Beatles and Scouse
Liverpool. That one word conjures images of the Swingin’ Sixties and The Beatles changing the face of popular music and popular culture worldwide. And the northern port city embraces its legacy as the birthplace of the Fab Four.
A Short History
Liverpool was around for almost 800 years before the British Invasion led by the Beatles. Population growth was initially slow, but in 1699 the first slave ship set sail for Africa. The slave trade was the backbone of Liverpool’s economy for over 100 years. As part of the Triangular Trade in which ships in Liverpool were loaded with finished goods to trade in West Africa for slaves and then the slaves were sold in America; the city boomed.
Even after slavery was abolished in England in the early 19th century, Liverpool still reaped the economic benefits of human bondage. Liverpool ships traded in cotton and tobacco with the United States, further boosting the Industrial Revolution at a falsely inflated rate due to the easy accessibility of free labor in the New World.
As slavery was finally abolished in the former colonies, Liverpool’s fortune began to turn. Strikes and riots befell the city in the early 20th century, followed by the Great Depression and then WWII. Since Liverpool was a strategic port city, it was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during WWII, killing over 2,500 people and damaging most of the buildings there.
This led to a huge construction boom after the war. Trade also flourished as merchant marines and sailors flooded the town. Some brought with them Rhythm and Blues, Country, and Pop records from the United States that were difficult to find in England. It was from these records that John Lennon and Paul McCartney discovered their love for Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Carl Perkins.
With Beatlemania sweeping the world, grimy, unsophisticated Liverpool suddenly became the center of youth culture. Several other artists from Liverpool, often with the help of a song penned by the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney, like Gerry and Pacemakers, The Searchers, and Cilla Black, reaped the benefits of worldwide demand for all things British.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo were all born and grew up in Liverpool, England. They formed the most popular and highly acclaimed musical group in history in Liverpool when they were teenagers and wrote some of their biggest early hits at their homes in the city.
The Beatles’ impact cannot be overstated. In addition to changing the face of popular music several times (Beatlemania in 1963, psychedelic rock in 1966, hard rock/heavy metal in 1968), they also transformed fashion, political activism, business, and society’s perception of recreational drugs.
Many of The Beatles’ most famous songs are based on real places that can be visited in Liverpool. Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool, but also a transit stop to catch a bus. Paul McCartney was often here getting a bus to somewhere in the city. In 1967, the song Penny Lane hit number one as a double A-Side single with Strawberry Fields Forever. In the song, Paul sings about the “barber showing photographs.” The barber shop is still there. There’s also a “banker with a motorcar.” The bank is there as well. So, is the “shelter in the middle of a roundabout.” Recently, Paul McCartney returned to Liverpool and visited many of his old haunts for an episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.
And speaking of the Double-A side (a 45 rpm record where both sides are hits), Strawberry Field is also a real place. It was used as a Salvation Army home for children starting the 1930’s. Strawberry Field was near John’s Aunt Mimi’s home where he was living. He would often go there to play, much to the dismay of the adults running the home. In fact, one tale has one of the owners of the home visiting Aunt Mimi and telling her that if John kept coming to the grounds he would hang him. That’s where the line “nothing to get hung about” came from.
The home for children closed in 2005, and but John’s half-sister Julia Baird is now Honorary President of the Strawberry Field Project and visitors are now welcome to buy tickets and visit the garden and exhibition which details the history of Strawberry Field as well as John Lennon’s childhood.
Both Penny Lane and Strawberry Field are excellent spots for photo ops with your camera or video with your GoPro.
When John and Paul were teenagers they spent quite a bit of time at eachother’s homes practicing and writing songs. Both homes, on Menlove Ave. and Forthlin Road respectively, are owned by that National Trust and available for tours. Over 100 songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “The One After 909” were written at 20 Forthlin Road, while fewer were written at “Mendips” on Melove Ave. because Aunt Mimi frowned on guitar playing in the house, although “I’ll Get You” was one that was authored there.
Just a short walk from John’s house on Menlove Ave. is St. Peter’s Church. Next to the church is a graveyard where John and Paul would often sunbathe. Here, there is a grave marker for Eleanor Rigby, a woman who died of brain hemorrhage in 1939. Although Paul originally claimed it was just a coincidence that one of his most famous songs shared the name of a deceased woman in Liverpool, he later said that he probably picked up the name subconsciously. Tommy Steele (an early teen heartthrob and rock and roll singer from the 50’s) sculpted a statue of Eleanor Rigby in the early 80’s. It currently sits on Stanley Street.
