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Fans will no longer have to peer through the gates – the Salvation Army garden immortalised by John Lennon is opening for the first time, with an interactive exhibition

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields” urged John Lennon in 1967. Now, for the first time, everyone will be able to walk in his footsteps, when the gardens immortalised in the classic Beatles song are opened to the public on 14 September, alongside a new visitors’ centre, cafe and shop.

Housed in a sleek, modern, light-filled building, it is a stark contrast to the original Gothic mansion that stood there when Lennon was a young boy and would bunk over the wall to climb trees and play hide-and-seek in its garden. Built in 1878 for a shipping magnate in the wealthy Liverpool suburb of Woolton (the family of prime minister William Gladstone lived nearby, in another long-gone pile) it was bought by the Salvation Army in 1934 and turned into a children’s home.

Lennon lived round the corner with his Uncle George and Aunt Mimi, and as well as sneaking into the garden with friends, he loved the summer fete held at Strawberry Field (in the singular, Lennon added the “s”). His aunt once recalled: “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!’”

Years later, Lennon took this nostalgic post-war memory of summer tea parties and brass bands and, through the prism of psychedelia and LSD, used it as the inspiration for one of the most groundbreaking songs of the 1960s. The Beatles spent a then unheard-of 55 hours of studio time on the record, creating what Time magazine called a song of “astonishing inventiveness”, adding, the band “have bridged the heretofore impassable gap between rock and classical, mixing elements of Bach, Oriental and electronic music with vintage twang to achieve the most compellingly original sounds ever heard in pop music.”

The old house was demolished six years after the song’s release, and replaced by a smaller children’s home, which closed for good in 2005. But the locked gates didn’t deter Beatles fans turning up to peek through at the overgrown Strawberry Field – the Liverpool tourist board estimated that about 60,000 visitors did so last year.

Owned and run by the Salvation Army, the attraction gives fans access to the last major missing piece in the Beatles jigsaw: the band has been so forensically analysed – with books chronicling every day of their existence and every note of music. Income generated from the exhibition will fund the charity’s Steps to Work programme, which helps young people with learning disabilities find employment through training, mentoring and work experience.

The interactive exhibition (adults £12.95, concessions £8, family of 3+2 £35) explores the history of both the Salvation Army and Lennon’s life, focusing on his childhood and the writing and recording of Strawberry Fields through archival footage, multimedia and interviews with Paul McCartney, George Martin and Julia Baird, his younger half-sister and president of the project. The most fun feature is the virtual Mellotron that teaches visitors to play the song’s unmistakable opening notes. Another star attraction is the set of iconic wrought-iron red gates – or rather, both sets. The originals were stolen in 2000 but when the crime made the news the thieves realised what they had on their hands and dumped the gates at a local scrap metal merchant, who returned them the following day. Kept in storage ever since, they will now sit in a quiet corner of the garden, while the heavily-graffitied replicas – the site of a million selfies – will remain in place on the road at the former entrance.

The smart red-and-white cafe and landscaped gardens are free to enter, the latter designed to encourage meditation and spiritual reflection. The trees Lennon may once have climbed are still here, and in a clever touch, sections of the original mansion walls and steps (made from the same local red sandstone as Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral) are scattered around the garden, to be used as benches.

Lennon’s sister, Julia Baird, 72, who is honorary president of the Strawberry Field project, said the grounds of the home had been a “sanctuary” for the musician as a youngster.She said: “I suppose as children we all have somewhere that’s a bit ours, a bit special. It might be a little hidey-hole under the stairs or it might be up an oak tree but it’s somewhere we take ourselves. It seems from the song that this was John’s special place.”“The first time I visited John in New York I was struck just how closely his gothic Dakota Apartment building resembled the old Strawberry Field mansion. Perhaps he was searching for another sanctuary.”



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Strawberry Field opens its gates to the public for the first time next month, with a new heritage attraction, cafe and training hub .

The site immortalised by Beatles hit Strawberry Fields Forever will offer visitors a tranquil experience, following in John Lennon’s footsteps through an interactive exhibition.

