Strawberry Field, 1967
I live only a stone’s throw from Mendips, John Lennon’s home on Menlove Avenue. I moved into the area some 30 years ago and have watched with amazement how the number of people visiting has grown in recent years. In the late 1970s, I sold all of my Beatles’ memorabilia thinking their day had passed and it was time to cash in. A bad mistake! My fliers and programmes have shot up in value 20-fold and the passion for the Fab Four goes on and on. In the early days, it was just the occasional Japanese tourist wandering along, looking bemused at the unmarked semi. Now it is coach and taxi tours from early morning to late at night. The Beatles might have left Liverpool in their first flush of fame but the city has certainly benefited from them ever since.
Strawberry Field(s) is just behind Mendips and was John Lennon’s childhood playground. The top photograph was taken in 1967 when, perhaps, the group’s most haunting record was released. John would have been more than familiar with the austere Gothic pile, for it was a Salvation Army home from 1934. Every year, they would hold a garden party to which the young John would eagerly look forward to. In reality it was a grim place to bring up children and it was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by a more family friendly home (although only slightly in my personal experience). That too was eventually closed in 2005 and is now just a meeting place for the Salvation Army.
The nearest the public get is the splendid set of gates, splattered with graffiti by visitors from around the world. The view is largely of undergrowth and trees and is rather romantic. Had the original house survived, it would have added a rather melancholic background. However, I am not one to regret its passing. Like many other old children’s homes such as its once close neighbour Woolton Vale, it hid much sadness behind its doors.
The Beeches, c1930
Carnatic Hall, 1937
My post on Booker Avenue stimulated some interesting responses. I overlooked Liverpool-born JG Farrell, who won the Booker Prize for The Siege of Krishnapur. Farrell in his acceptance speech made a cutting reference to Booker’s history of exploitation, which did not go down well with the sponsor. Another connection I overlooked was that one of Liverpool’s most famous comedians in the first half of the century. Billy Matchett – the Mirthquake, lived at 165 Booker Avenue from the 1930s until his death in 1974. A forgotten performer today, Matchett was mentioned by Ken Dodd as one of the two men who had most influenced him (the other was Arthur Askey). The Mirthquake (what a great name) claimed to have performed on every music hall stage in Britain.
Leading on from the mention of the Booker family, I have selected three photographs of now-demolished mansions that once dominated the local landscape. Allerton is probably known to golfers because the colonnaded facade is still standing after a fire gutted what was the club house (of Allerton Golf Club) in 1944. Designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester in 1815 (whose two remaining buildings in Liverpool are the lantern tower of St Nicholas’s Church at Pierhead and the Lyceum at the foot of Bold Street), it was the property of Jacob Fletcher, son of a privateer and slave-trader.
The Beeches was a later building by that great architect Norman Shaw (designer of the White Star building, James Street). Built for Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate in 1883/4, it was demolished in 1939. The road, The Beeches, is off Allerton Road, facing Calderstones Park.
Finally, in Mossley Hill rather than Allerton was Carnatic Hall, built by Peter Baker in the late eighteenth century following his successful capture of an unarmed French ship, the Carnatic in 1778, which was carrying a valuable cargo including a box of diamonds. The Hall was demolished to make way for the University halls of residence in Elmswood Road.
It is hard to quantify the loss of such buildings to Liverpool’s heritage. In many cases, they were built on the proceeds of either slavery or privateering, two trades which stain the history of the city.
They were also part of a millionaires’ belt of exclusive properties that covered much of the outskirts of Liverpool. The 1881 Ordnance Survey gives some indication of their privileged living conditions compared to the hundreds of thousands squeezed into the inner city.
Liverpool in 1881 had more millionaires than any city outside of London and, like today, the disparity between rich and poor was an increasing source of concern. The removal of their large estates was inevitable in the face of suburban expansion, although a good chunk of public green space fortunately survives.
In the nineteenth century, Liverpool was second city to London, yet the wealth of its merchant classes is often ignored in local histories. I am as guilty as most of the others, finding the desperate poverty of most of the city’s population a more rewarding area of study. The huge disparity between the richest and poorest is today being played out against a background of bankers’ bonuses and is perceived largely as a London v the rest of the country. Back in 1890, Liverpool had a significant number of these ‘fat cats’ and the outer fringes of the city were dominated by the estates of merchants and landed gentry.
The Earle family was one such example. Having sold their extensive land of the Spekelands estate, which is where Earle Road is today (St Dunstan’s church was built by the family of the site of their family home), the Earle’s decamped to Allerton Towers (adjacent to Allerton golf course).
The Earle’s are probably best remembered for the statue of General Earle outside St George’s Hall. General Earle died in Sudan at the Battle of Dulka Island when storming the Height of Kerkebam in 1885. His brother, Sir Thomas Earle, lived at Allerton Towers until his death in 1900 and the family moved out to Sandiway, in Cheshire, soon after.
Allerton Towers was a rather dull mid-Victorian villa which was demolished in the 1930s. The orangerie and stable block have survived – although they are in a poor condition. The land is owned by the Council and is one of the city’s finest small parks.