St. Peter’s Church is also the location of the most famous meeting in music history. On July 6th, 1957, a sixteen year old John Lennon was playing from the back of a slowly moving truck in the garden of the church with his group The Quarrymen. Fifteen year old Paul McCartney was in audience and approached John after the show, showing him some guitar licks and tunings. A few weeks later, Paul was in the group and musical history was made.
The childhood homes of George and Ringo are also still standing. They grew up in decidedly poorer neighborhoods of the city (although Paul and John’s families were far from wealthy). Near Ringo’s home is the pub where his mother worked. That pub, the Empress, is probably most famous for being the cover shot of Ringo’s “Sentimental Journey” album. The pub itself has closed but exterior is still much the same as it was on Ringo’s LP cover.
The center of the Beatle universe in Liverpool is Mathew Street. Filled with souvenir shops selling cheap tchotchkes, it is also home to the most famous rock club in the world, The Cavern Club. John first played here with the Quarrymen who later added Paul to the lineup. The Beatles played 292 shows here, their last in 1963 when the crush of Beatlemania proved too much for the tiny subterranean space.
The Cavern closed in the early 70’s but was rebuilt with the original bricks, changed names several times, but still supported local bands like OMD, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Teardrop Explodes. In the 80’s The Cavern featured disco music. But today, the club features live rock music, some new, some from the old days. During the day there is often no admission fee and a small entrance fee in the evening.
Next door is the Cavern Pub, which, while not an original Beatle site is notable for its sculpture of John Lennon outside the front door.
Other attractions on Mathew Street include Grapes, a bar where the Beatles would grab an adult beverage before and/or after gigs. Photos of the four (and original drummer Pete Best) still adorn the walls. Around the corner is the Beatle Shop, one of the best places to shop for Beatles memorabilia.
If you’re staying overnight, you might think about staying at A Hard Day’s Night Hotel. The Beatles themed hotel has statues of the four individual Beatles outside above street level. Rooms have Beatle themes and the John Lennon suite is decorated with a white piano, just like the one seen in the Imagine video. Or, just pop into the bar where there are lots of drinks with Beatle related names.
While the Cavern Club is the most famous Beatles venue in Liverpool, the Casbah Coffee Club deserves recognition as well. Mona Best, mother of Pete Best (the Beatles original drummer) opened a club in her cellar which, up to that point, was used to store coal. The Quarrymen, who by this time had added a young George Harrison, were booked into the club but only if they agreed to finish painting the walls. Cynthia Lennon, who would become John’s first wife, painted a silhouette of her future husband which still remains on the wall today. The Quarrymen, and later The Beatles with Pete Best on drums, performed dozens of times at the Casbah before it closed in 1962. The Casbah is open for tours, but only by appointment.
Booking a tour is the best way to see all the sights in Liverpool. If you’re a hardcore fan, you can customize a tour with Fab Four Taxi. The tour can be a bit pricey, but five people can fit in a cab, so dividing the cost five ways makes it more affordable. Plus, you’ll see a lot of places that aren’t on the other tour itineraries.
For a shorter tour that hits all the Beatle highlights, I suggest the Magical Mystery Tour. In two hours you hit most of the major sites with photo ops at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, and several other locations. Your ticket gets you free entry to The Cavern Club as well. I’ve taken different people on this tour and it is quite enjoyable and a great value at under £20. The tour departs from Albert Dock. There is a new museum called The Beatles Story at Albert Dock which recreates several places in Beatles lore but seems to be a bit short on real artifacts.
Folks from Liverpool have a distinctive accent called Scouse. Because of this people from Liverpool are called Scousers (and less frequently Liverpudlians). The accent is most prominent in words like “book” which, in Scouse, has a long “O” sound like “goose.”
But, the reason for the name Scouse is because of the meat stew popular with sailors in Liverpool called “lobscouse,” frequently shortened to scouse. The frugal dish originally consisted of salted boiled meat, onions and peppers, thickened with a hard cracker called ship’s biscuit or hardtack.
Scouse is filling, easy to make, and cheap; perfect for long voyages at sea. Today scouse recipes vary widely, and most self-respecting pubs will have it on the menu. One of the best known spots for scouse is Maggie May’s. In addition to getting scouse at the restaurant, they also sell packaged scouse in local grocery stores. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Maggie May’s is named after traditional Liverpool folk song (Maggie Mae) about a prostitute who robs a sailor. The Beatles covered the song on their LP “Let It Be.”
The Baltic Fleet has been around since the mid 1800’s. This traditional pub brews their own beer and makes some of the best scouse in the city. But, the pub’s history is equally enticing. There are two tunnels leading from the pub. One, to the town’s old red light district, the other to the docks. The reason for the first tunnel is obvious. But why would you need a tunnel to the docks? After all, the docks are just across the street. The reason is to get suspicious or illegal cargo onto ships. Stories from the old days of Liverpool of drunken sailors being taken while they slept and forced to work on ships are rampant.
