It was 50 years ago today... Saving Strawberry Field forever

Strawberry Field in Liverpool
Strawberry Field in Liverpool
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IT IS one of the most enduring songs in the history of popular music, and the one John Lennon considered his greatest achievement.

Yet 50 years ago, there was comparatively little enthusiasm for a tune considered just too psychedelic for the record buying public.

John Lennon, aged seven.

John Lennon, aged seven.

When Strawberry Fields Forever was released, as a double A-sided single with Penny Lane, it marked a watershed in the world’s love affair with The Beatles: the first of their releases in four years not to go to the top of the singles chart.

Today, the two Liverpool landmarks are as synonymous with the band as the city itself, which now wants to restore Strawberry Field to the way Lennon remembered it as a child.

The Salvation Army has chosen today, the 50th anniversary of the record’s original release, to launch an appeal for funds to redevelop its former children’s home there.

Its plans include a training and “work placements hub” for young people with learning disabilities, a haven for spiritual exploration and an exhibition on the place, the song and Lennon’s early life around Strawberry Field.

The Beatles

The Beatles

The site in Woolton, south Liverpool, is close to where Lennon grew up with his aunt Mimi, after being handed over to her care by his mother.

The woods around the children’s home were said to be a place of peace and refuge from Lennon’s troubled childhood, where he went to play with friends, climb trees and dream hours away.

The refrain in the song, “And nothing to get hung about”, is said to be a reference to his retort to Mimi about playing on the property: “They can’t hang you for it”.

Lennon would also visit the home for its annual garden party, and his some of his earliest musical experiences were listening to the Salvation Army band at the events.

Major Drew McCombe, divisional leader for The Salvation Army, North West said: “Strawberry Field is special in the hearts of many people in Liverpool, the UK and across the world, and we at The Salvation Army are aiming to redevelop the site to do justice to the many people that have been supported by the children’s home or formed a connection with the iconic Beatles song.

“It’s no secret that Strawberry Field was special to John Lennon - it mattered to him - and it feels right to launch our fundraising campaign and new website on the 50th anniversary of the UK release of Strawberry Fields Forever.”

The home, dated originally from 1870, was transferred to a wealthy merchant in 1912, whose widow sold the estate to the Salvation Army in 1934.

The original house was later demolished and replaced with a smaller purpose-built home, which opened in the early 1970s. It closed in 2005 and is now a church and prayer centre.

The famous red wrought-iron gates marking its entrance were removed and replaced with replicas in May 2011.

However, it is still a popular stop for fans of The Beatles who pose for photos and scrawl their names on the stone gate posts.

The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: “I’m expressing my wholehearted support of The Salvation Army’s plans to redevelop their children’s home at Strawberry Field. Their plans for a totally unique project, to provide vocational training for young people with mild to moderate learning disabilities, are to be commended.”

Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm and chairman of The Beatles Legacy Group, added: “I can think of no better way Strawberry Field could be redeveloped in such an innovative way.”