words Marcus Fairs
John Lennon’s bedroom is tidier than you’d expect. There is a handful of 45s scattered on a shelf behind the bed and posters of Bardot and Elvis on the walls, but the Just William books on the desk are hardly what you’d expect of a teenage rock star.
This is Mendips, the house in which John Lennon lived for almost half his life: a pebble-dashed 1930s semi in the affluent suburb of Woolton, Liverpool. Lennon lived here from 1945 to 1963 – by which time he was 23 and hitting the big time – with his Aunt Mimi.
A couple of years ago, Yoko Ono got wind of plans to turn the house into a private hotel. She secretly bought the house and gave it to the National Trust, which spent £75,000 altering its poky rooms to how they might have been in Lennon’s time. It opened to the public last month.
The house betrays Lennon’s surprisingly middle-class upbringing: “He made out that he was a working-class scruff, that he was brought up on the streets, but he wasn’t, says Beatles biographer Philip Norman. “Aunt Mimi sent him to a school where he had to wear a blazer; he was very strictly brought up. But rebellion was always in him, and in a way the house represents everything he was rebelling against.”
The result is a curiously voyeuristic experience akin to poking round your granny’s house: the smell is of furniture polish and the sound of a crackly wireless.
In fact, Mendips says more about Mimi than Lennon. “It was important not to get stuff that was too stylish,” says Julian Gibbs, a curator at the National Trust, who claims that the best item in the house is the stainless-steel double-drainer kitchen sink installed in 1961: “Mimi was very proud of it.”
The National Trust makes no great claims to authenticity, since there were few records of how the house looked at the time. “Nobody could remember the wallpaper; it had all been stripped,” says Gibbs.
Yoko Ono was in Liverpool last month to formally hand the house over to the National Trust. She spoke to icon about Merseyside’s latest Beatles-themed attraction.
How would John feel about his home being turned into a heritage site?
If he’s looking at it now I’m sure he’s having a great laugh.
If John was one of the quintessential teen rebels, then the National Trust are perhaps the quintessential stuffy parents. Would John approve?
Yes, John would approve. John has grown up; he’s not a teenager any more. He joked about giving the house to the National Trust in one of his songs. I’m sure he’d be thinking of them as very responsible, not stuffy parents.
What do you think of the house now?
It’s been done very well; it’s very pretty.
What were John’s strongest memories of the house?
I think his bedroom was the main place for him. He described it to me quite often. John’s room seems a bit tidy for a teen rock star.
Is that really how it would have looked?
I don’t think he’d have had a Brigitte Bardot poster on the wall because Aunt Mimi wouldn’t have allowed it!
What do you hope to achieve by opening the house to the public?
I hope it will inspire people. It’s not a special house. I hope that people will see that the biggest dream in the world, that changed the world so profoundly, was born in this small room in this average-sized house. Many would get confidence from that.
Why did you decide to buy Mendips?
I was worried because I heard some people planned to buy the house to use it as part of a hotel, and to use John’s bedroom as the honeymoon suite. I think it’s something that came from above; something that I was supposed to do. I visited the houses of Beethoven and Schubert and I thought it was a very exciting thing to do; to feel that this was the floor that Beethoven padded around on. I felt it would be nice to do that for John.
Mendips can only be visited as part of an organised tour; www.nationaltrust.org.uk