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National trust tour of John Lennon's and Paul Mc Cartney's houses, Liverpool
We booked our tour on line through the National trust (NT) to go from Speke House just outside Liverpool city. We paid NT fees of £7.90 each as we were NT members and by going from Speke House we parked in their car park and looked around Speke House prior to the tour. If you are not a NT member then you still get free carparking and a chance to visit Speke House as part of the fee you pay for the two Beatles' houses tour which makes it quite good value. Speke House, a Tudor Manor House, is just next to the entrance to John Lennon Airport so it is very convenient as you do not even have to venture into the city of Liverpool. Just in case you were wondering, this is THE ONLY way you get to see the inside of these two historic houses as they are owned by the NT. There are four tours each day, two in the morning from the Jury's Inn Hotel in the city and two in the afternoon from Speke House at 2.30 and 4.30.
We were collected from Speke House in a mini bus which held 14 people at 2.30 and were taken first of all to Mendips which was John Lennon's home for 18 years. He lived there with his aunt Mimi and Uncle George as his mother was felt he would have a more stable home there. His father had jumped ship in New York and nothing was heard of him for nearly two years. His mother, Julia not knowing what had happened had found another man and then John's father returned. Because of this upset and uncertainty it was felt that Mimi and George would provide a more stable home for John at the young age of four.
Mendips is a very normal middle class suburban house and the only thing that makes it different is the National Trust sign outside and a blue plaque on the wall of the house at the front telling you that this was indeed the house where John Lennon grew up. We enter through the back door into kitchen. The house has been faithfully restored by the NT at the expense of Yoko Ono and it really was a step back in time. The kitchen had black and white small lino tiles on the floor, a simple sink and draining board looking out onto the driveway. There were a couple of shelves with vintage tins and packets on display. I was fascinated by the crockery which was a dull green and identical to the set my parents had when I was a child. I felt quite nostalgic and wondered if they had really had that same set or if they had just put in a set of that similar vintage- it would be nice to think that I had eaten off crockery the same as John Lennon did when he was growing up! The cooker was also of the same vintage and the pans on there were old enamel rounded ones and probably aluminium too.
From the kitchen you walk on into the family room. This was the heart of the house with the radio and old fashioned TV. The NT had also put one of John's passports in a large display book, his school photo and certificates like his swimming certificate and an old school report. From this room you move to the hallway with the under stair cupboard where handbags and cameras were stored while you were visiting the house.
Across the hall was the sitting room where John, Paul and later, George were allowed to practise their music on Sundays and a number of famous Beatle's tunes were composed in this room at the front of the house. This room had a couple of built in book shelves, an old writing desk where Mimi would answer fan mail in the early Beatle's days and Aunt mini's china cabinet with her collection. Apparently as Aunt Mimi was less than thrilled with the band's practice they moved to Paul's house where his father was a keen musician so even though the house was smaller they were made to feel more welcome.
Back through the hall you passed the front porch where Paul and John would sometimes play as they liked the acoustics in this small space near the front door. Turning you head upstairs to the bedrooms. There are three bedrooms. John's was the smallest in the front of the house and had a few posters on the wall, a single bed and a wardrobe and table. On the bed were a couple of Richmal Crompton's 'William' books and on the table was a copy of Lewis Carol's Jabberwocky, one of John's favourite books. Aunt Mimi's room was a good size with an old fashioned double bed, set of drawers and a small wardrobe. The third room was locked as this was the room of the custodian who lives in the house and acts as a tour guide too. During John's growing up this room housed three student lodgers. Later Aunt Mimi also rented out her room to four students and she slept in a fold away bed downstairs!!
Back downstairs we made our way to the dining room which was used as a study by the student lodgers. In this room there were a photo album of John and his family, memoirs of the lodgers who had stayed at Mendips and some photos on the wall of John and other memorabilia of John's life at Mendips. It was fascinating to read some of these accounts and by all accounts aunt Mimi was a strict but fair lady with all tenants as well as John. I bet John never thought that when he was grown up and after his death that his school reports would be on show for total strangers to look at!
It was a really interesting place to visit and I was amazed that someone actually lives in the house at all times as it is today. It must be really difficult to live in a place that has to look immaculate and as if it has been preserved back in the late 50s. He couldn't have his washing on the line outside or any modern food or cooking utensils etc visible at all. So although it would be an interesting job it could be quite limiting, no time when you could have a few mates back for a drink. It would even be difficult to cook anything as there was nowhere to store food and so much of the place was full old things on display.
From Mendips we were collected by the same mini bus driver as he dropped off the second afternoon tour. We were driven about 5 minutes away to the more 'working class' area and the council house where Paul and his brother Michael were brought up at 20 Forthlin Road . Sadly Paul's mother died quite early from breast cancer so Paul's and Michael's father was left to bring the boys up by himself in this house.
This is a much smaller house than Mendips and it in is a narrow suburban street which is still a residential area. At the time the McCartneys lived there it was a newish council estate so the houses are terraced and there was not really room for the cars that everyone owns today along the road. Apparently it is not really normally permitted to have a tourist attraction in a residential area so it is only by the goodwill of the neighbours and the fact that the tour numbers are limited that the NT can have these houses as places that people can visit.
