On Monday 13th August 2012 I went on a tour of the Beatles sites of Liverpool. We went on the ‘Fab Four Taxi Tour’ and were taken on the tour by tour guide Ian Doyle, who did a brillant job of showing us around the sites and he was very passionate about the Beatles.
In this report, you can read about the sites from the early years including Strawberry Field and Penny Lane.
Dovedale Infant School
Dovedale was the infant school for both John Lennon and George Harrison, although the boys did not know each other at the time.
John first enrolled at the school on 6th May 1946 and stayed for 6 years before leaving to join Quarry Bank Grammar School in 1952 after passing his 11-plus exam. John was a talented reader and writer and learned quickly. He wrote his first ‘book’ at Dovedale, “Sport, Speed and Illustrated” which included jokes, drawings and cartoon strips. John brought his wife Yoko Ono to the school when he was showing her around the sites of his youth and Yoko has since made a number of donations to the school to help improve the facilities.
George Harrison also went to Dovedale Infants School and after passing his 11-plus exam, moved to the Liverpool Institute, a school that was also attended by Paul McCartney. Another famous person to attend Dovedale was comedian Jimmy Tarbuck.
The Liverpool Institute was the high school for both Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The impressive building had been home to the school since 1837 and was the city’s most prestigious high school for boys.
Both the boys joined the school, Paul in 1953 and George a year later, after passing their 11-plus exams but both had very diferent attitudes to life at the Institute. George was rebellious and failed all his exams while Paul managed to earn 5 GCE O Levels and 1 A Level, although he also failed History, Geography, Scipture and German.
George and Paul stayed at the Liverpool Institute until 1960 when they left for Hamburg along with John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best in the Beatles.
After the school closed in 1985, Paul was involved in starting the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) along with Mark Featherstone-Witty and LIPA was officially opened by the Queen on 7th June 1996. Paul is still very actively involved with LIPA, attending the graduation ceremonies and even giving masterclasses to the students.
Liverpool College of Art
Directly next to the Liverpool Institute is the Liverpool College of Art. John Lennon was accepted as a student of the college in the Summer of 1957 and it is here where he met one of his closest friends, Stuart Sutcliffe, and his first wife Cynthia Powell. John had failed his GCE O Levels and only just scraped through the interview to get in to the college.
John had started wearing ‘Teddy Boy’ clothing and had earned himself a reputation as disruptive, causing him to get excluded from various classes. He failed his exam and despite help from Cynthia and Stuart, he was thrown out of the college before his final year.
On the other hand, Stuart Sutcliffe was a very talented artist and he often helped John improve as an artist. Despite this, Stuart was persuaded to buy a guitar by Paul McCartney and John Lennon to join the Beatles. Stuart eventually went to Hamburg with the group despite only competent musical skills. While in Germany, he got engaged to photography student Astrid Kirchehherr in 1960 and decided to leave the band in order to go to the Hamburg College of Art in 1961. However, he tragically died 10th April 1962, aged just 21, of a brain haemorrhage which is believed to have been caused after a blow to the head in a fight.
John and Stuart, joined by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, would often use the stage in the basement of the college to practice and rehearse early Beatles songs in the years before setting off to Hamburg.
Just around the corner from Ringo’s birthplace on Madryn Street is the Empress Pub. This pub was his local before he found fame with the Beatles, and his mother Elsie worked here as a barmaid for a time. Direcly next to the pub is Admiral Grove, where Ringo lived from aged 6 until Beatlemania.
Ringo never forget the Empress Pub and when he did his first ever solo album, Sentimental Journey, the pub was used on the front cover. Superimposed on to the windows of the pub are Ringo’s relatives and the album is a collection of covers from his childhood. Today there is a message above the entrance to the pub reminding visitors that this was the pub used on that cover.
Opened on 7th July 1936 as a Salvation Army Orphanage, Strawberry Field was the site of a large Victorian mansion but this was demolished and replaced by a smaller building in the early 70’s.
During his childhood, John would come here for the Summer Fete each year and he, along with his friends, would often play on the site with it being just a short distance from his home at Mendips. The site became world-famous in 1967 when John’s song “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released as a double A side single along with Paul McCartney’s song “Penny Lane”.
The children’s home was closed in 2005 and the famous gates have also now been removed and replaced by exact replicas in 2011 in order to prevent any further damage been done to them.
Penny Lane was named after 18th Century slave trade James Penny. It was an area passed through by the Beatles on many occasions in their early years and it was made famous in 1967 by Paul McCartney’s song of the same name. However, the song isn’t really about the road of Penny Lane, but mainly about the roundabout at the top of the road actually named Smithdown Place. Historically though, the area has been known as Penny Lane even before the song and so there is both a road and an area called Penny Lane.
