I spent a few hours today with my brother, visiting Sudley House (above) before going to see John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes and the gates to the Strawberry Field – a former Salvation Army home and now a prayer centre. Sudley House is a magnificently preserved merchant’s home from the 19th century and features original period furniture and paintings, including one of the world’s best collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings. Built in 1824 and modified in the 1880s it contains the personal collection of George Holt, who was a ship-owner and former resident at the house. The paintings are still in their original setting and includes works by Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, John Everett Millais and J. W. Turner. The house has been in the hands of the city of Liverpool since it was bequeathed to the city in 1944 by Emma Georgina Holt, daughter of George Holt. It was originally built for a corn merchant, Nicholas Robinson who was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in the late 1820s. It then passed to his daughters and when they died in the 1880s George Holt became the owner. There is a debate over the original architect. National Museums of Liverpool suggest it may have been Thomas Harrison because of certain features in the two-storey ashiar building. The art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner suggests the original design was by John Whiteside Casson and was modified by James Rhind when George Holt bought the building. The jazz singer, George Melly – who was related to the Holt family – spent many times at the house when he was a child in the 1930s when Sudley House was owned by Emma Holt. The house was re-opened in 2007 after a refurbishment and now contains galleries for temporary exhibitions and rooms for educational groups.
My brother at Sudley House
I have been to Sudley House twice before, once with a friend shortly after it reopened in 2007 and again in 2013, but had been planning to go with my brother for probably over a year before we finally got round to doing so today. It was Brian’s first visit, though he thinks he may have been there when he went on a bus tour around Liverpool with George Melly some years ago. However, after visiting today he can’t be sure that it was Sudley House, or thinks it may have been Sudley House but that he only got a quick glance of the building from the outside during the George Melly tour.
Brian with George Melly some 25 years ago and me in the Dining Room at Sudley House
When I last went to the house there was what I thought was a temporary exhibition of twentieth-century women’s eveningwear. Today the exhibition was still there, though it has been expanded and is now focused only on the eveningwear of the 1930s. Called Putting on the Glitz, it features many fabulous examples of eveningwear from the decade. As well as that exhibition and the magnificent paintings, there are also displays of period children’s toys and costumes as well as period furniture, fixtures and fittings throughout the house. Sudley House is tucked away on Mossley Hill Road in the Aigburth district of south Liverpool and is easily passed-by. I’m sure there are a great deal of people in Liverpool itself who have never heard of, let alone visited this magnificent Victorian treasure – now managed by National Museums of Liverpool. Definitely worth a visit. Entrance is free and you can read more about the house on the official website.
“The Windmill” (oil on canvas, about 1830-60) and “Morning” (oil on canvas, c.1846). Both paintings are by Thomas Creswick and can be found in the Morning Room
Examples of 1930s eveningwear in the Putting on the Glitz display at Sudley House
After we’d visited Sudley House we went up to Menlove Avenue to see “Mendips”, the childhood home of John Lennon. He lived at the house from 1945 to 1963 with his Aunt Mimi. After “Mendips” we walked the short distance down Menlove to Beaconsfield Road where you can find the gates to the Strawberry Field Salvation Army home, immortalised by The Beatles in their song “Strawberry Fields Forever”. I have written about the gates before in my blog. We then went to Forthlin Road off Mather Avenue to see No. 20, which was Paul McCartney’s “proud family” home as a child. I was surprised that Brian had never seen either homes or the Strawberry Field gates, so today turned out to be a little Beatles tour for him.
John Lennon outside “Mendips” in 1952 and superimposed with Brian today. You can see just what a wonderful job the National Trust has done in restoring the house to its appearance when Lennon lived there.
The two of us at the Strawberry Field gates on Beaconsfield Road and below at 20 Forthlin Road
You can view my photos as a photo animation on YOUTUBE or the original photos on my FLICKR site. Yesterday would have been John Lennon’s 76th birthday and, by coincidence, today is the anniversary of the death of Eleanor Rigby whose grave can be found in St Peter’s Church yard in Woolton, Liverpool. She died in 1939 aged 44. It was in the nearby St Peter’s Church Hall that Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met in 1957. Paul maintains that the name wasn’t inspired by the gravestone but it makes a good story, which you can read HERE. There is now a sculpture of “Eleanor Rigby” – inspired by the song not the woman – on Stanley Street in Liverpool city centre. It was designed by the singer Tommy Steele who offered to make it after a performance in the city in 1981. He accepted a fee of just three pence and the sculpture was unveiled in December 1982.