Beneath The Blue Suburban Skies – ‘Mendips’ Before Lennon

251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool L25, now stands as a monument to the illustrious resident whose name appears on an ‘English Heritage’ blue plaque on its front wall, and thousands of tourists visit to learn about the formative years of John Lennon. The more nerdy visitor, such as your humble servant, may wonder about the earlier history, and the previous owner, of this very typical 1930s suburban semi-detached house. Here is the story of ‘Mendips’.


In the 1920s, Liverpool Corporation began developing wide boulevard-type roads with tram tracks running down the middle, due to the anticipated expansion of the city into rural areas. One such road was Menlove Avenue, bordering the southwestern side of Woolton Village, and named after a local councillor who had died the previous decade.

Thomas Menlove was born at Wockley Hall in Ellesmere, Shropshire, in 1840 and educated at Shrewsbury School. He arrived in Liverpool in 1863 and set up a drapery store in Church Street, later expanding to another branch in London Road. Menlove first entered public service in the early 1880s as a member of the Select Vestry, taking an active interest in the care of the aged poor and young children that were looked after by the parochial authorities. In 1886 he was elected as a Conservative to the city council and appointed as a justice of the peace in 1892. In 1898, he was appointed Chairman of the Health Committee. Among the tasks he had to oversee in this role were the sampling of canned meats from the United States, inspecting sanitary conditions in boarding houses, and encouraging vaccinations.

Menlove retired from his business in 1906 but continued his public duties. He lived with his wife and a servant at Aston House, Hunters Lane, Wavertree, and was actively involved with the nearby Holy Trinity Church. He died in 1913 and his grave can be found at the same church. He left an estate valued at £14,545, the equivalent of £1.5 million today.

The Builder
The grave of Thomas Menlove

251 Menlove Avenue was built in 1933 by the Liverpool building company, J. W. Jones & Sons Ltd. The firm was established by a Welshman, John William Jones, who was born 16 March 1868 in Cyfylliog, near Ruthin, in North Wales. In 1900, he established his own building company, with an office and a yard in Trentham Avenue, near to the Railway Station of Sefton Park. From 1900 until the First World War, the company built a variety of houses around Sefton Park, in Allerton, Childwall, Wavertree, Calderstones and Anfield, and offered a range of services related to the building industry, such as repairs and decorating. During the First World War, when building ceased, his firm succeeded because of this diversification of services. In 1923, J.W. Jones became a limited company with new offices at 158 Allerton Road, a short distance from Mendips, and close to where John Lennon’s Uncle George owned a dairy farm and cottage.

The building firm became well known throughout the city, and J. W. Jones employed Welsh-speaking craftsmen as bricklayers and joiners, dozens of whom settled in the area. The company built houses, shops, flats and large housing estates for the Liverpool Corporation, such as the Springwood Estate, part of the huge Speke estate, Larkhill and Lisburn in West Derby as well as smaller estates in Bootle and Huyton. They also built private houses in Wavertree, Mossley Hill, Woolton and Allerton.

J. W. Jones died on 24 August 1945, and was laid to rest in the family grave at Allerton Cemetry.

The Resident

Ernest Harrop died in 1970, the same year as the break-up of The Beatles, and we can only speculate whether this Victorian gentleman was aware at that time of his connection with the most successful musical group of the past decade.

2nd Lt. Ernest Brideson Harrop MC during WW1.

Ernest Brideson Harrop was born on 4th October 1890 at 129 Edinburgh Road in the Kensington area of the city, the youngest son of an insurance agent, William Harrop, and his wife Elizabeth. By the turn of the century, they had moved the short distance to 1, Rocky Lane, and Ernest was being educated at Shaw Street College, later, in another guise, the alma mater of future Beatles drummer, Pete Best. Leaving school, Harrop joined the staff of the ‘London City and Midland Bank’ as a clerk, a career he followed – war service excepted – until his retirement. Meanwhile, his family continued going up in the world. Twenty years previously they had been living in the typical red-brick, working-class terraces of Edinburgh Road, and now were to be found in the leafy Judge’s Drive, among the green of Newsham Park. William Harrop had risen to become a member of the committee of management of The Royal Liver Friendly Society, who would shortly move into the brand new Liver Building, one of the three buildings that dominate Liverpool’s Pierhead, and are a symbol of the city.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Ernest Harrop enlisted as a private soldier in the 6th Battalion, Liverpool King’s Regiment. Two years later, he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant. Although this was the lowest rank of officer, the London Gazette of 9th January 1918 reported the actions which led to his being awarded the Military Cross:

