I can’t express fervently enough how worth the time and money visiting ‘Mendips’ and 20 Forthlin Road is. Owned by The National Trust, it’s the only tour which gives fans opportunity to see inside the homes where the Beatles wrote and rehearsed their earliest songs, such as ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.
Hosted by warm and approachable husband and wife team Colin and Sylvia Hall, their love for their work is clear from the moment Sylvia’s grin welcomes you into the garden at Paul’s former home. Both houses have been restored to how they looked in 1957 – commemorating the year that John and Paul first met. Sylvia kindly explains that no photographs are allowed indoors, and stores all phones and bags in the McCartney’s cloakroom. Some ardent fans may find this disappointing but I found it a welcome move, otherwise the tour would be tainted by constant cameras obscuring your view.
It also served to create a palpable feeling of ‘stepping back in time’ amongst our group of 15 eager fans. After all, we’re entering the late 1950s and there were no such devices back then. John and Paul couldn’t text each other to arrange meeting after their first encounter during a summer fete. The day which sparked a host of visits from Paul, who’d cycle one mile up the road to John’s house Mendips, in ‘posh’ village Woolton.
At Forthlin Road, a personally recorded message from Paul welcomes us. Photographs and stories illustrate the antics him and his brother Mike got up to, such as climbing up the drain pipe to sneak in if they stayed out later than tea time or playing the drums out front to annoy the moaning neighbours. We learn of the sadness Paul experienced there, losing his mother Mary when he was just 13. Perhaps, Sylvia muses, when John’s mother Julia was accidentally killed outside Mendips a year later the shared loss is one of the reasons John and Paul developed such a close bond and desire to lose themselves in music.
After an hour soaking in the McCartney family history the coach returns to transport us to Mendips. A wonderful example of suburban culture in the 1950s, Colin stops us at the front gate, welcomes us to take photos but sharply reminds us of Mimi’s house rules: entry for strangers is strictly ‘round the back’. This is where a nervous Paul arrived on his bike nearly 60 years ago to ask Mimi if John was home, Colin enthusiastically paints a picture of how house proud Mimi must have eyed this ‘council estate’ boy with suspicion. Yet another distraction for, as Mimi saw it, her role was to keep John’s head out of the rock ‘n’ roll clouds and an eye to his studies. How could she know what dizzy heights lay ahead for the boys?
Lovingly restored to the state Mimi would have kept it in, Mendips’ pristine kitchen and living room’s dainty décor reflect a woman with modest yet impeccable taste. Standing in the porch, Colin invites us to take it in turns trying out the acoustics for that’s where Paul and John would’ve stood and harmonised in those early days. Climbing the stairs to John’s single bedroom, a narrow bed in such a small space seems an impossibly humble beginning for a boy who was to become such a star.
A moving letter from Yoko Ono sits at his bedside, detailing the warmth of memories John shared with her about Mendips, such as sneaking upstairs avoiding the creaky floorboards so as not to wake his aunt or sitting on his bed dreaming. This is where the dreams began. It truly brings a tear to your eye and a shiver down the spine to stand on such hallowed ground.
With a sparkle in their eyes as they recount their tales, it’s clear Sylvia and Colin feel lucky to have the privilege of treading these historic floorboards each day. Passionate not only about the Beatles’ legacy, but about their fellow fans, keen to make sure all questions are answered as fully as their impressive knowledge allows.
Three tours leave from the city centre each day, two in the morning and one in the afternoon, meaning you can tailor your visit around your day. The tour last 2 1/2 hours, and costs £20 for adults and £3.40 for children, with a discounted charge for National Trust members.
Places are limited to 15 per tour, so we strongly recommend that you book online in advance.
For full details or to book please visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes