Students dig back in time to research John Lennon’s childhood garden.

Posted on 17th June 2010
Five History students from the University of Chester have helped the National Trust to recreate the authenticity of the garden at John Lennon's childhood home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Researching John Lennon's garden are Christina Asher, Richard Taylor, Thomas Davies, Matthew Jones, Dr Donna Jackson and Rebecca Lindley. 

Mendips is owned by the National Trust and is a mecca for Beatles' fans. While the house itself is contemporary to the 1950s when John Lennon lived there, the garden contains modern plants.

Simon Osborne, the National Trust's Liverpool Property Manager, said: "Mendips was given to the National Trust by Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, in 2002. We have restored the building and its contents faithfully and accurately to recreate the environment in which John grew up with his Aunt Mimi. But the garden features varieties of plant that simply were not grown in domestic gardens in the 1950s.

"We want the garden to look as close as possible to the one that John and Aunt Mimi would have used and enjoyed every day. That is where the University of Chester students came in."

The students, in the second year of their History degree, volunteered for a six-week work placement with the National Trust so that they could research a replacement planting scheme for Mendips. Under the direction of their course leader, Dr Donna Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, they have been trawling through gardening history books to discover the type of plants that would have been popular in the 1950s, as well as through archives and old photographs of Mendips.

Dr Jackson said: "The team had a couple of useful pointers to start with. It was already known that Aunt Mimi liked growing soft fruit and John Lennon's cousin volunteered his memories of the garden layout and content. However, the sources are limited. The difficulty of this task has been compounded by the importance of John Lennon and the Beatles to Liverpool and to cultural history.

"I'm very proud of the care, attention and hard work that the students are devoting to this project. They fully realise the significance of what they are doing and have even asked if they can continue to work on the project after the official end of their placement."

The students are now compiling a report which will be presented to the National Trust.

Simon Osborne said: "I am really looking forward to seeing the results of the students' work. It will be instrumental in developing our plans for the reinstatement of the garden.

"This has been a very practical and useful project both for the students and for the Trust. It gives us valuable information that we would not otherwise have obtained. It moves forward our plans for restoring the garden.

"Another group of Dr Jackson's students is working on a similar project for the Trust at Speke Hall, this time researching the planting scheme for a Victorian kitchen garden. We recently discovered the garden's footprint in the grounds of the Hall and want to restore it in a project that will involve local people. We think it will be of interest to those on allotment waiting lists as they will be able to grow fruit and vegetables on a 50/50 basis, keeping half for themselves and providing half for the property's restaurant menu."

Dr Jackson said: "We are delighted to have had this opportunity to work with the National Trust and contribute to these projects. Our students have gained valuable experience of working as historians and we have been able to strengthen the ties between the University of Chester and the community.

"We are looking forward to working alongside the National Trust again. We are already discussing the possibility of an archaeological survey at Speke Hall."

The students are thoroughly enjoying their work on the Mendips project. Those who volunteered have a particular love of music or interest in the National Trust.

Rebecca Lindley, whose home town is Keighley, West Yorkshire, said: "I got involved in the Mendips project because it is a great opportunity to work with the National Trust, especially on something as important as the home of one of the Beatles. It's a privilege to be able to work on John Lennon's childhood home."

Christina Asher from Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, said: "I've always been interested in the National Trust's work and have a love of music, so to work on something from a defining moment in pop history is amazing."

Tom Davies from West Bromwich in the West Midlands, said: "I hope my part in the research will help to further recreate a house which has so much meaning to the early days of the Beatles."

Dr Jackson added: "The Beatles are hugely important to the history and economy of this region and I'm delighted that our students share our excitement and sense of privilege."

The research isn't the only connection the University has to the legendary Beatles star.

Having won a BAFTA for his work on Control in 2007, a film-bio about the life of former Joy Division front man Ian Curtis, Media Studies with Business graduate Matt Greenhalgh was chosen to write the screenplay for Nowhere Boy which had a cinematic release on Boxing Day last year. Another movie-bio, only this time it illustrated the early years of John Lennon.