Beneath The Blue Suburban Skies – ‘Mendips’ Before Lennon

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’.

The STREET

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.