Lennon in 1966
14 December 1912|
Liverpool, Lancashire, England
|Died||1 April 1976
Brighton, Sussex, England
|Occupation||Office-boy, bellboy, steward, merchant seaman, kitchen porter, dishwasher, singer|
|Children||3, including John Lennon|
|Parent(s)||John "Jack" Lennon
Mary "Polly" Lennon (née Maguire)
Alfred Lennon (14 December 1912 – 1 April 1976) was the father of English musician John Lennon. He spent many years in an orphanage—with his sister, Edith—after his father died. He was known as being very witty and musical throughout his life—he sang and played the banjo—but not as being very dependable. Although always known informally as Alf by his family, he later released a record as Freddie Lennon, and was referenced and quoted in newspapers and media under that name.
He married Julia Stanley in 1938. John was their only child together, but as Alf was often away at sea during World War II, he did not see much of his child during his infancy. During this period, Julia became pregnant with another man's child. He offered to look after his wife, their child and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. He had very little contact with his son until Beatlemania, when they met again, but later had only intermittent contact with each other. He died in Brighton, where he had gone to live after marrying 19-year-old Pauline Jones, with whom he had two sons.
The Lennon family
James Lennon (born c. 1829, died 1898) and Jane McConville (born c. 1831, died 1869), Alf's grandparents, moved with their respective families to Liverpool in the 1840s. James and Jane were both from County Down, Ulster, Ireland, and were married in St Anthony's Church, Scotland Road, Liverpool, on 29 April 1849. James was a warehouseman and a cooper at the time. They had seven children together: Elizabeth (b. 1850), James, William George, Richard Francis, Joseph (b. 1865), Edward, and John "Jack" Lennon (b. 1855), a shipping clerk/bookkeeper, the father of Alf Lennon and grandfather to John Winston Lennon.
In 1888, Jack married Margaret Cowley (from Liverpool) and they had two children: Mary Elizabeth Lennon, and Michael Lennon. Margaret died giving birth to Michael (who also died 15 days later) on 19 August 1892. Shortly after, Jack began living with Mary "Polly" Maguire in a common-law marriage. In total they had fifteen children, eight of whom died young. In 1901, Jack, Polly and his daughter, Mary, were living at 3 Lockhart Street, Liverpool. They lived in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool, and at least five of their children were born there: George Lennon (1905, in Denton Street), Herbert Lennon (1908), Sydney Lennon (1909), Harold Lennon (1911) and Alfred Lennon (1912) were born at 27 Copperfield Street.
Jack eventually married Polly in 1915, after they had moved to Elmore Street, Everton. One of the witnesses at the wedding was Polly's sister, Catherine Seddon. Daughter Edith Lennon was born that year and then Charles (21 November 1918 – 26 May 2002). The Lennons moved back to Toxteth Park, and Jack died in 1921, at 57 Copperfield Street. He was buried on 6th August 1921 at Allerton Cemetery. His grave, number 206 in Roman Catholic section 4, is an unmarked public grave. Polly could not read or write, but was reported to be very humorous and supposedly had psychic abilities. After Jack died, Polly did not have enough money to keep the whole Lennon family together, so she placed two of her children, Alf and Edith, in the Blue Coat School Orphanage. It was situated just around the corner from Newcastle Road (where Julia Stanley lived). Polly died on 30 January 1949.
The urban legend
It has often been claimed that his grandfather was a professional singer, a ship's cook, and that he emigrated to the United States, and that his father, Jack Lennon, became a "refined" British minstrel, who toured the United States with 'Roberton's Kentucky Minstrels' Vaudeville troupe in the late 19th century. It is also claimed that Jack's first wife was an American who died during childbirth after they had both moved back to Liverpool. This has been proven to be false by checking birth certificates and the 1861, 1871 and 1901 censuses.
Alfred Lennon (always called 'Alf' by his family), was known as being happy-go-lucky, and "couldn't resist having a good time". He had rickets as a child and wore leg braces, which led to his growth being stunted at 5' 4". In 1927, he auditioned for a children's music hall act, Will Murray's Gang, at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool. Having passed the audition he ran away from the orphanage and joined the show. He travelled with the troupe for a time before being discovered in Glasgow and returned to the orphanage, where he was severely punished. He was known as being always quick with a joke or a witty line, but never held a job for any length of time. When he was 15 years old he left the Bluecoat orphanage and found a job as an office-boy, but preferred to visit Liverpool's many vaudeville theatres and cinemas, where he knew the usherettes by name. His brother Sydney often lent money to him, after Sydney got a job in a tailor's shop.
Alf first saw Julia Stanley at the 'Trocadero' club, a converted cinema on Camden Road, Liverpool. Although he did not speak to her at the time, he later saw Julia again in Sefton Park, where he had gone with a friend to meet girls. Alf, who was dressed in a bowler hat and holding a cigarette holder, saw "this little waif" sitting on a wrought-iron bench. The 14-year-old Julia said that his hat looked "silly", to which the 15-year-old replied that Julia looked "lovely", and sat down next to her. Julia asked him to take off his hat, so he promptly took it off and threw it straight into the lake.
Alf was a musician, and specialised in impersonating Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson. He played the banjo, as did Julia, though neither pursued music professionally (Julia would later teach her son how to play the banjo). They spent their days together walking around Liverpool and dreaming of what they would do in the future — like opening a shop, a pub, a cafe, or a club. In March 1930, he took a job as bellboy on board the Cunard passenger liner SS Montrose. He kept in touch with Julia, writing to her and meeting her whenever he docked in Liverpool. He was later offered a job on a whaling ship for two years—which could have earned him enough money to buy a house—but turned it down when he found out that Julia's father had arranged the job, so as to keep him as far away from Julia as possible.
