George Harrison's Wavertree (and John Lennon's too) ... Liverpool 15
The Picton Clock Roundabout and High Street, Wavertree
looking towards Liverpool City Centre
In addition to Mark
Lewisohn's 'Tune In' Beatles Biography, another book I've devoured
recently is 'The Beatles Liverpool Landscapes' by local author David
Lewis which was published in 2010.
David's book is
presented as a series of walking guides around the areas of the city most closely
related with the Beatles - Woolton, Speke, Allerton, the Dingle and so on.
Acting as a pocket tour guide he takes the reader on a journey across
Liverpool, visiting both the well known places and those much more obscure, and
explores the history of where the Beatles came from and the areas they knew
before the group began, indeed often 'the places that made the families
that made The Beatles' to quote the book blurb. It's not about the music,
it's not even a book about early concert venues because that's all been done
already. David wanted his book to focus on geography and landscape, not songs.
For me the book is the
perfect crossover - Liverpool local history and the Beatles' place in it. As I
wrote in my introduction to this blog, my intention was to look at both the
sites familiar to those undertaking guided Beatles tours around the city and
those unsung or forgotten places that featured in their pre-group lives, the
places that they would have known as children and young men, the same places my
parents would have known and everybody else of their generation growing up in
Liverpool after the Second World War. The places they'd remember all their
lives but were probably never asked to talk about until writing their
biographies in later years (George and Paul) or when reminiscing during the
huge Beatles Anthology project.
The book is generously
illustrated throughout with many recent photographs taken by the author
alongside older images sourced from Liverpool Records Office that give a nice
historical perspective. There are hundreds of Beatles books on the market but
by writing about the group's origins within the historical context of their
hometown, David has managed to approach the Beatles from a refreshingly new
angle. I urge you to pick this up if you haven't already. It's certainly
With 'The Beatles
Liverpool Landscapes' as my guide I decided to revisit David’s walks in
Relatives and Absolutes, his chapter on the Wavertree area, and take some
photographs along the way. Whilst this part of the city is most closely
associated with George Harrison there are also links to both sides of John
Lennon's family here. I've added some background history of the area to provide
some context to the Beatles related sites.
There are plenty of pubs
and bars in Wavertree Village should you be in need of refreshments. The High
Street is famous for it's down one side and back up the other pub crawl, as
explained in this poem I saw published in the Liverpool Echo:
"About the Area
where I was Born"
by Harold Citrine, aged
So, as the poem says,
let's start this off by the Coffee House pub on Church Road North, facing the
former Abbey Cinema and close to the Picton Clock roundabout.
Church Road North
The Coffee House,
probably Wavertree's oldest surviving pub, is thought to be around 200 years
old and said to have been built on a site previously occupied by the ancient
chapel of Waretree. Apparently in its day the pub was a very popular venue for
day excursions from Liverpool and no doubt some of the more enthusiastic
drinkers ended up in the local lock-up, of which we will see more later.
By 1900 it was owned by
Liverpool brewer Robert Cain. The interior was the work of architect Walter
Thomas, famous as the interior designer of other Cain's pubs in the city centre
such as the Philharmonic and the Vines.
John Lennon's mother
Julia worked here in mid 1945 shortly after the birth of her second child,
Victoria (see my post Bleak House about the Elmswood maternity home). John was
left in the care of his Grandad 'Pop' Stanley at Newcastle Road, a
short walk down Church Road from the pub. We'll visit Newcastle Road later on this walk.
Julia met John
'Bobby' Albert Dykins here around December 1945.
Dykins was 28, three
years younger than Julia, and described as a good-looking, well-dressed man,
born and bred in the Wavertree area who worked as a door to door salesman ,
demonstrating a gadget for invisible fabric repair.
He enjoyed luxuries, and
had access through the black market to rationed goods like alcohol, chocolate,
silk stockings and cigarettes, which was what initially attracted her.
Predictably, the Stanleys, predominantly Pop and the matriarchal Mimi, disapproved of Julia's new man. They called him a 'Spiv',
because of his pencil-thin moustache, margarine-coated hair, and trilby hat and there was a general consensus that Dykins was of a lower
class than they were, an opinion they seemed to have about any man Julia happened
to like. In any case, Julia was still legally married to Alf Lennon and had
just given birth to another man's daughter who was immediately put up adoption on Pop's insistence. Still grieving over the loss of her child Julia needed some happiness
in her life and Dykins was there to provide it when her own family seemed unable or unwilling to.