Paul's house is a normal looking terraced house with a neat front garden and the only thing to distinguish this is the NT sign in the hedge on the front. There is no blue plaque here as you have to be dead to merit a blue plaque and Paul said, as yet he is not dead so no blue plaque thank you. You enter this house through the front door and into the small hallway. You have to hand in any bags and cameras and switch off mobile phones which are all locked in the cupboard under the stairs.
We were given the choice of being able to wander round the house by ourselves or have a guided tour. We opted for the guided tour which was conducted by the custodian or live in carer of this historical dwelling, a Beatles' fan called John. He is very proud to be living in Paul's old house and says 'I actually get paid to live here.' But it must be a little strange at times in my view despite the perks that famous people come knocking at his door.
We stared in the front room which has been faithfully restored to its time when Paul and Michael were young and growing up there. This included finding wall paper of the time and even putting the wall paper up so that it went round the corner and then changed to the other wall paper - they ran out of the more expensive Chinese style and finished it off with a plainer paper but didn't join them at the corner, just where they had run out! What was nice in Paul's old house, were all the large black &white photos of the family taken by Michael that were placed in the house in the places where they had originally been taken. They added a lovely personal touch to the place and this was one of the reasons that absolutely NO photos were permitted inside either of the houses as the family owned the copyright to these original photos which were on loan to the NT.
In the front room was a three piece suite, not the original but very similar and authentically of the time, an old TV and a piano, again not the original as Paul still owns that one. The photos on the wall, and curtains of the time including an old curtain rail as well as a tin of sweets and another old tin which were on display all made the room look like you really were stepping back 50 to 60 years.
From the front room we moved into the back or dining room which now had a big display cabinet of Beatles memorabilia in it. There was another smaller china cabinet with more Beatles' collectables in it. On the wall were some more photos as well as the council house rental agreement with Paul's parents; signatures on it. One of the photos was of Paul sitting with his guitar on a deckchair in the garden and this was apparently used on one of his CD covers.
From this room we moved into the kitchen which had been faithfully restored to the original including the Belfast sink which had been removed and used for plants in the garden before being returned to its rightful place along with wooden draining boards from a house nearby ( found in the attic). There was a twin tub washing machine and not a lot else in there. The old pantry now housed a microwave and fridge but this was behind a locked door and we were not supposed to know this.
Outside there were an outside loo and coal shed, the deckchair and three towels on the washing line just like in Michael's famous photo of Paul playing his guitar on the deck chair. We were able to see the drain pipe which the boys climbed up if they were locked out and from this they could get into the bathroom window; we saw evidence of this in another b&w photo of Paul climbing this drainpipe.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms, the one at the back was a little larger and was originally Paul's but Michael wanted to set up a dark room and needed the wardrobe so Paul and he swapped rooms. Once again on the walls were more photos, including one of their Aunt Milly and Uncle Albert asleep on the sofa, both of these people found fame in Beatles' songs at a later date. That has set you all of thinking which songs they featured in ... answers on a postcard please.
Paul's room is much smaller and at the front of the house and is just about big enough for the small single bed and not much else. The third bedroom is locked and is where the concierge and guide lives and this room would have been their father and mother's room. The bathroom and toilet are also locked in this house as they have not been fully restored and are used by the live in guide and custodian, John.
Throughout the house restoration has been authentically done even down to using old carpet strips joined together in the living room. Upstairs the floor had lino with narrow strips of carpet like stair carpe on the walking paths - it looked quite odd but I suppose the carpet was a bit warmer to walk on than lino. I remember my Gran's house had strips of carpet sewn together and only lino in two of the bedrooms, in fact these houses reminded me of staying with my Gran as she kept all her original furniture and didn't modernise her house at all so it was stuck in a time warp too.
The custodian, who lived in the house in the third, locked room, was excellent and had a genuine love of the Beatles and a great sense of humour too. He told us interesting anecdotes and stories which he has heard from various people connected with the Mc Cartneys who have come to see the house, give advice on the restoration or just talk about the family. Michael has been back a number of times as has Paul but our guide said he has missed him on three occasions as he has been out. He has returned to be told by his neighbour that Paul Mc Cartney has been knocking on his door! Another day a very smart car and important looking people arrived followed by Prince William so the custodian rushed around tidying up thinking he might come in but sadly he didn't, he only took photos outside.
The only way you can get to visit the inside of these two famous houses is through this National trust tour. There are other Beatles' tours in Liverpool that visit lots of famous Beatles sites but they only stop outside the houses and they are pretty pricey when I looked them up on the internet. We decided we would drive around and find the other places of interest ourselves and do this tour to see inside the only two houses that you can go in to as the others are privately owned still.
I would thoroughly recommend this tour as you really get a feel for the places where these two incredibly famous and influential musicians grew up. The two live in custodians really knew their stuff and told us interesting little anecdotes to make the place come to life for visitors. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain on the day we went so the time normally spent outside was a bit rushed. The NT driver of the bus did give us all plastic ponchos which kept the worse of the wet off. My husband has carefully folded these up ready to take with him when he goes to the Twenty20 cricket in Manchester in a couple of weeks' time!
The bus driver played Beatles tunes throughout the drive but we were not made to sing along and he was very quiet as he drove us between the sites. He did chat to my husband who was sitting in the front seat and told him that in the summer months you are lucky to be able to book a ticket as they are very busy and of course there are only four tours a day and each one has a maximum of 14 guests.
Thank you for reading and hope this has been interesting and useful to some of you. This review may be posted on other site under my same user name