Liverpool is home to two of my favourite things: the Beatles (and the phenomenon of Beatlemania) and Superlambananas. Last week, in a (successful!) bid to surprise my mum for her birthday, I spent a day in this beautiful maritime city – or rather, spent a sizeable portion of it discovering the outskirts of Liverpool on a Magical Mystery Tour . . .
Upon arriving in Liverpool I was greeted with the less-than-welcome drizzle which seems to accompany me wherever I travel to in the UK at the moment. Luckily, a short walk later I was inside again, awaiting the arrival of my mum and sister from the warmth of my dad’s office. It was a challenge keeping this visit a secret, but it was absolutely worth it!
Before our jam-packed afternoon, we headed to Red’s True Barbecue: a haven for meat-lovers with a menu full of utter deliciousness. On this occasion, I opted for the smoked sticky chicken, with giant onion rings (emphasis on the giant) and skin-on fries – enough to fill me up for the rest of the day! Red’s also do amazing pulled pork (something I still need to try cooking myself!) and mouth-watering ribs, which I would also recommend.
After lunch, we made our way to the Albert Dock to board a Magical Mystery Tour (named after the soundtrack album by the Beatles) – making it there just in time for the last tour of the day at 2pm – quelle chance!
Departing from the Albert Dock, we were driven through the leafy suburb of Toxteth, home to both sprawling Victorian manor houses (the former homes of rich merchants) and streets full of boarded up terraces. As the bus crawled along High Park Street, we caught a glimpse of Ringo Starr’s birthplace, 9 Madryn Street. Along with dozens of other terraces in the area, his former home was dilapidated and completely boarded up. Many of the terraces were due to be demolished, but in recent years Liverpool City Council has tried to revive the area and Starr’s birthplace is set to be saved. Shortly afterwards, we saw Starr’s childhood home, 10 Admiral Grove. At the top of the street was The Empress pub, a lasting tribute to Ringo Starr, with lettering above the doorway stating the building’s appearance on the sleeve of Starr’s first solo album Sentimental Journey. Cue: aforementioned song over the speakers.
After a scenic drive through Sefton Park, the UK’s second largest urban park, Penny Lane came into view: a seemingly nondescript leafy street, immortalised by the Beatles’ hit song of the same name. The accompanying commentary informed us that Penny Lane was named after James Penny, a slave ship owner; at one time, there were plans to rename the street, due to its negative connotations, but in the end it was considered to be better to learn from the past than pretend it never happened. At this point we were allowed to hop off the bus for pictures – though to my surprise a number of people remained on the bus!
We were then taken to the other end of Penny Lane, a bustling junction centred around the bus station once used by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison; this, rather than the street itself, was the inspiration behind the hit song. Amongst the independent shops, we caught glimpses of places mentioned in the hit song – the barbers, the bank and the bus shelter – and of St. Barnabas Church, where the Beatles used to perform.
Our next stop was 12 Arnold Grove, the childhood home of George Harrison. The small but well-maintained terraced house was tucked away from the main thoroughfare, accessible on foot via a small alleyway. Our lively tour guide also informed us that ‘Arnold Grove’ was the pseudonym that Harrison used when checking into hotels once he was famous; I’m usually awful at remembering trivia, but managed to remember this – here’s to hoping it comes up at a future pub quiz!
The bus then drove through the leafy, picturesque and affluent suburb of Woolton, home to several key sights linked to the Beatles. Crawling up the steep incline of Church Road, the bus stopped so we could get a clear view of St. Peter’s Church. It was here that John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time, at the Woolton village garden fête on 6 July 1957. Interestingly, a certain Eleanor Rigby, featured in the song of the same name, is buried in the graveyard.
A short drive later we arrived at Strawberry Field, a former orphanage and the inspiration for Lennon’s melancholic song Strawberry Fields Forever. The scarlet gates are actually replicas; the originals were removed in 2011. Lennon grew up nearby, and spent his childhood playing in the woods behind the orphanage. Although the Salvation Army still own the property, the path behind the gates looked overgrown, as though everything except the famous gates had long since been forgotten.
Round the corner, on Menlove Avenue, we saw Mendips, Lennon’s childhood home. Lennon grew up largely in the care of his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith. Mendips was purchased by Yoko Ono in 2002 and now belongs to the National Trust; it bears an English Heritage blue plaque indicating that Lennon used to live there. An individual is only eligible for such plaques if they are still considered to be an iconic cultural figure twenty years after their death; these plaques are few and far between outside of London. Whilst Lennon grew up, his aunt remained sceptical of his musical ambitions, saying “the guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”. Little did she know that Lennon would be a founding member of arguably the most successful band in the history of popular music . . .
The final stop for the day was McCartney’s childhood home, 20 Forthlin Road. Like Lennon’s childhood home, 20 Forthlin Road is also owned by the National Trust. They refer to the property as the “birthplace of the Beatles” since a number of the Beatles’ songs were written there.
Upon departing 20 Forthlin Road, we made our way back into central Liverpool, passing the Art College and Liverpool Institute (now LIPA), once attended by the Beatles, along the way. The tour ended near Mathew Street, where the famous Cavern Club is located; included in the tour price was a souvenir (which turned out to be a postcard) and entry to the Cavern Club for the evening of the tour. After a drink in the somewhat quieter pub of the same name across the street, and a trip to a café my mum wanted to try, it was back to Leeds after a busier-than-anticipated day!