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 leading up to the house which today is completely overgrown but still standing are the imposing (now replica) 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 orphanage 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 orphanage 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.
For more information visit: www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com