“2nd Lt. Ernest Brideson Harrop, L’pool R.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
During an assault on the enemy’s lines, he found himself in command at an early stage owing to all other officers having become casualties. He reorganised his platoon and consolidated his position with exceptional coolness and ability, and during three days of most trying conditions, took no rest or thought of shelter, but was continually encouraging and helping his men.”

After his war service, Harrop married Mildred Austin in West Derby in 1922. It’s likely that they moved into Mendips when it had been completed in 1933. On 29 September 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War, the British Government took a survey of the civilian population of England and Wales. Details of around 40 million people were recorded in in more than 65,000 volumes. At this date, the Harrops were still living at 251 Menlove Avenue, and Ernest was still recorded as being a bank clerk.

What happened next

Mary Elizabeth “Mimi” Stanley, John’s aunt, married George Toogood Smith on 15th September 1939, two weeks before Ernest Harrop was recorded in the 1939 Register as living at Mendips. As for the couple themselves, Mimi’s address was still the family home at 9 Newcastle Road, along with her sister, John’s mother, Julia. George was registered at the property his family owned at 48 High Street, Woolton, along with his widowed mother, Alice, and brothers Frank and Alfred “Cissy” Smith – later to become Paul McCartney’s English teacher at the Liverpool Institute. Ernest Harrop was known to have left the house at 251 Menlove Avenue shortly after the war began, possibly because the WW1 hero was now beyond fighting age, and knowing that Liverpool would be a prime target of the Luftwaffe, decided to move to somewhere potentially safer. It has been suggested that the house was literally abandoned, and that the Smiths moved into the empty house without completing formalities, but given the fact that the Smiths are known to have taken out a mortgage financed partly by George’s inheritance from his late father, who committed suicide in 1932, and the income from the Dairy Cottage in Allerton Road, this is unlikely. After George’s premature death in 1955, Mimi continued to live at the house until John bought her a bungalow on the south coast near Poole, Dorset, in 1965.

What happened to Ernest Brideson Harrop after leaving the house is unknown, except that he passed away in 1970 in Worthing, Sussex, at the age of 79.

©Copyright 2018 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.

Lennon Makes The News … Father Lennon, That Is!

The history of the Lennon family is littered with many scoundrels and bounders, but as least one of John Lennon’s ancestors, his great Uncle, The Reverend Father William George Lennon seems to have conducted an exemplary ministry, although questions remain unanswered about his later life. Given the views of John Lennon about Christianity in general, it is amusing to reflect that one of his near ancestors was a priest, and was feted, in a small way, in Liverpool long before his great nephew.

Father Lennon was born in 1857, the fourth of, probably, seven children of James Lennon and Jane McConville. After completing his studies at St. Edwards College in Everton, he studied to become a Catholic priest, and was appointed as the third parish priest of the Sacred Heart RC Church in Liverpool Road, Ainsdale, Southport, on the coast north of Liverpool. He stayed there for two years.

In 1890, W. G. Lennon moved to a new ministry at St. Joseph’s Church in Blundellsands, an affluent area, 10 miles down the coast. The place was named after the Blundell family, Lords of the Manor at the nearby Crosby Hall since the 13th century. The family, through William Blundell, had already provided the funds for the building of St. Mary’s RC Church in Little Crosby in 1847, and William’s son, Col. Nicholas Blundell had added a memorial chapel in 1886. Around the same time, Nicholas fully funded the building of St. Joseph’s, although by the time the Rev. Lennon became its priest, it was still unfinished.