All of the places mentioned in the song are still around; the barbershop, the bus shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the bank and the fire station. While many barbershops claim to be the one mentioned in the song, it is in fact the shop that was then called “Bioletti’s” and is now know as “Tony Slavin’s” that was the one that Paul was singing about. The bus shelter in the middle of the roundabout was bought and turned in to a cafe called the “The Sgt. Pepper Bistro” but it has since closed down and is now derelict.
Meanwhile, there is a dispute over which bank it is that is being mentioned in the song as there were in fact 3 bank’s on Penny Lane at the time the song was written, although only one is still open as a bank today. It is thought that the bank in the song is the Martins Bank, now the Penny Lane surgery. Finally, the fire station in the song is just along Allerton Road.
Also on this area of Penny Lane is St Barnabas Church, where Paul was once a choirboy. On the 29th May 1982, his brother Mike got married at this church with Paul being the best man.
Woolton Picture House
Woolton Picture House, a single screen cinema in Woolton, is a place that John Lennon would often visit with his friends during his childhood to watch films, including those starring Elvis Presley.
John, of course, went on to make films of his own with the Beatles, “A Hard Days Night”, “Help” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and in 2009 to cinema became the set for the film “Nowhere Boy”, a biopic about John’s childhood and adolescence. The Woolton Picture House is also the oldest cinema in Liverpool and there is a plaque outside recognising this achievement.
The Quarrymen, including John Lennon, played one of their first gigs on Roseberry Street on 22nd June 1957. The band played twice on this day, in the afternoon on the back of a coal lorry and again in the evening in a street party.
The celebrations werefor the 750th anniversary of Liverpool receiving a royal charter from King John. The event had been arranged by Marjorie Roberts who lived at 84 Roseberry Street and her son Charles had stencilled the Quarrymen on the bands drum kit.
John’s mother Julia and his two half sisters were in the audience for the show. In the evening a group of local youths had threatened to beat up the members of the group and at the end of the set, the Quarrymen had to flee in to Mrs Roberts’ house before the youths could get to them. Eventually the police had to come and escort the boys to the bus stop to avoid any violence.
The houses on Roseberry Street have now been demolished, but the road, street sign and bus stop are still there.
St Peter’s Church, Woolton
“That was the day, the day I met Paul, that it started moving” – John Lennon
On Saturday 6th July 1957, John Lennon met Paul McCartney at the St Peter’s Church garden fete. It was a meeting that started one of the most famous and successful musical partnerships of all time.
John’s group, the Quarrymen, performed on a stage in a field at the back of the church and the group arrived to the fete on the back of a lorry. For Woolton, a small district of Liverpool, the garden fete was one of the highlights of the year and as well as the Quarrymen’s performance there were also various stalls with games, crafts and other fun activites.
The group were due to perform once again in the evening at the Grand Dance in the church hall. While they were setting up their equipment, Ivan Vaughan, a mutual friend of Lennon and McCartney, introduced the band to a 15 year old Paul McCartney. Paul played a couple of songs for John, including Be-Bop-A-Lula and Twenty Flight Rock and he also showed him how to tune a guitar, as John had his tuned like a Banjo. The two boys were impressed with each other and John eventually invited Paul to join the group, realising his obvious natural talent. After mulling over the decision, Paul agreed to join and on the 18th October 1957, Paul made his debut with the band at the New Clubmoor Hall in Liverpool where first night nerves caused him to mess up his guitar solo!
The rest, as they say, is history.
In the cemetry of St Peter’s Church there are also a few Beatle related graves. John’s Uncle George Toogood Smith is buried in the cemetry as well as two graves that are believed to have been the inspiration for the song “Eleanor Rigby” from the album Revolver. Firstly, there is the grave of John McKenzie, or Father McKenzie as he is called in the song and secondly the grave of Eleanor Rigby herself. While there is no way that Paul could have known either of them, with their deaths before he was even born, it is very possible that both were seen by Paul McCartney whether conciouscly or subconsciously. Former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley is also buried in this cemetry.
Ye Cracke Pub
The Ye Cracke was a popular pub amongst students at the local Liverpool College of Art. John and Stuart Sutcliffe drank here often, with their favoured drink apparently being Black Velvets. The pub was important to John as it is both where he came to drown his sorrows after hearing of the death of his mother Julia and the place he brought Cynthia after meeting her at a college dance. One of the first photos of John and Cynthia together was taken next to this pub.
