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Old Jan 26, 2004, 01:01 PM   #1
I am the Paulrus
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Default In Lennon\'s footsteps

In Lennon's footsteps Jan 26 2004

By Peter Elson, Daily Post

What was it like being the first curator of John Lennon's former Liverpool home? Peter Elson reports.

WHEN Matthew Whitfield saw a pair of women's legs sticking out through the toilet doorway in John Lennon's childhood home, a mixture of emotions ran through his head as he climbed the stairs.

As the first custodian of Mendips, one of the National Trust's smallest but highest profile properties, he was used to a wide range of visitors from around the world and their responses to being on this hallowed ground.

Closer inspection showed she was on her hands and knees with her arms hugging the toilet pedestal. Firmly, he asked her to disentangle herself and remove herself from the smallest room, which is permanently roped-off.

"She was visibly emotional, her face was puffy and red. She'd obviously been crying," he recalls, "I was very surprised, but also relieved as she wasn't laid out because of a heart attack.

"She pulled herself together and I reminded her that visitors were not allowed there. But I didn't shatter her illusions. This isn't the original toilet that John Lennon used."

Why on earth did she feel the need to commune with the Lennon spirit in such a bizarre way? Matthew, a kindly soul, remains bemused. As if a mitigating circumstance, he adds: "Well, she was Canadian."

Matthew adds: "We state that the house has been returned to the condition it would have been in during the 1950s. Since then, the bathroom and toilet fittings were replaced with modern versions and so what's there now is not the Lennon originals.

"Generally, once or twice a week somebody would be visibly moved; there is this slightly intense minority. It was never full of wailing, insane people, but there was always a handful of people who cried.

"About the most famous visitor was the guy who plays Dev the corner shopkeeper in Coronation Street. He arrived with a girlfriend while we were closed for lunch and said, 'Hi, I've come all the way from Manchester' which was a bit conceited as we get people from Australia and Japan. I didn't let him in as the opening times are agreed with the neighbours."

MATTHEW, 23, from Huyton, read history at Liverpool University and received an MA in gallery and museum studies from Manchester University, before becoming the first custodian at Mendips a year ago.

Now Matthew has moved on to the new Cube Gallery, in Wood Street, Liverpool, and the National Trust is hunting for his successor for this year's new season.

John Lennon was abandoned by his parents to the care of his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. Their home, Mendips, in Woolton, was where Lennon spent his formative years from the age of five until 23, between 1945-63.

Matthew says: "I applied for the job because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I like the Beatles, but it was more about getting my career going.

"Gaining first hand custodial experience and the thought of being in charge of my own National Trust property was too much to miss."

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, bought the house and gave it to the National Trust, to complement its acquisition of Paul McCartney's house in Forthlin Road.

Mat thew's responsibi l ities included the daily running of the house and ensuring that its internal appearance was maintained and the visitors were looked after.

Mendips' value is entirely through the Lennon connection. It is a pleasant, 1930s semi-detached house, similar to thousands of others built all over Britain for the burgeoning pre-war market in middle class home-owners. However, the 7,000 visitors last year were not disappointed by its ordinary appearance.

"Everyone who came were really interested. It was the first season so everything was a learning curve. We just didn't know how people would react," says Matthew.

He spent a month preparing for the opening las t year with Merseyside's National Trust curator James Rothwell, who is responsible for the house's look and furnishings.

"Houses like this are being constantly updated by their owners, so the National Trust is doing the right thing in preserving a typical home of the 1950s which becomes increasingly valuable. That is a benefit entirely apart from the Lennon connection."

Matthew gave all visitors a 10 minute introductory talk and answered questions. He says: "The National Trust treat it as a collaborative venture and you're encouraged to find your own way."

Like mos t National Trust custodians, he lived on the property; in his case it was the lodger's back bedroom.

At the official opening of Mendips by the National Trust, with a dramatic flourish of her arms, Yoko Ono told wide-eyed journalists that: "I feel John's presence throughout the house."

Was Matthew assaulted by a similar spooky ambience when the visitors had gone, the door was closed and darkness had fallen over Menlove Avenue?

