From 1946 John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi (Mary Smith) and Uncle George in their house, ‘Mendips’, at 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool, after his mother Julia had handed over care of her son to them.
Despite the living arrangements, Julia came to see John almost every day. In 1957 she bought him his first guitar, a cheap Gallotone Champion acoustic “guaranteed not to split”. Julia shared John’s love of rock and roll music, despite Mimi’s disapproval, and saw her son playing in the Quarrymen.
On 15 July 1958, when John was 17, Julia died on Menlove Avenue shortly after leaving Mimi’s house, while crossing the road to get to a bus stop. She was struck by a Standard Vanguard car driven by an off-duty policeman, 24-year-old Eric Clague.
Contrary to some reports, Clague was not drunk at the time, and he was driving under the 30mph speed limit. He was, however, a learner driver who was unaccompanied.
Mrs Lennon just ran straight out in front of me. I just couldn’t avoid her. I was not speeding, I swear it. It was just one of those terrible things that happen.
John’s childhood friend Nigel Whalley later recounted what happened:
I went to call for John that evening but his Aunt Mimi told me he was out. Mimi was at the gate with John’s mum, who was about to leave. We stood chatting and John’s mum said ‘Well, you have the privilege of escorting me to the bus stop!’ I said ‘That will do me fine. I’ll be happy to do that.’
We walked down Menlove Avenue and I turned off to go up Vale Road, where I lived. I must have been about 15 yards up the road when I heard a car skidding. I turned round to see John’s mum going through the air. I rushed over but she had been killed instantly.
Whalley ran back to Mendips to get Mimi, who cried hysterically as they waited for an ambulance.
At about 9.45pm the deceased left my home (in Menlove Avenue) and went in the direction of a bus stop on the opposite side by The Vineries. Shortly afterwards I was informed that she had been injured. I went to the scene… she was unconscious. I went with her to Sefton General Hospital… she was dead on arrival.
Julia’s husband John Dykins travelled to Sefton General Hospital by taxi, accompanied by John Lennon who refused to take a final look at his mother. Dykinks himself later died in a car crash in December 1965.
I didn’t see John much after that because he became a bit of a recluse. It worried me because, deep down, I wondered whether he blamed me for the accident and was thinking ‘If only Nigel Whalley had stayed a minute longer talking to my mum’. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Julia was 44 years old. A post-mortem examination revealed she had died of massive brain injuries caused by skull fractures. An inquest held a month later recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.
At the time I thought of sending the family my condolences, but I thought it would only make matters worse. They were very angry and upset by what had happened, naturally so, I suppose.
At the inquest Eric Clague was acquitted of all charges. He never tried to contact Lennon’s family in the aftermath of the accident.
Clague made a statement to the inquest revealing details of the accident.
I am Constable 126 C, Liverpool City Police, and live at 43 Ramilies Road, Liverpool 18. I was the driver of the motor car (private) LKF 630, which was involved in this occurrence. I have heard the statement said to have been made by me to Police Inspector Harte and I agree with it.
In 1964, when The Beatles became world-famous, Clague realised he had killed the mother of John Lennon.
Like everyone else I started reading in the papers about them and they were never off the TV. I read that John Lennon’s mother was dead and that he used to live in Menlove Avenue.
I put two and two together and realised that it was his mum that I had killed. Everything came back to me and I felt absolutely terrible. It had the most awful effect on me. The Beatles were everywhere, especially in Liverpool, and I couldn’t get away from it.
Clague later left the police force to become a postman. His round took him to 20 Forthlin Road, Paul McCartney‘s family home.
My postman’s round took in Forthlin Road, where Paul McCartney used to live. At the height of The Beatles’ fame I used to deliver hundreds of cards and letters to the house.
I remember struggling up the path with them all. But of course they just reminded me of John Lennon and his mother.
She is buried in the Allerton Cemetery in Liverpool.