Fans of The Beatles can now take a trip through the childhood sanctuary of John Lennon that inspired the song Strawberry Fields Forever, with the former children’s home in Liverpool, England, now open to the public.
John used to climb over the fence from his aunt’s house, where he grew up, and play with other kids at the Strawberry Field orphanage.
Around 60,000 fans flock each year to the site to have their photos taken outside the famous red gates, but until now have never been allowed beyond.
“The gates are open for good,” said Major Allister Versfeld, mission development officer of the Salvation Army charity. “This is a unique opportunity for people to come and explore the garden … and just enjoy what many have said; there’s a real sense of calm and peace.”
The site, in the city’s Woolton neighbourhood, was a Salvation Army children’s home up until 2005 when it became derelict. But it’s been turned into a centre to help youths aged 18 to 25 with learning disabilities find employment, partly funded by opening its doors.
“We’ve got the visitor exhibition, which tells the story of the Salvation Army, the children’s home, and that connection with Lennon,” said Versfeld. “We’ve got a cafe, retail space, and wonderful gardens for people to explore. All the money raised stays at Strawberry Field and used for our steps-to-work programme.”
John was brought up by his aunt, even though his mum Julia lived nearby until she died in a car accident. Strawberry Field became a place where he could meet other kids and also contemplate, Versfeld added.
“He came to play with the children and observe what was going on,” Versfeld said. “He found some sanctuary, peace and calm here. That song, many would look at the lyrics and wonder what was going on, but I think that was a space that he found and a place that was special to him.”
The original gates went off site a few years ago, but have now been returned.
Meanwhile, Lennon’s lyric, “It doesn’t matter much to me”, is written on the walls of the exhibition, contrasting with the cafe where the words “It matters to us” are displayed above videos showing the work of the charity organisation.
The show takes visitors on a historical trip through Strawberry Field and displays exhibits documenting Lennon’s early life. In addition, Graceland has loaned artefacts to recognise Lennon’s love for Elvis Presley, while other items include a handwritten draft of the song and a photo-mosaic of John’s face.
The song was released in 1967 as a double A-side single with Penny Lane, hitting No.2 on the UK chart behind Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me. Lennon wrote it while filming in Spain, and it was the first track recorded for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, although it’s not on the final album.
The psychedelic tune is recognised as the point that the 1960s band moved away from straight pop to a more complex sound, incorporating unusual instruments including the “Mellotron” and an Indian swarmandal.