Friday, June 12, 2015

SWING WIDE THE GATES - Strawberry Field Part One

The iconic Strawberry Field gates are set to be opened to the public – if plans for a youth learning centre go ahead as planned.

The former Salvation Army children’s home in Liverpool’s Woolton area, which was immortalised in John Lennon’s song Strawberry Fields Forever, is to become a training centre and cafe under plans put forward by the Army’s Divisional Commander stationed in Liverpool, Major Drew McCombe.
He announced to an invited group assembled on the grounds of Strawberry Field plans for a new training centre and café. McCombe said the Army intends to transform the building into a learning facility where Liverpool area people with learning difficulties or additional needs can learn agriculture, horticulture, catering, hospitality and bike repairs. The centre’s focus will be to cultivate valuable skills that will enable them to gain entry to the workforce.

But which gates will be swung open for the celebration?

Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields Forever, which was released in 1967, from his memories of playing in the grounds as a child. The late singer-songwriter spent much of his youth playing in Strawberry Field's grounds, close to the home of his Aunt Mimi with whom he lived as a child.

The earliest reference to 'Strawberry Field' dates from 1870. The Salvation Army purchased the property in 1934 from the widow of a wealthy merchant and opened officially on 7 July 1936. “When the centre opened in 1936, our then Territorial Commander, Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth, said ‘We must save the children because they cannot save themselves! They cannot open the gates to fairer and better things.’ “In a sentence, that is what the new programme will do at Strawberry Field for young people”, said Major Drew McCombe. “We’re intensely aware that Strawberry Field is an iconic part of Liverpool’s history, the building whose gates are so famous will now open the gates of opportunity…. We are a community organisation and we want our new programme to serve the community.” The property accommodated a children’s home run by The Salvation Army from 1936 to 2005.

The name of the home became world famous in 1967 with the release of The Beatles' single, "Strawberry Fields Forever", written by John Lennon. He grew up a stone’s throw from the home and the song was drawn from his memories of playing in the area as a child. One of his childhood treats was the garden party that took place each summer on the grounds of Strawberry Field. Lennon's Aunt Mimi 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."' He and his childhood friends Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan often played in the wooded area behind the building, which Lennon nicknamed in the plural "Strawberry Fields." It has since become a place of pilgrimage for tens of thousands of fans and featured on The Beatles’ ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper album.

Strawberry Field Gates Stolen

The 100-year-old wrought iron gates to the Strawberry Field Salvation Army children's home, catapulted to fame by the Fab Four, were cut down and stolen in broad daylight on Friday, 12 May, 2000. The Beatles immortalised the spot in their 1967 hit, and to the Beatles, Strawberry Fields were forever, but on a Friday night 15 years ago Liverpool thieves armed with portable power tools and a fast get-away van had other ideas.

Nearby children said they saw two men put the ornate and easily recognizable 8ft high gates into a blue Transit van and speed away. Ray Collings, the Salvation Army's divisional public relations director, pleaded for the safe return of the gates. 

"Some of the children were playing in the grounds of the home and noticed some activity at the end of the drive,” said Collins This is nothing unusual as many visitors to Merseyside have their photographs taken at the gates.

"Then the children noticed the gates were being moved and so went to inform members of staff who immediately went to the end of the drive only to find the gates were gone." Collings said the gates had been part of the home's identity since the Salvation Army started work there in 1936.

Beatles expert and Magical Mystery Tour guide Phil Cappell said he was devastated when he heard of the theft, saying the gates were a "national treasure". "
I have been livid ever since I heard about it earlier today. Strawberry Field is a major part of the Tour and fans break down in tears when they arrive there.”

"Now there is no focal point. I just hope those responsible realise what they have done and return the gates. I'd hate to think of them being melted down for scrap metal!"

Plea for safe return

Mr Cappell said Strawberry Field always held a special place in John Lennon's heart, with the former Beatle leaving money to the home in his will. An earlier donation also helped fund the home's Lennon Court - which houses 16 to18-year-olds preparing to leave care.

Over the years, Strawberry Field has become a shrine, particularly to John Lennon who wrote the song in 1967. Thousands of fans from around the world have made the pilgrimage to the Woolton area of Liverpool to take photographs and scrawl messages on the perimeter walls. It is believed the signatures of Lennon's sons Sean and Julian are among the graffiti that covers every inch of the massive granite gate posts.

The 10 ft wide gates made famous by the Beatles were believed to be worth about £5,000. ($9,000.) in May 2,000. Auction estimates today suggest figures in the high 5 figures!

The granite posts were painted by a fan with the name Strawberry Fields. However,  it appears that a purist, someone familiar with the homes’ original name has attempted to remove the added ‘S’.

Tourists from around the world arrive at all hours to pay homage to Lennon and the other Beatles at the iconic shrine, many making it their first stop when arriving at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport. There they’re greeted by another Beatle symbol; a Yellow Submarine ‘docked’ prominently in the airports departing passenger lane since 2005, with airport boss Neil Pakey stating, “Other airports have the Concorde, we have the Yellow Submarine”. 

End Part One

Sven Ljungholm
Former Officer
Resides in the Liverpool's Penny Lane district

1 comment:

Peter J. said...

Love that quote 'we must save the children as they cannot save themselves'.I can see myself using that working in children's care and protection.