The exhibition will be available in multiple languages, featuring stories old and new about the site’s history and heritage, John Lennon’s childhood, and the writing and recording of the famous song as told by John’s close friends and family.
Visitors can also enjoy a break at the Imagine More Cafe, which will be serving light refreshments, lunch and early dinner menus.  At the centre of the new attraction are the gardens, where Lennon played as a child, so visitors will be able to trace John’s steps. Tours through the gardens will encourage visitors to take the time to reflect and think, in a space John Lennon knew and loved.
Julia Baird, John Lennon’s sister and honorary president of the Strawberry Field project, said: “I am sure that John would have been thrilled that Strawberry Field is to become a bastion of hope for young adults as well as an inspirational Visitor Experience.”Also on-site will be Steps to Work, a training centre for young adults with learning disabilities and other barriers to employment, in the effort to provide new skills and work experience.
Julius Wolff-Ingham, fundraising and marketing director for The Salvation Army, said: “Strawberry Field will weave together educational, cultural, heritage and spiritual exploration in one bold, imaginative site.
“It’s going to be a vibrant visitor experience, which we hope will inspire people today as much as the place inspired the young John Lennon.”



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John’s half-sister has spoken out about her close relationship with her big brother as Beatlemania took over the music world in the 1960s.

Julia Baird, now 71, grew up with the future pop legend in a semi-detached council house in Allerton’s Springwood estate in Liverpool. He went on to become one of the planet’s most recognisable musicians before being assassinated in New York in December 1980.Now Julia, a former teacher, has revealed that she never felt estranged from her big brother despite his rapid rise to stardom.

Speaking as the 40th anniversary of his death approaches, she told: ‘There is no escape. And there is no point in pretending.’It would hurt more to pretend I had nothing to do with him.’ She said, as a teenager, John used to jam with his future bandmates Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the kitchen of their family home. As he plucked the strings, she and her sister Jackie, John’s other half-sister, danced to Elvis and skiffle. Their mother Julia even taught John to play her mother-of-pearl backed banjo, she said.

Julia believes John was ‘truly himself’ when he was at home practising guitar in the kitchen – which she says is where the magic of The Beatles was born.

John lived with his strict Aunt Mimi, his mother’s sister, from the age of five. He disapproved of his mother Julia’s unmarried life with Bobby Dykins, said Julia. The pair began living together after Julia split from John’s father, merchant seaman Alfred Lennon. Julia and Bobby had two daughters together: Julia and Jackie. John was close with his little sisters and often visited them. And Julia say he was no different to any other big brother.

His road to becoming one quarter of The Beatles began with him inviting Paul McCartney and George Harrison to join his band The Quarrymen. John is said to have met Paul McCartney at a church fete in Woolton in 1957, where he was playing with the band. Julia remembers how she and her sister Jackie tried to yank John off a coal lorry where he was happily strumming his guitar. John ‘laughed his head off’ as his little sisters grabbed a leg each. The Quarrymen made their first record with Percy Phillips’ Sound Recording Services 60 years ago.It was a rendition of Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day and an original, In Spite of All The Danger.

But in 1958, just days after The Quarrymen had recorded their first tracks, John and Julia’s mum was killed. She was struck by a car being driven by an off-duty police officer.  As Beatlemania swept the music world in the 1960s, it was challenging for Julia and John to juggle their grief for their mother with the intense focus on the band.’We were still suffering and then this huge thing was parallel. We all learned to separate things off in boxes,’ said Julia.

In their early years, The Beatles played at The Cavern Club, where Julia now has a directorship.But she explained that she was too young to go there in her teenage years.Instead, she went to see her brother and his bandmates perform at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London with her sister Jackie in 1964.’The curtain went up and it was instant mayhem, I hated it,’ she recalled. She said John came home the same year and slept on the floor in the front room.

The pair remained close when John moved to Surrey with his first wife Cynthia and their son Julian.
Julia recalls visiting them and replying to fan letters with John, writing: ‘Yes, I will marry you, I’ll meet you at the church tomorrow’.
But they lost touch after John moved to New York with Yoko Ono in 1971.He finally rang in 1974 and they spoke for four hours, laughing and crying.He asked her to send him family photographs plastered on her walls, and she did. He never made it home for a visit before his death. She never saw the photographs again.



