Seeing the Beatles’ Liverpool
From Penny Lane to Strawberry Field, tourists can see sites of the city’s favorite sons.
The Orange County Register
LIVERPOOL, England — It’s the same barber shop where John Lennon got haircuts as a kid, the place immortalized in the Beatles song “Penny Lane.”
But instead of “a barber showing photographs” and “a banker sitting waiting for a trim,” on this afternoon proprietor Adele Allan is snipping away on Jillian Keig.
“I didn’t know why people were making a fuss, actually,” Keig says of the early days of Beatlemania, now a half-century gone. “I remember the first record they did. ... I thought they should pack it in.”
Thankfully, they didn’t. Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harri son and Ringo Starr landed in America 50 years ago with their historic appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964. The British Invasion had begun.
Though they left Liverpool behind, the city never let go of its favorite sons. Reminders of the Beatles are everywhere. Beatles tourism brings about $665 million to the local economy annually, says Joe Keggin of Marketing Liverpool. Here’s some of what the tourists come to see.
—Penny Lane: The street was a haunt for Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.
Lennon and McCartney took what they saw on a daily basis and incorporated the people and events into the song “Penny Lane.” The “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” was once a bus terminal and a public toilet; it was later Sgt. Peppers, a pub. The spot is being renovated, albeit slowly, into a bistro. Allan’s shop (Tony Slavin Penny Lane Barber Shop, pennylanebarbershop.com) is decorated with Beatles photos. The banker who “never wears a mac in the pouring rain” worked just up the street (his bank is now a clinic). St. Barnabas Church, where McCartney was in the choir, is across the street.
“(Penny Lane) is where George, Paul and sometimes John would meet to go off to the city center to their schools,” says David Bentley, a delightful Liverpool cabbie who doubles as a delightful tour guide (daytrippertaxitour.com). “This is where Paul would stand and start observing people. He’d see the banker struggling to get his key in the door. They’d laugh at him. There’d be girls from the Salvation Army selling trinkets from their trays. And they’d be saying the same thing every day, talking about religion. ‘They’d feel as if they’re in a play,’ reciting the same lines.”
—Liverpool Maternity Hospital (Oxford Street): Its days as a maternity hospital ended long ago, but the 1920s-era building still draws people as the site of Lennon’s birth. His mother, Julia Lennon, was admitted there the night of Oct. 8, 1940, the evening of a heavy German air raid, and her son was born the next day. Julia, worried the bombing would resume, kept John under her sturdy iron bed for five days.
—Liverpool College of Art (Hope Street): Lennon enrolled here in 1957 and had a checkered academic career. It’s also where he met Cynthia Powell, his future wife, and Stuart Sutcliffe, who became a close friend and was the Beatles’ first bassist. The building is now owned by the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts.
—Liverpool Institute High School for Boys (Mount Street): Next door to the College of Art, the institute was where Harrison and McCartney went to school. It closed in 1985 but was reborn in 1996 as the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, started by McCartney and Mark Featherstone-Witty (McCartney contributed a reported $5 million).
—Starr’s first home (9 Madryn St.): Now abandoned and recently saved from demolition along with similar homes, the tiny house was where Ringo Starr lived from birth in 1940 to 1943.
—Starr’s second home (10 Admiral Grove): He considers this his childhood home, where he lived from 1943 until Beatlemania intervened.
How bad was it? “Sometimes Ringo would be in the house, and he couldn’t use the (outside) toilet,” Bentley says. “Girls would be out there, standing on the wall (at the back of the property), looking for Ringo. So (his mother) would go out and chase the girls off the wall so he could ... use the toilet.”
—The Empress (93 High Park St.): Around the corner from Starr’s home, this pub is where he and his mother would enjoy a pint. It was used for the cover of his first album, “Sentimental Journey.”
—The Palm House (Sefton Park): This spot was a favorite of Harrison, who would visit the Victorian glass conservatory with his family as a child. But it fell into disrepair and was closed in the 1980s. On a visit to Liverpool, Harrison saw the state of the building and joined efforts to restore it. With his help — reportedly $1.6 million given anonymously — the building was saved and reopened in 2001.
—Dovetail Towers (60 Penny Lane): The former St. Barnabas Church Hall is where the Quarrymen, precursor to the Beatles, occasionally played.
—Julia’s death (Menlove Avenue): Lennon’s mother was struck and killed on July 15, 1958, near a bus stop on Menlove Avenue (the street has been reconfigured). The car was driven by Eric Clague, an off-duty policeman. He became a mail carrier, with the McCartneys on his route.
—Mendips (251 Menlove Avenue): Lennon was raised in this home from age 5 by his mother’s sister, Mimi. The bedroom above the front door was Lennon’s and was where he wrote “Please Please Me.” In 2002 Yoko Ono bought it and donated it to the National Trust. It was reopened in 2003.
—McCartney’s home (20 Forthlin Road): One of several of McCartney’s childhood homes; he and Lennon wrote more than 100 songs within its walls. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1995.
—Harrison’s home (12 Arnold Grove): The simple and well-kept two-bedroom home was Harrison’s first house. According to Bentley, he used the street name, Arnold Grove, as an alias when checking in at hotels.
—Strawberry Field (Beaconsfield Road): The gate and wall stand outside what used to be a Salvation Army orphanage near Lennon’s home. In 1979 Lennon helped fund an annex at the building, and in 1984, four years after his death, Ono brought their son, Sean, to visit the site.
—St. Peter’s Church (Church Road): The last stop on our tour is where the Beatles story really began. On July 6, 1957, Lennon met McCartney for the first time at a church picnic where the Quarrymen played. And in the churchyard is the grave of Eleanor Rigby. McCartney for years said the title character in his song was fictional but in recent years has backtracked on that.