A 1950s photo of Church Road North with a coach from Home James approaching Picton Clock with the Lamb public house on right. The building covered by advertising hoardings still stands on the corner today, now displaying a more sombre message. The bricked up windows are evidence of its original use as a dairy.
Walking from the Coffee
House towards Picton Clock you pass the 17th century White Cottage on the left.
while if you look to your right you'll find a lovely art deco building,
formerly the Abbey Cinema.
Church Road North
The Abbey cinema was
designed by Alfred Ernest Shennan a respected Liverpool architect who later
became Alderman of the city.
His portfolio of local
cinemas included the Forum (ABC) on Lime St, The Plaza in Allerton,The Mayfair
in Aigburth and The Curzon in Old Swan. The Abbey is generally considered to be
Construction started in
mid-1938 and took 200 men around 9 months to complete.
One of three cinemas
opened in Liverpool just prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Abbey's
first screening was the "Joy of Living" starring Irene Dunne and
Douglas Fairbanks Jr on 4 August 1939.
Facilities included the
serving of coffee throughout the auditorium as well as chocolate, ice cream and
cigarettes, enough for the local press to announce "The perfect cinema at
In October 1943, only
four years after opening, ownership changed hands from "The Regal cinema
Company", the Abbey being sold to local cinema pioneer John F. Wood’s
Bedford Cinema chain. A progressive company always at the forefront with the
latest cinema technology brought patrons the pleasure of film presentations in
3D following the installation of a new wide screen in 1954, and stereoscopic
sound in 1960. In 1964, the most important year in the Abbey's history, it was
closed for conversion into Liverpool's only Cinerama Theatre, costing around
(L-R) Pete Shotton, Bill Turner, John
Lennon and Len Garry
Taking a tram or bus in from Woolton to the Penny Lane terminus would bring John Lennon and his mates
within walking distance of the Abbey Cinema.
In 1965, when John
Lennon started composing 'In My Life', his original lyrics contained the verse:
Lane is one I'm missing, up Church Road to the clock tower, in the circle of
the Abbey, I have seen some happy hours.
Those happy hours did
not necessarily refer to the latest cinematic delights.....
It was John's best mate
Pete Shotton who alerted him to the teenage pleasures that could be had with
obliging females in the darkened upper circle of the Abbey.
A week before John's
first brief encounter Pete had bumped into their mutual friend Bill Turner
outside the Abbey and agreed to join him for the matinee performance. Pete
recounts what happened next: This will be a real eye opener for you,
Pete" Bill smirked. It quickly became apparent that the dirty rascal was
hardly referring to the featured film. "Now what we do is this. We go up
to the balcony where there aren't too many people, and pick out two good
lookers sitting together. When the lights go down and the picture starts, we
sit one on each side of them. Then we just put our arms round their shoulders,
and see how much they let us get away with....
The "circle of the
Abbey" (top left)
According to Pete the
entire procedure worked like a charm.
On his return home he
found John, Ivan Vaughan and Nigel Walley playing on "the tip"* and
excitedly told them of his fly opening experience. Greeted with a disbelieving
chorus of "b@ll@cks!" (or words to that effect) Pete eventually managed
to arouse interest in the trio of doubting John Thomases and persuaded them to
accompany him to the Abbey the following Saturday. Bill Turner was there again, accompanied by
another mate, Len Garry. Working in pairs the six of them spread themselves out
across the balcony to try their hand with some amenable young ladies.
For the most
part this was their first physical contact with ladies of the opposite sex and they
would later consider these anonymous fumblings to be their initiation into manhood. Unsurprisingly they rarely missed a Saturday matinee performance in the months to come.
However, with age came
more regular experience and as Pete would later conclude for all the cheap thrills John and I had accumulated in the Abbey
Cinema, we came to appreciate that such encounters did, after all, leave
something to be desired in the way of intimacy, comfort and convenience.
(John Lennon In My Life
- Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner, 1983)
George Harrison would
also retain a great fondness for his local cinema. Living in such close
proximity it's no surprise that the Abbey was often the destination for a family outing. He visited on Saturday mornings and even when the Harrisons moved house in 1950 George would still return here to watch the latest movies (Speke
having no cinemas).
