Book your tour online now and enjoy the unique experience of a visit to the childhood homes of John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. This is your only opportunity to see inside the places where the Beatles met, composed and rehearsed many of their earliest songs.Music Hello John. Hello Paul. As we've already discussed on many an occasions, if you're from Liverpool, you're either a born fan, become a fan, or have fandom thrust upon you and I'm in the far latter group. Very far. Rather like football, the local music scene is just the sort of thing I rejected from a young age, or at least the rock and roll end, committed as I've been for all these years in not being stereotyped. The football was purposeful. The Beatles was not. It's just that having discovered girly pop and film soundtracks, guitar bands fell down the priority list. Availability was an issue too. When in possession of my own disposable income at just the moment when I was presumably supposed to be listening to the music of head bobbers and foot tappers, I'd be in Penny Lane Records buying the new Wilson Phillips album.
"Imagine walking through the back door into the kitchen where John's Aunt Mimi would have cooked him his tea, or standing in the spot where Lennon and McCartney composed 'I Saw Her Standing There'.
"Join our custodians on a fascinating trip down memory lane, and take a moment to reflect on these incredible individuals. Visiting the Beatles' childhood homes in Liverpool is an absolute must for fans of any ages. The tours provide a real insight into Lennon and McCartney's humble beginnings.
Which is why it's taken all these years to finally visit the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney. It's also true that because they lived in my patch, the curiosity value is rather less than it might be at a medieval castle or Tudor home. My parents and I all went to the same school as Paul and I'd get the bus home from there opposite where George used to live. Perhaps the people of Stratford have a similar attitude to Shakespeare's birthplace. It's just sort of their and although it's not in their living memory in the same way, the whole notion of spending too much time their beyond school visits entirely ludicrous. But I understand the impulse to see where genius flourished. I wonder if they have the same feeling I did, that in the end it's just a house and that it's the experience a person has there, impossible to recreate in a heritage sense which made the person.
The National Trust tour begins at Jury's Inn which is the giant hotel next door to the Echo Arena and not as I initially thought on Castle Street necessitating a panicky walk up the Dock Road. You're picked up by the above minibus outside and the whole tour lasts about two and half hours. The member price is £10.50, nine-fifty plus booking fee (£24.00 to non-members). This is doubtless to cover the cost of transportation which in and of itself was quite the surprise. I'd expected some kind of generic vehicle but here it is advertising the tour in the Trust font should anyone notice it passing by. There were around fifteen people in the group, the capacity of the bus, including some Canadians, Mexicans and one bloke whose house actually backs on to Mendips. His house has an identical interior. He still has the same bath.
When Yoko bought Mendips in 2002 and donated it to the Trust, it was on the understanding that it would not be used as a Beatles tourist attraction per se, but to give visitors an idea of what it was like inside John's home in the 1950s. As the present custodian explained, a kind of pre-Beatles tour. So although there is some description of how John became a musician and met Paul, it's all through the prism of Aunt Mimi's pride in the house and keeping the house together through Lennon's teenage years. As portrayed in the film Nowhere Boy, she had a love/hate relationship with his musical interest, unable to ban him from pursuing his guitar playing but desperate for him to get an education. Luckily for the two of them, even though he failed his O-Levels a grade below requirement across the board, the School of Art saw that he had some talent which gave him a springboard.
She was well-to-do. Groups enter through the back door into the kitchen because Mimi kept the front door for special visitors, holy men and the like, mostly to keep the carpet from becoming worn. There's an odd moment in the tour when he implies that the way that she with her Woolton house looked down on Paul and George from the estate was a thing of the fifties when my school experience, where I was the only child from Speke at school full of people from the area around Mather Avenue was not dissimilar. In order to keep the house, she eventually turned it into a hostel for students, converting the upstairs rooms into bedrooms, the back dining room into a study. But it worked and she stayed there, despite some hardship, right up until John became famous and bought her a new place for her to live in Surrey.
Most of the tour is conducted in the kitchen and living room, with the custodian explaining all of this history, with the group then given ten or fifteen minutes the wander through the rest. It's more than enough. As with the Hardman House, much of my visit both here and at Forthlin Road, was spent noticing which items myself or a family member owned as a child and in some cases still do. I'd entirely forgotten about the wooden clothes maiden which dangled from the ceiling at my Grans house which features in both kitchens. A wooden board with grooves which used to have a planter on in our back garden I now realise was originally a draining board. The Canadians and Mexicans will have found this much more fascinating thanks to cultural disparities. You can imagine the blank faces when the guide tried to explain the concept of the eleven-plus to them.
The Beatles history end of the tour is held over to 20 Forthlin Road where Paul flourished. The house is filled with photographs donated by his brother Michael which shows them and their family growing up in the property, even obliquely indicating historical inaccuracies in relation to decor and wallpaper some of which was unique enough to be impossible to recreate now. It's in this house that Lennon & McCartney really forged their friendship, where they practiced the majority of their music and where they wrote some of the songs on their first album including Please, Please, Me. Although Paul hasn't visited since 1964, he's recorded a message welcoming visitors which is rather lovely. It feels more like a home than Mendips with visitors even allowed to sit on the furniture. Until recently a custodian actually lived in the house. He was always out whenever Paul happened by.
But what I wanted more on both tours was the sense, much clearer at other properties, of talking about them in terms of what they were architecturally within and out, how they fitted into that piece of social history. Although there's some talk of why post-war council estates exist and the class system, there's little about the design features of the property, why they should differ. But I acknowledge that's more to do with my personal taste and that the bulk of visitors will be more interested in the Beatles connection and so that's what's being emphasised in the limited time allotted. Whereas in other Trust properties it is the architectural features which are of most importance, although both of these houses are now Grade II* listed, it's The Beatles connection which makes them remarkable. Perhaps it's my own fault for not asking.
Nevertheless I'm pleased to have finally taken the trip. As we left the house, a group on the Magical Mystery Tour were receiving their version of the history which must have included the same explanation I received back in 2004 when I originally took that tour (coincidentally the same week I visited Carnforth Station - see Sunday!) as to why we'd been allowed inside but they were stuck outside in the cold. The irony that this fairweather fan had bought an opportunity which they were still waiting for wasn't lost on me. Perhaps I should take that tour again to see what's changed. Not much probably. As I write I'm listening to their music on Spotify and just as in 2004, I'm listening to it with new ears. Please Please Me sounds as fresh now as it must have done in 1963. It hasn't dated. Like Shakespeare, it's timeless.