Tittenhurst Park is an early Georgian country house with a surrounding 72-acre estate off London Road at Beggar's Bush near Sunninghill and over the parish border into Sunningdale, both in the English county of Berkshire. It was famously the home of musicians John Lennon and Yoko Ono from the late summer of 1969 until August 1971, and then the home of Ringo Starr and family until the late 1980s.
The present house dates back to 1737, although the facade is largely circa 1830. In 1869, the property was owned by Thomas Holloway, philanthropist and founder of two large institutions which he built nearby: Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water, Surrey, and Royal Holloway College, now known as Royal Holloway, University of London in Englefield Green. About 1898, the house was purchased by Thomas Hermann Lowinsky, the former general manager of the Hyderabad (Deccan) Co coal mines in India. He was an active member of the Royal Horticultural Society and won their gold medal for his rhododendrons, an outstanding collection of which he built up at Tittenhurst, including one he named 'Mrs Tom Lowinsky'. Amongst Lowinsky's children who grew up at the park was his daughter, Xenia Noelle Field, the prison reformer and horticulturist.
John Lennon and Tittenhurst Park
Lennon purchased the property after the sale of Kenwood in Surrey, his earlier home with first wife Cynthia Lennon, because of its resemblance to Calderstones Park in Liverpool, where he had spent time as a child. Lennon bought the house for £145,000 from Peter Cadbury. The estate included spectacular gardens, a Tudor cottage and servants' cottages. He and Ono spent twice the purchase price on renovations, transforming the interior of the house to their liking, commissioning a set of hand-woven Oriental rugs, and installing a man-made lake without planning permission which they could see from their bedroom window.
The last Beatles photo session took place at Tittenhurst Park on 22 August 1969, and the photos were used for the front and back covers of their Hey Jude album (a collection of single sides) early in 1970. Also during that year, and in the wake of the Beatles' break-up, Lennon built his own recording studio, dubbed Ascot Sound Studios, in the estate grounds, where he and Ono recorded their next several albums. The matching cover photos of their twin Plastic Ono Band albums were taken at Tittenhurst by the pair, using an Instamatic camera, and portions of the Imagine movie-length video – which included selections from the Fly album – were also filmed in the grounds. The interior was also used as the backdrop for the film that was used to promote the single "Imagine", with Yoko seen opening the window shutters as John played a white grand piano.
During 1970 and 1971, Lennon and Ono began to visit the United States, first for Primal Therapy at Dr. Arthur Janov's Primal Institute in California, then for child custody hearings over Ono's daughter Kyoko Chan Cox, in Houston and New York City. Ono spent her late teens and twenties living in New York (including Scarsdale and Greenwich Village), and felt more at home there than in England – and so did Lennon, once he'd had a taste of Village life, as they rented a Bank Street apartment late that year. On 31 August 1971 the Lennons moved to New York permanently.
In 2004, Peter Dennison, owner of French furniture firm Moth, offered for sale one of the original lavatory seats from Tittenhurst Park. It was displayed in the window of the Brighton Musical Exchange shop in Trafalgar Street, Brighton. Mr. Dennison had bought the seat when his architectural salvage firm was offered furniture by the contractors doing the renovations at Tittenhurst Park. The asking price was £285.
In 2010, the lavatory itself was offered for sale at auction in aid of the Paul McCartney Auditorium at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts. Lennon told builder John Hancock to keep the porcelain lavatory and "use it as a plant pot" after he had installed a new one. It was stored in a shed at Mr Hancock's home for 40 years until he died. The lot carries an estimate of £750–1,000. Also offered for sale was a mono copy of Two Virgins, recorded at Kenwood (estimate £2,500) and Julian Lennon's harmonica, given to Mr Hancock by the musician who asked him to take it home as "Julian was driving him mad with it". Lennon told Mr Hancock he would tell Julian it was lost (estimate £750–1,000).