The ongoing construction of the church meant that a Merseyside Lennon gained column inches more than 60 years before his illustrious great-nephew. The Liverpool Mercury carried many reports about his activities. By 1899 the building project had built up a debt of £1800, a significant sum for the time, equivalent to around £185,000 today. Lennon chaired, and was treasurer of, a committee to find a way to pay of the debt. They decided on a four-day bazaar at the nearby Waterloo Town Hall from 12 – 15 October 1899.

Waterloo Town Hall

The interior of the hall in which the bazaar took place was designed to represent an Icelandic village, and many local dignitaries were present for the opening ceremony. Among them was also the guest of honour, the Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, the Rt. Rev. George Lenihan. It may seem curious that such a person would be present to open a local event, and indeed Father Lennon mentioned that the Bishop had come a distance of 16,000 miles just “to open the bazaar”. The truth was that he was visiting Rome and Ireland that year to recruit more priests for his diocese in New Zealand. He was born in England, and he and Father Lennon were old friends. It is quite possible that they studied for the priesthood together, being almost exact contemporaries. From the Bishop, Father Lennon received the first endorsement from a higher authority, Rev. Lenihan congratulating him on “the heavy work he had done” and mentioning that he was pleased to be present to show his respect and admiration for a lifelong friend.

The second endorsement was from a much more illustrious source. At the end of the opening ceremony, it was announced that the committee had received a telegram from His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, conferring his blessing upon the bazaar, its promoters and supporters. Whether Father Lennon had informed the Pope of his activities, or the local bishop, or whether the Bishop of Auckland had done yet another favour for his friend isn’t known, but it’s unlikely Pope Leo was keeping tabs on a parish in provincial England! Using the only technology available in 1899, the telegram was photographed many times, and the copies were sold to the public to raise extra funds. At the end of the second day, the takings from the bazaar amounted to £441 3s 10d, not including individual donations. Those donations amounted to another £150, bringing the total to within a third of the required amount. Whether the total was reached at the end of the four days is not recorded.

St. Joseph’s Church today

Father Lennon stayed at St. Joseph’s for another six years, until some time after 1905, he took up another ministry on the other side of the River Mersey in The Wirral. It’s possible he became the priest of St Alban’s Church in Liscard, where his youngest brother, Richard, lived. He had officiated at Richard’s wedding some years earlier.

What happened next is subject to a little evidence, and a whole lot of speculation. It has been suggested that he had a nervous breakdown and became alcoholic, something that he supposedly shared with his brother, Jack – John Lennon’s grandfather. It is also claimed that his career as a cleric ended shortly after, due to his breaking his vows of celibacy with his spinster housekeeper, Lucy Kavanagh. The former suggestion has some evidence in Catholic records of the time, but the latter, in my opinion, is unlikely for three reasons. The first is that is appears that the source was his nephew, Charlie – John’s uncle, who has been shown to be an unreliable family historian.

The second involves the aforementioned Jack. At the beginning of the 1890s, after losing his first two wives, he, unlike his brother, did start having relations with his housekeeper, Mary Maguire, known to all as Polly. During that decade, she gave birth to five children, all of whom died either at birth, or shortly after. They went on to have many more children together, of which another three died young. Jack and Polly didn’t get married until 1915. Polly concluded that she was being punished in some way, despite her Catholic faith, and the later children were christened into the Church of England, including John Lennon’s father, Alfred. Naturally, this amounted to heresy to the devout Father Lennon, and he confronted Polly about “living in sin”. This would have been the case, with or without children, so to suggest that William Lennon was doing the same would have meant a great hypocrisy on his part.

The third reason is simply that, under the morals of the times, it was reasonable to suggest that a celibate, gentleman cleric live with an unmarried servant, without any suggestion of impropriety. I therefore conclude that the reason for Father Lennon’s dismissal from his post in The Wirral was due to some perceived mental instability.

William died on 26th August 1921, and his estranged brother, Jack, had died just three weeks earlier.

© Copyright 2018 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.