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John Lennon’s sister returned to one of his childhood haunts as work started on a new visitor attraction and support centre.

Julia Baird helped to bury a time capsule as development work began on the site of the Strawberry Field children’s home in Woolton, Liverpool, which was the inspiration for the band’s 1967 song Strawberry Fields Forever. The Salvation Army is planning to open the site’s famous red gates to the public next summer to give people a chance to walk through the grounds like Lennon did as a boy and learn about his connection with the home. The charity is also planning to build a training and work placement hub for young people with learning disabilities on the site, which has remained empty since the children’s home closed in 2005.

As a boy, John used to jump over the wall into the grounds to play with children who lived there and listen to the Salvation Army band. Also on the site on Tuesday for the development’s ground-breaking ceremony was Lady Judy Martin, widow of the Fab Four’s producer, Sir George Martin.

She said: “The plans to open Strawberry Field to the public for the first time – so people can see a unique exhibition about the home, how and why the song was written by John, and allow visitors to explore the grounds as John did as a child – is very exciting.”

Major Roger Batt, divisional leader for the Salvation Army, North West, said: “As custodians of the site for the people of Liverpool and Beatles fans the world over, we want to transform Strawberry Field and reopen it for the good of young people in the North West who would benefit from access to support, as well as encourage more similar projects across the UK.

“It is our firm intention that Strawberry Field will also be a place for spiritual reflection with an opportunity to explore the grounds and create new memories for each and every person who comes to visit.”

The charity has been fundraising to pay for the development and still needs to raise £1 million before opening.

Donations can be made at






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Strawberry Field, the iconic site immortalised in Lennon’s song and the Beatles hit, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, is being redeveloped which will see the famous red gates open to the public for the first time in summer 2019.

To mark this special occasion, Julia has been interviewed in a series of short films exclusively available at, where she fondly recalls memories of when John joined local kids to play in the shadow of the old Victorian House in the grounds of Strawberry Field.
Looking forward to joining the Strawberry Field team, Julia said: “I’m privileged to be invited to join this unique project, it’s a brilliant idea. Just like The Beatles springing from the stage of the Cavern Club, it’s a wonderful idea that The Salvation Army is going to cultivate youngsters in the precious soil of Strawberry Field, for them to be nurtured to reach their full potential, where they will have the chance of work all around Liverpool.”
The revival of the site, treasured by John as he grew up on Menlove Avenue, will include a training and work placement hub for young people with learning disabilities; a new authentic exhibition on the place, the song and John Lennon’s early life around Strawberry Field; and the development of a haven for spiritual exploration around the peaceful and tranquil grounds.

Major Drew McCombe, Chairman of The Salvation Army’s Strawberry Field Board explained:”This is a pivotal day in the life of our project. To have a connection with John in his early life and the opportunity to work alongside Julia to cast the vision of the new Strawberry Field is a rich blessing. We are absolutely delighted that Julia has come on-board to help us raise the profile of Strawberry Field to the wider public and Beatles fans across the world. When we met I was impressed by Julia’s genuine understanding of the young people we are aiming to work with and her energy to help us achieve this vision.”


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Julia Baird will be appearing at the Kent Stage Saturday, Oct. 21, with The Mersey Beatles.

Baird is the younger half-sister of the famous Beatles singer. In 2007, she wrote the book “Imagine This — Growing Up with My Brother, John Lennon,” which describes the relationship with her brother and what her life was like growing up with him.

The Mersey Beatles are a Beatles tribute band from Liverpool, England. They were a resident band at the world famous Cavern Club. “There are so many Beatles tribute bands, and they (The Mersey Beatles) are one of the most authentic I have heard,” Baird said.

Since 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, The Mersey Beatles will be performing the entire album live in Kent.

On stage, Baird will be introducing the band, showing videos and talking about Liverpool and Beatleweek.