"I can honestly say that I never felt John Lennon's presence. There was a real sense of place, but when you're doing a job and your feet are under the table it just feels like home. It becomes more your home than his. In fact, you do not want to feel John Lennon's presence."

ALTHOUGH allowed the freedom of the house when it was closed to the public, he tended to roost solely in the kitchen and snug. He says: "The sofas in the lounge are very old and uncomfortable. Besides, unnecessary use of the furniture accelerates its ageing."

The kitchen's 1950s gas cooker was rebuilt internally to modern requirements and other new equipment such as a microwave were installed behind a removal panel.

He was allowed to use soft toilet tissue paper, rather than the classic Izal scratchy paper on show.

Having mugged up on John Lennon's life (his time at Mendips included the Beatles' Hamburg tours), intriguingly visitors were keener to ask about Matthew himself.

"I was surprised that people were so curious about me. There were always questions about how long I'd lived here, what did I feel about being in Lennon's home, did I feel his presence, did I like being here.

"The second most popular subject was the big school picture, with everyone wanting to know where John was. As the house is decorated as the family home, it's not marked.

"I expected lots of intricate and difficult questions, but most people don't come for that. They just want a touristy experience. There was a significant minority with a morbid interest wanting to know where John, his mother Julia and his Aunt Mimi are buried.

"Overall, there was a good spread of people. Mostly they were in their 50s and 60s, but there was a new generation of Beatles' fans in their 20s.

"The 30 and 40-year-olds were less well represented because they were most receptive to pop in the 1970s when the Beatles were old hat and before John's murder rekindled interest in the group.

"All my friends who visited were in awe of the place and wanted a tour. Eventually, I got rather abrupt and just gave them leaflets, telling them to show themselves around!"

During his time at Mendips, he gained enormous admiration for Lennon, his talent, originality and strong sense of destiny.

He says: "You expect rock and roll to come out of the working classes and council houses like McCartney's, not an ordinary suburban house like this one."

* MENDIPS reopens on March 29, with access via minibus pick-ups at Albert Dock and Speke Hall; tel: 08457-588702 for details.
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Old Jan 26, 2004, 02:10 PM   #2
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Default Re: In Lennon\'s footsteps

Thanks! That was an interesting article. They showed that guy on the special that aired on the Travel Channel.
Originally Posted By I am the Paulrus:
"Overall, there was a good spread of people. Mostly they were in their 50s and 60s, but there was a new generation of Beatles' fans in their 20s.

"The 30 and 40-year-olds were less well represented because they were most receptive to pop in the 1970s when the Beatles were old hat and before John's murder rekindled interest in the group.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I think a lot of the reason for that is also that those in their 20s (like me) are very likely to be the children of the original Beatle fans, whereas being in your 30s and 40s means your parents (usually) were too old to be into the Beatles when they first came out. But I know a lot of people in the 30s-40s age group into them, too. It might have more to do with finances of the given groups, etc.

[size="1"][ Jan 26, 2004, 03:12 PM: Message Edited By: Norwegian_Wood ][/size]
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Old Jan 26, 2004, 11:35 PM   #3
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Default Re: In Lennon\'s footsteps

Wow...that was really interesting! Thanks for sharing that with us!
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Old Jan 27, 2004, 02:48 PM   #4
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Default Re: In Lennon\'s footsteps

Thanks for sharing Paulrus. had a wee chuckle at the toilet thing though [img]graemlins/blush5.gif[/img]
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Old Jan 27, 2004, 08:32 PM   #5
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Default Re: In Lennon\'s footsteps

Man...sounds like SUCH a cool experience! One of these years I'll get to England and see the house myself. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

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Old Jan 28, 2004, 08:26 PM   #6
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Default Re: In Lennon\'s footsteps

I know I posted this link before, but it was a long time ago and in another forum. Anyhow, for those of you who have never seen this, and again for those of you who have, here's a virtual tour of John's childhood home, Mendips.

You can look through every room in the house (including the bathroom!), and most people I've talked to are deeply moved by seeing these rooms even in this way. I can only imagine what it would be like to be physically in the house.
His little bedroom made me cry.
Don't miss this!
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