George would later
recall an occasion when he visited the Abbey with John Lennon to watch ‘Rock Around The Clock’(sic). During the film
they became aware of all the female attention Bill Haley and his Comets
attracted and discussing this as they left the cinema George joked That’s the
type of job I want to have. Unless it was a later re-run, George was
mis-remembering the film because Blackboard
Jungle (the actual title of the film featuring Rock Around The Clock) was released in Liverpool February 1955,
nearly three years before he met John.
However, consider this
quite well known interview clip with John Lennon: I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until rock n roll hit
me. Then when rock n roll hit me that changed my whole life. You know, you went
to see those movies with Elvis or somebody in it, when we were still in
Liverpool. And you'd see everybody waiting to see him. And I'd be waiting
there, too. And they'd all scream when he came on the screen. So I thought, "That's a good job."
Perhaps it was an Elvis
film that George remembered watching with John at the Abbey.
When I was growing up the
Abbey was the nearest decent cinema to where I lived in Childwall and I went
there with my parents quite often. I remember watching the first Superman movie
starring Christopher Reeve in 1978 and a re-run of Disney's Jungle Book to name but two.
Sadly, as was the case with most of the great picture houses, audience attendances would decline over the next 20 years. The much loved Abbey Cinema would screen its final performance, the disaster movie The Towering Inferno on 4 August 1979.
Thankfully this fine art
deco building is still standing. Since closure it has seen use as various
supermarkets (the first a branch of Lennons!) and bingo halls. (Below) The Abbey and the Coffee House
Picton Clock Tower and former shelter in the middle of the roundabout
Church Road in Wavertree is unique in Liverpool in that each end is book-ended by a roundabout which was mentioned in a Beatles' lyric. At the junction with Allerton Road is Smithdown Place where you will find the bus shelter immortalised in the song 'Penny Lane'. At the beginning of the High Street, standing on the traffic
Island facing the Abbey and also mentioned in the initial draft of 'In My Life' is the Picton
Clock tower. Described in the Pevsner Guide as 'an eclectic renaissance curiosity in brick and stone' it was
presented to the people of Wavertree by the architect and keen local historian Sir James Picton in
1884, who designed it as a memorial to his wife Sarah. He chose the site, at
the centre of the old village, so that the clock could be seen by as many
people as possible.
An inscription on the
tower reads: Time wasted is existence;
used is life which sounds like something George Harrison would say.
Be careful if you plan
on taking some photographs of the clock up close. David Lewis beautifully
describes the Picton Clock roundabout as
inaccessible as a real island, guarded by dangerous and unpredictable tides
When you reach the
roundabout, you'll notice the imposing Georgian-style Lamb public house in front of
111 High Street
The Lamb, with its oak panelled interior was recorded as long ago as 1754. Now a Solicitors office,
the present Lamb dates from the 1850s and was built on the site of a smaller pub of the
In the early nineteenth century, prior to the construction of the town hall, meetings in Wavertree were advertised as taking place at 'the Sign of the Lamb'. The brick archway on the left led to stables and was used for horse-drawn omnibuses plying between
Wavertree and the centre of Liverpool at a fare of six pence (beyond the reach
of ordinary folk). From the 1930s it became the premises of Home James travel and coach hire which operated daily tours to popular destinations. The Harrisons would have used them for a family day out and the memories of such trips would remain with George. Asked many years later about the inspiration for the Beatles' film 'Magical Mystery Tour' he would say it was basically a charabanc trip, which people used to go on from Liverpool to see the Blackpool lights, they'd get loads of crates of beer and an accordian player and all get pissed**
A 1950S shot of the High
Street, showing the Lamb on the right.
Turn left along the High
Street and immediately on your left is a real gem. The shop at No. 102 has Liverpool's
only surviving Georgian bow-fronted window and looks like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. For this reason the building is Grade II listed, along with
the properties on either side. It has been the home of craftsmen for most of
its days. An 1846 map shows it as a sadler's shop and around the end of the
19th century a cycle manufacturer and then a boot repairer took over. This then is where the Harrisons came to have their shoes mended. By 1980
the shop was occupied by Wavertree's last surviving traditional cobbler and the
window was on the verge of disintegration. Fortunately it was saved and
expertly restored by the wood-turner who then began to sell his wares from the
High Street as a Cobblers in 1918 (above) and Wood-turners in 2015 (below)
As noted, Wavertree High Street was famous in
Liverpool for its pubs and many still remain as they were in George’s time with
a few newer bars in premises that had a different function in the 1940’s. George would later recall these pubs were
frequented by his uncles with bald heads; they'd say they got them by using
them to knock pub doors open. In between were cobblers, butchers, newsagents,
the police station and a chandelry shop ran by Ambrose Danher, the uncle of
Mary Mohin, Paul McCartney's mum. Strongly opposed to her father's second wife,
Mary left home at the age of 13 and went to live with her maternal uncle above
the shop in the early 1920s.
108 High Street (1915)
In the last years of the 1920s George Harrison’s mother Louise French
(then 18) was working as a shop assistant, possibly at a green grocers,
somewhere on the High Street. My research indicates that this may have been a
fruit and vegetable shop belonging to Thomas Topping which once stood to the
left of the Lamb until it was demolished in 1970. Home James' yard extended
across the rear of Tom's shop and behind that was Arnold Grove. Louise only had
a short walk down Frederick Grove to the High Street from her home in the
adjacent Albert Grove.
It was during her time in the shop that she met Harold Harrison. It's said that while he was on shore leave
from the White Star Line he encountered Louise on the High Street just as she
was passing a note of her address to another seaman. Reportedly he grabbed the
note and on a whim asked if he could write to her. “Send us a postcard” she
said. Letters on White Star stationary began arriving at her parents home in
Albert Grove and by the 1930s they were 'courting'.
George Harrison's Wavertree (map 1)(click to enlarge)
89 High Street
The Town Hall was built
in 1872, originally to house the Wavertree Local Board of Health by local architect John Elliot Reeve who lived in nearby Sandown Lane. It served a number of functions over the years but by 1979 it was under threat of demolition. It received Grade II listed status and has since operated as a pub, and more recently a restaurant.
George Harrison was born ten minutes into 25 February 1943, the fourth child for Harold and Louise. The following day Harold left Arnold Grove and made the short trip down Frederick Grove, turning right along the High Street to the Town Hall where he registered his new son's birth. It's said that there had been no prior discussion about what to call the baby, Harry literally deciding en route. When he arrived home Louise asked him why he'd chosen George. 'If it's good enough for the King it should be good enough for him' Harold replied.
The motto on the town
hall - sub umbra floresco - meansI flourish in the shade and unwittingly foreshadows George's musical development in The Beatles, in his case the 'shade' being the Lennon and McCartney songwriting team.
The High Street, then and now. The Town Hall is on the left of photo. Next door is the Cock and Bottle pub which today has expanded across two properties and incorporated a third. In the early 20th century it was a temperance hotel.
Close to the Town Hall, wedged between the Cock and Bottle pub and the
Bet Fred, is 95 High Street. Now part of
the pub it was reputedly 'The Smallest House in England' – 6 feet wide by 14 feet deep with two rooms
built around 1850 in a space which had previously been a side passage. There
are stories about the former occupants which may be more fact than fiction, one
concerning a couple who raised eight children in the house, another about a very
large resident who had to go up the stairs sideways.
It was still a house when the Harrisons lived in Arnold Grove,
surviving as such until 1952 when it was incorporated into the Cock and Bottle
Walking towards Picton Clock turn left immediately after the Bet Fred
into Frederick Grove. Just after the industrial unit on your right (the former
backyard of Home James) is Arnold Grove.
A few houses along on the right is No. 12, where George Harrison was
No.12 Arnold Grove is the fourth door from the right on the above photo.
George recalled a number of the local landmarks we've seen here when he
described Arnold Grove as a bit like
Coronation Street. It was behind the Lamb Hotel in Wavertree. There was a big
art-deco cinema there called the Abbey, and the Picton clock tower. Down a
little cobbled lane was the slaughterhouse, where they used to shoot horses.
Arnold Grove was covered in
detail in a previous post which you can read here. My research continues as I
try to establish whether the slaughterhouse was in Frederick Grove or Chestnut
Grove which is a little further on around the corner.
We’ll take a closer look at this
as I continue my walk through George Harrison's family history in part two of Relatives and Absolutes which you can
Note: ** pissed as in drunk (the British meaning) Books: John Lennon: In My Life (Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner) I Me Mine (George Harrison) The Beatles Liverpool Landscapes (David Lewis) Anthology (The Beatles) Picture Palaces of Liverpool (Harold Ackroyd)