Rise to Fame
The Beatles often hung out at the Jacaranda Club during their student days, playing their guitars and rehearsing songs. The club was owned by Allan Williams, who became the first manager of the group, and the Beatles played around a dozen gigs at the club although they didn’t receive any payment for these shows.
The Jacaranda Club has recently closed down after going in to liquidation.
Blue Angel Club
The Blue Angel was the setting for two important auditions for the Beatles. The first was on 10th May 1960 when the Silver Beetles, as they were known at the time, auditioned to be the backing band for Billy Fury. The group failed the audition, with Stuart Sutcliffe’s less than adequete bass playing. However, Fury’s manager Larry Parnes was still impressed with the group and hired them for a tour of Scotland with fellow Liverpudlian Johnny Gentle.
The second audition was held on 12th August 1960, with drummer Pete Best auditioning to join the group at the Blue Angel. Pete passed the audition and four days later he set off for Hamburg with the rest of the group.
197 Queen’s Drive
This was Brian Epstein’s childhood home. Brian was the manager of the Beatles from 24th January 1962, after seeing the group play at the Cavern club, right up until his tragic death on 27th August 1967 aged just 32. During the early days of his management, John Lennon would often visit Brian to talk about the band’s future.
Albert Marrion’s Studio
This studio in Penny Lane was owned by Albert Marrion, who took the photos on the Beatles’ first ever payed-for photo session. Brian Epstein, asked Marrion, who had been the photographer at Epstein’s brother Clive’s wedding, to take the photos of the band. The photos were actually taken at Marrion’s other studio in Wallesey, not the one on Penny Lane.
The session took part on the morning of Sunday 17th December, 1961 and Marrion told of how “John Lennon would stick his tongue out and make a wisecrack. John and Paul joked and laughed throughout most of the session. George Harrison was quiet and Pete Best didn’t speak almost at all.”
17 photos from the session still exist, although many were thrown away due to one or more of the band memebrs ruining them by messing around. Marrion later said “No doubt, those negatives should have been kept, looking back.”
One of the images taken on this session was used for the front cover of Mersey Beat magazine in January 1962.
Registry Office, 64 Mount Pleasant
John Lennon married Cynthia Powell at this registry office on 23rd August 1962 after being together for 5 years. Cynthia had discovered that she was pregnant in mid-1962 and after telling John, he had decided that they must get married. Brian Epstein was the best man and also in attendance were Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Cynthia’s half brother and his wife. Aunt Mimi refused to go as she disapproved of the marriage.
The ceremony itself was farcical, with a pneumatic drill drowning out anything that was said and when the groom was asked to step forward, George Harrison did so instead.
Thee was no romantic honeymoon evening either, as on the evening of the wedding, John Lennon played a gig with the Beatles at the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester!
This registry office was also the place that John’s parents, Alfred and Julia, had got married at in 3rd December 1938, 11 years after the couple had first met.
36 Falkner Street
This ground floor apartment was John and Cynthia’s honeymoon flat. Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, owned the ground floor apartment and allowed the couple to use it during the first few months of their marriage and through Cynthia’s pregnancy in 1962 and ’63, although it is believed that Epstein did this to keep their marriage a secret and keep Cynthia out of the limelight.
John also wrote the song “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” in this apartment, in an attempt to reassure his wife that he still loved her even though he had to keep their marriage a secret from the public.
Childwell Five Ways
This was the site of a publicity photo of Brian Epstein and the groups he managed in 1963, The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas.
Liverpool Town Hall
Four days after the world premiere of the Beatles’ first film, “A Hard Day’s Night”, the group came to Liverpool on 10th July 1964 for the northern premiere. They arrived at Speke Airport, welcomed by around 3,000 fans, and did a couple of interviews before being driven to the Liverpool Town Hall. Incredibly, an estimated 200,000 had gathered to see the group, roughly a quarter of the city’s population.
The group had a meal at the town hall and received the keys to the city before being driven to the nearby Odeon Cinema for the northern premiere of the film. At the end of the evening they were driven back to the airport and flew back to London, where the band now lived.
A big thanks to Ian Doyle from Fab Four Taxi Tours for taking us around the Beatles sites of Liverpool. The tour was excellent and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with any interest in the Beatles.
Ryan, this is well written and highly informative. Very well done indeed.
Did the same, but probably shorter, tour nearly two years ago now and I’ve really enjoyed reliving our great time through yours! Your passion and excitement came through your informative and fabulous story telling. Loved it. Good job!
its was very interesting and entertaining.