With nothing to get hung about, the iconic Beatles track, arguably one of their most famous songs ever written, is probably as well known as the infamous red gates that mark its home on the outskirts of Liverpool. Hidden away in a residential area of the city, this picturesque, tranquil hidden gem sits quietly nestled among the green suburbs of Liverpool but, just like the cherished city that house it, nothing is quite what it seems.
Dating back to the 1860’s, the original Strawberry Field was built for a wealthy shipping magnate, such was the status of many of the rich living in Liverpool at the time with the waterfront positioning Liverpool at the hub of international trade. Since his death the site was bequeathed to a family member, known locally in Liverpool for the purchase of several Salvation Army sites in the city — one of which, the Ann Fowler House, dedicated to the memory of her mother, was often used as a threat to young children who misbehaved. An avid supporter of the needs of the poor and socially deprived, when she passed, Mary left enough funds to The Salvation Army for the benefit of women and children in Liverpool enabling Strawberry Field to be purchased and opened as a children’s home in July 1936.
Chosen for its idyllic, pretty surroundings the dreamlike name of Strawberry Field portrays a magical and mystical view in the minds eye, of a place synonymous with fairy tales, magic and mischief and must have seemed like the perfect place for a young John Lennon to escape his troubled childhood. Having been removed from the care of his mother as a young child and being raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George nearby, he often snuck into the field with friends to play with the children in the home on the site. With the annual arrival of the summer garden party on the grounds of Strawberry Field, John’s Aunt Mimi recalls his excitement for ‘properly’ entering the field, “As soon as we could hear the Salvation Army Band starting, John would jump up and down shouting ‘Mimi, come on. We’re going to be late.’”
One can only imagine the sheer unadulterated joy and pleasure of running free amongst the grounds on long hot sunny days — after all, with a name like strawberry Field, just as the lyrics suggest, there’s nothing to be hung about.
Today, this dreamlike location still stands peacefully behind the famous red gates that protect the memories, adventures and stories of days gone by. Although the original care home has been demolished since and the gates at the front are a replica of the original (the site of many a selfie, having been stolen and returned), the original gates have retired to a quiet corner of the field to live out their days away from the flash light bulbs of technology.
Behind the red gates visitors can now do as John urged and go on down to Strawberry Field and what an experience it is to go behind those famous red gates. Stepping past the graffiti filled walls and site of a thousand selfies you’re instantly transported into a wondrous beautiful landscape complete with a wild garden filled with smells and colours of the flowers and blooms as you follow the winding path to a sleek, contemporary building filled with natural light — a stark contrast to the dark and intimidating photos of the original building that could be the stuff of gothic nightmares.
On entering the light and airy space there is the option to enjoy a typical visitor experience, with a host of souvenirs in the gift shop and a light and airy (with very comfortable seating and expansive menu I add) café area overlooking the Strawberry Field that John so wistfully sung about.
Like the psychedelic induced state that The Beatles entered in the era of Sgt Pepper, there is a visitor centre experience that transports the visitor into the world as seen by John himself with an interactive visitor experience that any Beatles fan would enjoy. Taking an in depth look at the history of Strawberry Field, the origination of the site and how it developed over time as a Salvation Army venue and home for the vulnerable children of Liverpool, the centre features a host of original artefacts, images and footage from John Lennon and The Beatles and their intrinsic link to the site and how their love for Strawberry Field made it a permanent legend as part of their lasting legacy.
With the original trees still in the field, sections of the original building, steps and walls are still on site, fans of The Beatles can see and touch the original artefacts that John himself may have climbed on while those seeking a site for peaceful relaxation to contemplate the lyrics that nothing is real and that there is nothing to get hung about will enjoy the grounds.
Despite a disruptive childhood and troubled upbringing where John felt that no one understood him, one has to wonder if he sought sanctuary of the dream like grounds of the care home among others who were vulnerable and perhaps misunderstood too. A childlike innocence exists in the song that many can perhaps associate with in a busy modern day world filled with information and demands on our time that can be overwhelming, that no one is quite in our tree, like John. So perhaps, while this site of peaceful tranquillity sits, a place of memories, imagination and adventure where it all works out, where nothing is quite real that we should follow John and let him take us down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Field.
Jennifer Caine — Culture Liverpool