Following on from my last post about Woolton, there is another part of Liverpool where there is a lot of Beatles’ history concentrated into a walkable area. This zone, much more central than Woolton, is known as the Georgian Quarter for its many buildings in that elegant style.
In 1800, city surveyor, John Foster Snr., started to work on a development of the Canning area of the city, to create luxurious residences for wealth citizens close to the city centre. The construction of these town houses took place during the whole of the 19th century.
Nowadays, the spine of the quarter is Hope Street, a winner in the Academy of Urbanism Awards for ‘Best Street’, which takes its name from a Liverpool merchant, William Hope, whose house was where the Philharmonic Pub now stands. At each end of the street are two remarkable cathedrals. At the south end, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the world’s second largest after the incomplete Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, which dominates the city skyline. At the north end is the modernist Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Roman Catholic), nicknamed ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’, alluding to the large Catholic Irish population of the city, and to its tepee-like design.
Opposite the Anglican Cathedral is our first stop:
1) 3 Gambier Terrace (below). This was the flat rented by Stuart Sutcliffe and his art school colleague, Rod Murray in 1960, with John Lennon as an unofficial tenant. Lennon had also asked Murray to join the group as a bass player, around the same time he asked Sutcliffe, and Murray set about making his own instrument. However, when Sutcliffe won an art prize, and sold a painting to John Moores, the Liverpool entrepreneur, he was able to buy a new bass, and beat Murray to the job. Another art-school student living in the flat was Margaret Duxbury, who later as Margaret Chapman became successful, selling limited edition reproductions of her northern street scenes in more than fifty countries. She later recalled Paul and George often entering the flat via the fire escape to rehearse with John and Stu.
2) 9 Percy Street. Stu Sutcliffe lived here with Rod Murray before moving to Gambier Terrace. He had also lived in two different flats in Canning Street when he started at the Art College in 1956.
3) Liverpool College of Art (below). After failing all his GCE O-level examinations, John Lennon began to attend the art college in 1957 when his headmaster at Quarry Bank School and his Aunt Mimi tried to find a better way of using his talents. Here he met Stuart Sutcliffe, Bill Harry, later the creator of the Liverpool music newspaper, Mersey Beat, and his future wife, Cynthia Powell. After taking time out from his studies in 1960 to go to Hamburg for the first time, he never returned to the college. Ironically, the failed student later had a school of art and design named after him in nearby Duckinfield Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Cathedral.
4) Liverpool Institute (below). Right next door to the College of Art is the Liverpool Institute attended by both Paul McCartney, starting in 1953, and George Harrison, in 1954. Paul and George often travelled on the same bus to the school, and became friends, Paul later introducing his younger friend to Lennon. The two buildings were only separated by two side doors, and the two Institute students would often slip through into the basement canteen to get together with John, much to the latter’s embarrassment of being seen associating with schoolkids.
The Institute closed in 1985, and became derelict. Paul wanted to do something to save his old school, and on the advice of George Martin, partnered with educator, Mark Featherstone-Witty to create Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), based on the New York ‘Fame’ school made famous by the 1980 Alan Parker film of the same name. Paul often goes back to Liverpool to attend the graduation ceremonies. Another Beatles’ connection was made when actress, Leanne Best, niece of former Beatle, Pete Best, and granddaughter of roadie-cum-Apple CEO, Neil Aspinall (himself a classmate of Paul for English and Art classes), graduated from LIPA.
5) Ye Cracke Pub, Rice Street (below). One block from the Institute and Art College, halfway down narrow Rice Street on the right-hand side is this unassuming 19th century pub. The ‘Y’ is a ‘Thorn’ (Þ – the Old English “th” sound), so the name is pronounced ‘The Crack’. This was the regular local watering-hole for John Lennon and his art school friends, and was the place where he came to drown his sorrows when he heard that his mother had been killed. It was also the location of his first date with Cynthia.
In the summer of 1960, John attended a performance by the beatnik poet, Royston Ellis, at the nearby Liverpool University with some of his friends, and they later returned to Ye Cracke to discuss his philosophy and life in general. Bill Harry’s idea was that any movement they were involved in should reflect their own environment and experiences, and they formed an informal group called ‘The Dissenters’, with the aim to make Liverpool famous through their particular talents: Bill through his writing, Stu Sutcliffe and Rod Murray with their painting, and John with his music – an aim which was ultimately successful for all parties involved. There is a plaque inside the pub commemorating this meeting, which was unveiled by Rod and Bill on 24th August 2003.
6) 36 Falkner Street (below). Although no definitive documentry evidence exists to confirm it, this was almost certainly the location of the flat that Brian Epstein owned for his … erm, liaisons, when such a thing was illegal in Britain. Epstein loaned it to John and Cynthia as their first matrimonial home, mainly to keep the fact that John was married from his adoring fans. Another legend says that John wrote ‘Do You Want To Know a Secret’ here, with the lyrics cryptically alluding to his marriage, Cynthia’s pregnancy … and possibly Brian’s own ‘secret’.
7) Philharmonic Dining Rooms (below). Despite the name, this is a pub frequented by John Lennon and his friends, which was built as a gentlemen’s club by Robert Cain & Son, the brewers, and opened in 1898. The faculty of design at Liverpool University College was commissioned to decorate and design the interior. Both the exterior and interior of the Grade II listed venue are a riot of Art Nouveau detailing and even the gentlemans’ toilets have marble urinals! Lennon once said that one of the prices of fame was, “not being able to go to the ‘Phil’ for a drink”.
8) 4 Rodney Street. While No. 62 is famous for being the birthplace of William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Prime Minister during the Victorian era, Beatles’ fans would probably be more interested to know that Brian Epstein was born on 19th September 1934 in the private maternity clinic that existed at that time at No. 4. The plaque commemorating the fact (below) was unveiled in February 2015.
9) Registry Office, 64 Mount Pleasant. Two Beatles-related marriages took place here. Firstly, on 17 April 1953, shortly after the registry first opened, Ringo’s mother, Elsie, married Harry Graves, the second marriage for both, then on 23 August 1962, John married Cynthia after she found that she was pregnant with Julian. Brian Epstein was the best man, and George Harrison and Paul McCartney also attended.
10) Former Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. John Lennon was born here on 9 October 1940. His Aunt Mimi later told Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies, that she had to dodge the bombs on her way to the hospital, as it was in the middle of a German air raid, but this has now been proven from wartime records not to be true. There were no raids between 21st September and 16th October. John, too, believed the story, writing in his inimitable way:
“I was bored on the 9th of October 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us, led by Madolf Heatlump (who only had one). Anyway they didn’t get me.”
His father, Alfred, was away at sea at the time of John’s birth, and didn’t return until 1st November.
The hospital closed in 1995 and, after standing derelict for some time, is now a hall of residence for university students, part of the Unite Student Village, called Lennon Studios.
Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.