Shoppers and golfers may want to visit Southport, but I prefer nearby Wales for daytrips. The North Wales Coast train line hugs the shore until it terminates at the island of Holyhead. Many of the stops are seaside towns where you can enjoy a stroll on the boardwalk, grab a snack and enjoy the view. Or, if you go all the way to Holyhead, there is a ferry to take you to Dublin.
Many people visit this part of England to see the so-called Lakes District. About 1 ½ hours north of Liverpool by car, this stunning area has some of the best hiking, biking and kayaking in all of the UK. The English are avid hikers, so you’ll have some company in the more popular areas, but it’s not hard to find your piece of the great outdoors in the Lake District National Park. There are all means of accommodation, from hotels to cabins to outdoor camping, so you’re sure to have a place to lay your head that fits your personality.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport
Domestic and international flights to Europe and North Africa, but no direct flights to the US.
There is convenient bus service from the airport to Liverpool. There is no rail service to the airport. Hackney Cabs are located outside the terminal. Uber is also available.
Liverpool has a well-connected local bus and train system and is a train hub for the rest of country. Taxis and Uber are readily available. Rent a car if you plan trips to smaller nearby towns.
Merseyrail runs the extensive rail system in and around Liverpool.
Merseytravel is the Liverpool bus company. Stops are everywhere, including Penny Lane.
Liverpool is a port city and there is a “Ferry Across the Mersey”
Liverpool is fairly easy to navigate by bike. Citybike has stations all over the city.
Index of Things to Do in Liverpool
John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes
Both homes are owned by the National Trust and available for tours.
Children’s home run by the Salvation Army where John Lennon hung out and inspired the song. Now open to visitors.
Beaconsfield Rd, Liverpool L25 6EJ, England
The venue where Beatlemania was born. The Fabs played almost 300 concerts here.
10 Mathew Street, Liverpool L2 6RE, England
Casbah Coffee House
Important early Beatles performing venue. Tours by reservation only. Concerts by original Beatles drummer Pete Best can also be booked at the venue
8 Haymans Green, Liverpool L12 7JG, England
Fab Four Taxi
Tour of Beatle sites that visits all the main sights and lesser known ones as well.
Magical Mystery Tour
A 2 hour tour of the major Beatle sites. Free admission to the Cavern Club with ticket.
Self-guided tour of Liverpool
Well laid-out tour (both walking and sites further afield) of the best Beatles sites.
Church of St. Luke
Two hundred year old church that was bombed during WWII. It has been left as a roofless shell as a memorial to those lost. The site hosts events and concerts.
Corner of Berry Street and Leece Street, Liverpool
One of the two ferry services from Holyhead, Wales to Dublin, Ireland
Lake District National Park
Outdoor wonderland of hiking, biking and watersports.
Index of Food & Drink in Liverpool
The Baltic Fleet
Traditional pub that serves a mean bowl of scouse. For additional points, they brew their own beer.
33 Wapping, Liverpool L1 8DQ, England
City Wine Bar & Kitchen
Yes, there is vegan scouse and this place serves and mighty fine bowl.
City Buildings 21-23 Old Hall Street, Liverpool
Michelin starred restaurant with an outstanding reputation in Aughton. Rooms also available.
Moor Hall Prescot Road | Aughton, Aughton, Ormskirk
Set six course menu of well-prepared food. Expensive. Reservations required.
11 Rose Mount, Birkenhead, Prenton
Pirate themed rum bar
Britannia Pavillion Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AD, UK
The Dining Room
Restaurant in a Victorian era house in the Lake District. Seasonal ingredients.
Broadgate, Broadgate, Grasmere
Index of Shopping in Liverpool
The best of all the tacky Beatle souvenir shops on Mathew Street.
Corner of Mathew Street and North John, Liverpool
Mooshy La La
Vintage shop specializing in Bohemian fashion.
322 Smithdown Road, Near Penny Lane, Liverpool
Index of Places to Stay in Liverpool
A Hard Day’s Night hotel
Beatle inspired hotel just around the corner from the Cavern Club
Central Buildings 41 North John Street, Liverpool L2 6RR, England
The Resident Liverpool
Excellent budget option near the Albert Dock
29 Seel Street, Liverpool
Staybridge Suites Liverpool
Near Albert Dock. Shared kitchen.
21 Keel Wharf, Liverpool
Quaint hotel in the Lake District with an outstanding restaurant. Extraordinary value.
Howtown, Ullswater, near Penrith
Two bedroom cottage in the Lake District.