ‘moved on’. In the fallout there was serious danger John would end up in care until his aunt intervened.

The Penny Lane Café permitted me to fortify and dry off, so I was ready for my final leg. Also in Church Street is St Peter’s. It was at their garden fete Lennon first met McCartney, at the Quarrymen’s second gig. The rest, I guess, is history.

It was almost time to find a train. En route to the nearest station, Mossley Hill, I passed Dovedale Primary, in Herondale Road, which Lennon attended from 1952-1957. At Mossley Hill I rested feet again, which, by this time, bore little connection with the rest of my body. I awaited the first of four trains to take me homewards. ‘You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.’

This was true, for I had hardly ever been alone whilst ‘Searching for John Lennon’.

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