The Beatles song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was mainly drawn from early beginnings in John Lennnon’s life whilst living with his Aunt Mimi in Mendips on Menlove Avenue near Woolton Liverpool. It is generally accepted the almost dreamlike song is largely based on Johns childhood times playing in the grounds of the nearby childrens' home…’Strawberry Field’ in Beaconsfield Road.
The home comprised a large mansion with gothic features in extensive wooded gardens which once used to extend right down to Menlove Avenue providing a wonderful secret world in which to play. There was a driveway from Beaconsfield Road leading up to the house with magnificent iron gates mounted to stone pillars topped with beautiful ornate stone pier caps.
The earliest references to Strawberry Field date from 1870 to 1927 when the property was owned by a wealthy ship-owner, George Warren. Later, Alexander C Mitchell, another shipping merchant, owned the property until his death in 1927. In 1934 his widow, Mrs Mitchell, sold the estate to The Salvation Army by means of a legacy to a Liverpool woman Miss Mary Fowler and was the fourth home of its kind opened in the country by the Salvation Army.
On 7th July 1936, the home was opened by Lady Bates in the presence of General Evangeline Booth daughter of the Salvation Army founder as a home for up to forty girls.
During the mid-fifties, boys were introduced to Strawberry Field. They had to be under five years of age and it was not until later that older boys were introduced.
In 1973 the original old house was demolished and was said to be riddled with dry rot. A new purpose built house was erected on the land where playgrounds were added. A new accommodation area for staff was eventually named "Lennon Court" in 1979.
John Lennon had promised his son Sean they would go to Strawberry Field together someday but of course that was sadly denied. But in 1984 Yoko Ono fulfilled the promise of the visit with Sean and met with Major David Botting at the home who recalled the early memories of Aunt Mimi with John….. It was in the late forties and early 50’s Aunt Mimi and John used to come up to the Strawberry Field Garden party held every year which was a very exciting time for them. Mimi used to say as soon as John heard the sound of the Salvation Army Band he would be jumping up and down on his bed saying "Come on, Mimi, it's time! It's time ! We've got to go up !…… After that, Yoko paid for the building of a new play area at the facility.
The home became more of a temporary foster home than a permanent children's home over the following years. Ever since the song was released Beatles fans have come to visit the famous gates with some writing graffiti and spray-paint mementos on the outside gate pillars which have to be cleaned periodically. In 2000 the gates were briefly stolen, but a scrap-metal dealer who unknowingly bought them turned them into the police. They were then re-united where they belong as a lasting almost iconic piece of Liverpool architecture.
In 2005 the Salvation Army home closed but re-opened again shortly afterwards as a prayer centre called ‘The Boiler Room’.
Thousands of miles away from Strawberry Field in Liverpool a year after John died Yoko collaborated with New York Council and helped to finance a permanent memorial. On 9th October 1985 on which would have been John’s 45th birthday Yoko inaugurated and the memorial called ‘Strawberry Fields’ was opened. It is located on a 2.5 acre site in Central Park near to the Dakota Apartments where John And Yoko lived. It was designed by landscape architect Bruce Kelly and features a reproduction of a Pompei mosaic donated by the Italian city of Naples which has the famous inscription ‘Imagine’ at the centre. There is also a bronze plaque that lists the 121 countries endorsing Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace.
But looking back here in Liverpool who would have known all those years ago that a little boys playground in Beaconsfield Road which has many similarities to so many other large houses and gardens throughout Liverpool providing little havens for youngsters at that time to enjoy and explore and adopt as secret gardens and build dens and climb trees would provide such inspiration and worldwide.
In 2005 the Salvation Army home closed but re-opened again shortly afterwards as a prayer centre called ‘The Boiler Room’ which closed later on..... Then 14 yrs later in Sept 2019 a new centre was opened with an interactive exhibition of the history of the children's home and John Lennon's life. This together with landscaped gardens and the original gates on display now provides a lasting memorial and celebration of John Lennons life from early beginnings. The gates and pillars today on Beaconsfield Road are replica gates and the original driveway has been incorporated into part of the new landscaping. One of the main aims of the centre is a STEPS to WORKS programme to help young people with learning and social difficulties to find a job. This is assisted by other supportive groups called FREE EXPRESSION with teams for arts and crafts and music projects. The artwork shown is one such example of a collaborative project with team ideas which has an important message of PEACE central to the Salvation Army's aims.
For more information visit: www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com
Its over 70 years since a young John Winston Lennon first climbed over the wall and into the grounds of Strawberry Field Childrens home to the present day and a garden fete at Strawberry Field in Beaconsfield Road Liverpool.
The past and present walk hand in hand in today’s Strawberry Field of peace and free expression. That’s Kathy and Allister, take centre stage as uniformed Salvation Army Major’s while Daniel is on hand waitering next to onlookers Tom and daughter Emily. Crafts and collective creative endeavours flourish.
Of course, The Beatles hover over the scene. In the same moment, we are back in the world of Sergeant Pepper. The Band Stand is of drum design with a ‘Beatles’ band playing ‘Being for the benefit of Mr Kite’ off the magnificent ‘Imagine’ mosaic floor. Theres a lady from America clowning to the occasion. The stage is set for a ‘A splendid time is guaranteed for all’
Just like Paul McCartney, Scott on guitar is satisfyingly left handed as with the craft team with artifacts sit in front of a huge painting, or maybe a memory, of fetes gone by when a 10 year old John would delight in home baked cakes with his aunt Mimi to the sound of the Salvation Army Brass Band.
This is a peaceful landscape. Near the famous ornate gates stands the Ukranian Global Peace Monument dedicated to peace with raised hand with book and dove perhaps symbolising the words of the peace song …’Give Peace a Chance’ Poppies, some perhaps purchased from a pretty nurse on Penny Lane, are all around. Nigel, Emily, Chris and his mum Mal look down to the scene from the splendid visitors centre.
Two figures in blinding white reflect peace and ask again for it to be given a chance. Are they real or are they imagined ? Whatever, John is radiant but he and Yoko and their joint spirit are certainly blessing the day with their presence, as he shares the sign of peace. The past and the present walk hand in hand.
The Ukelele band, that Caitlin, Kirsty, Joe and Gordon play on as plants are being planted, nurtured. Grown and sold, while Brenden sings his own songs. On the table behind the unique guitar chairs sit Vicki and her sign of peace together with Lauren reflecting on the wonderful occasion.
On the stalls, candles change hands while strawberries and cream are devoured, chillies are doing a roaring trade and Katie assists an artist. So, where once John and his friends the ‘Outlaws’ climbed trees and made dens in the grounds of the Children’s home, young folk of today, like their predecessors are being nourished and nurtured at todays inspirational Strawberry field Centre.
A collaborative artwork by the Fresh Expression Team Arts and Crafts Group