Ascot Sound Studios
Lennon built the studio, which featured eight recording tracks on one-inch open-reel tape and a sixteen-channel mixing console, so that he and wife/collaborator Ono could record without the inconvenience of having to book studio time at Abbey Road or another location. They could also avoid negative pressure from EMI and Apple Records staffers, and members of the British public, who disdained Ono's avant-garde stylings and tried to persuade Lennon to make more "sellable" music, as he had with the now-defunct Beatles. (Chance encounters with other ex-Beatles were likewise avoided.) Technical personnel and outside musicians were summoned as required, kept on standby, or stayed at Lennon and Ono's guest quarters (as they did for the Imagine and Fly sessions) if necessary, to make records that satisfied the two.
First to be recorded were the twin Plastic Ono Band albums (portions of which were also recorded at Abbey Road), released simultaneously in December 1970. (Lennon's rose to #6 in the Billboard charts, while Ono's—largely recorded in a single night of jamming with Lennon, Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr on drums—barely made the Top 200.) The following year brought Lennon's best-selling Imagine, with Phil Spector as co-producer. George Harrison joined Lennon and Voormann at Ascot to play on several songs, including "How Do You Sleep?", a song that criticised the odd ex-Beatle out, Paul McCartney. Ringo Starr visited the studio during the recording of the song and was reportedly upset, saying: "That's enough, John." The album sessions were extensively filmed, and the footage appears in both the Imagine: John Lennon documentary and a separate documentary about the making of the album.
Recorded at the same time as Imagine was Yoko Ono's album Fly (whose title song was the soundtrack to their movie of the same name), and these appear to be the last recordings the couple completed at the studio.
Deciding to stay long-term in the United States, Lennon sold Tittenhurst Park to a longtime friend, who could make use of the grounds and the recording studio – his former bandmate Ringo Starr, who purchased the property on 18 September 1973.
Renaming the studio "Startling Studios", Starr made the facility available for use by other recording artists. Portions of T. Rex's film Born to Boogie were shot there, and the house also saw a social visit from cult folk musician Nick Drake.
Judas Priest planned to record their British Steel album at Startling Studios, but found the house itself more suitable, and moved recording equipment there. Judas Priest's live album Unleashed in the East was also mixed and completed there.
In 1988, the property was sold for £5 million to HRH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi. Since then further extensive renovations to the manor have been carried out, and the interior no longer resembles the house lived in by Lennon and Starr. Lionel Fanshawe, principal landscape architect of Terra Firma Landscape Architects (Hampshire) has been involved with the Tittenhurst Park estate since 1990 (commencing with Charles Funke Associates to 1996), restoring and transforming over 16 hectares of parkland, arboretum, waterbodies and formal gardens, largely in keeping with the English country house tradition. In 2007 the property's value was estimated to be £30 million.
In 2013, a gypsy caravan once owned by John Lennon and Ringo Starr was found at Ringo Starr's former Surrey home after being 'lost' for over 40 years. A charitable trust has taken ownership and says they would like to see it handed over to a cultural museum in Liverpool. The trust came into possession of the caravan after the owner of Starr's former home in Longcross sold up.[nb 1]
- The BBC report is not 100% clear as to exactly where and when the caravan was found
- "Images of the house". Retrieved 2008-09-25.
- Norman, Philip (2008). John Lennon: The Life. Hammersmith, England: Harper Collins. pp. 615 et seq. ISBN 978-0-00-719741-5.
- Williams, Richard (1983). "Royal Holloway College, A Pictorial History" (first published October 1983). Surrey: Royal Holloway, University of London. pp. 6 – includes a picture of the house ca.1930. ISBN 0-900145-83-8.
- BBC news: "Beatles Sgt Pepper's gypsy caravan unearthed in Ascot" 26 May 2013, accessed 26 May 2013
- "For sale - John Lennon's toilet seat". The Argus -. 25 March 2004. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
- "John Lennon's toilet to be auctioned with Beatles memorabilia". The Daily Telegraph (London). 23 August 2010.
- Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen To This Book. Guildford, Great Britain: Biddles Ltd. p. 89. ISBN 0-9544528-1-X.
- BBC News: Beatles Sgt Pepper's gypsy caravan unearthed in Ascot, 26 May 2013, accessed 26 May 2013
- Beatles final photo session - held at Tittenhurst Park in 1969
- Photoblog for John Lennon at Tittenhurst Park
- IMDb - filming at Tittenhurst Park
- Terra Firma Landscape Architects