On 3 December 1938, 11 years after they had first met, Julia married Alf after proposing to him. They were married in the Bolton Street Register Office, and Julia wrote 'cinema usherette' on the marriage certificate as her occupation, even though she had never been one. None of Julia's family were there, but Alf's brother Sydney acted as a witness. They spent their honeymoon eating at 'Reece's' restaurant in Clayton Square (which is where his son would later celebrate after his marriage to Cynthia Powell), and then went to a cinema. On their wedding night, Julia stayed at the Stanleys' house and he went back to his rooming house.
Julia's family did not like Alfred at all: Julia's father said he was "certainly not middle class," and Julia's sister Mimi was particularly opposed to him. Julia's father demanded that he present something concrete to show that he could financially support Julia, but his only idea was to sign on as a Merchant Navy bellboy on a ship bound for the Mediterranean. He later worked on ocean liners that travelled between the Greek islands, North Africa and the West Indies. He graduated from bellboy to steward during the months he was away, but when he arrived back in Liverpool he moved into the Stanley home in Newcastle Road. He auditioned for local theatre managers as a 'ship's entertainer', but had no success, and went back to sea.
Julia found out that she was pregnant in January 1940. John Winston Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, on the second-floor ward of the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, supposedly during a German air raid in World War II, although it has been confirmed there was no air raid on this date. Alf first saw his son that November when he returned from working as a merchant seaman on troop transports during World War II. He sent regular pay cheques to Julia, who lived with her son at 9 Newcastle Road (the Stanley family's home). He occasionally went back to Liverpool, but did not stay long before he was sent off on another ship. The cheques to Julia stopped when he went absent without leave in 1943. Neither Julia nor the Merchant Navy knew of his whereabouts. Julia only found out because she stopped receiving her allowance money, and the Navy wrote to her to inform her that they were looking for him.
Julia had started going out to dance halls in 1942, and met a Welsh soldier named 'Taffy' Williams who was stationed in the barracks at Mossley Hill. Alf blamed himself for this, as he had written letters telling Julia that because there was a war on, she should go out and enjoy herself. Julia took his advice, and often gave her young son a piece of chocolate or sugar pastry the next morning for breakfast that she had been given the night before. She became pregnant by Williams in late 1944, though first claiming that she had been raped by an unknown soldier.
When Alf eventually returned to Liverpool on 13 January 1945, he offered to look after Julia, their son and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. Alf took John to his brother Sydney's house, in the Liverpool suburb of Maghull, a few months before the birth. The baby girl, Victoria, was subsequently given up for adoption (after intense pressure from Julia's father and family) to a Norwegian Salvation Army Captain. Julia later met Bobby Dykins and lived with him, but after considerable pressure from Mimi—who twice contacted Liverpool's Social Services] and complained about the infant sleeping in the same bed as Julia and Dykins—Julia reluctantly handed the care of her son over to Mimi. According to his brother Charlie, people used to visit the Lennon house in Copperfield Street while Alf was away at sea, offering large sums of money (up to £300) if Alf would divorce Julia, but Charlie told them to "get lost".
In June 1946, Alf visited Mimi's house at 251 Menlove Avenue and took his son to Blackpool for a long 'holiday'—but secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia and Dykins found out and followed them to Blackpool, and after a heated argument Alf made the five-year-old boy choose between Julia or him. John chose Alf (twice) and then Julia walked away, but in the end John, crying, followed her, although this has been disputed. According to author Mark Lewisohn, Lennon's parents agreed that Julia should take him and give him a home as Alf left again. A witness who was there that day, Billy Hall, has said the dramatic scene often portrayed with a young John Lennon having to make a decision between his parents never happened. Alf lost contact with the family until Beatlemania, when he and John met again. In 1968, John Lennon told Hunter Davies that he soon forgot his father, saying, "It was like he was dead."
Alf later told his version of what happened while he was AWOL in 1943. He claimed that he had sailed from the United States to Bône, North Africa, but was arrested for stealing one bottle of beer from the ship, consequently serving nine days in a military prison. After his release he became involved in various "shady deals", and was supposedly rescued from a criminal gang of Arabs. He eventually served on a troopship from North Africa to Italy before finally boarding a ship that was making its way to England, in 1944. In 1949, Alf's career at sea ended when he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. He had been drinking when, late at night, he saw a mannequin in a wedding dress in a shop window. He broke the window, picked up the mannequin, and danced with it in the street until he was arrested.
In 1958, when Alf was working with Charlie Lennon in the Barn Restaurant in Solihull, their brother Sydney sent a newspaper clipping from the Liverpool Echo reporting that Julia had died. A saddened Alf left Solihull for London, but kept in touch with Charlie by phone.
Alf made no real attempt to contact John again until the height of Beatlemania (claiming he did not know who the Beatles were). He was working as a kitchen porter at the Greyhound Hotel at Hampton Court, in Middlesex, when someone pointed out a photograph of John Lennon in a newspaper and asked whether he was related to him. Alfred and Charlie visited one of the Beatles' Christmas shows at the Finsbury Park Empire in London. When the Beatles were filming a scene for A Hard Day's Night in the Scala Theatre in Soho in April 1964, Alf walked into Brian Epstein's NEMS office in Argyle Street with a journalist. "I'm John Lennon's father", he explained to the receptionist. When Epstein was informed, he "went into a panic", and immediately sent a car to bring John to NEMS office. Alf was shabbily dressed, with his unkempt, thinning grey hair greased back. He stuck out his hand, but John did not take it, saying "What do you want?". Alf placated John somewhat by saying, "You can't turn your back on your family, no matter what they've done." Their conversation did not last long, as John soon ordered Alf and the journalist out of the NEMS office. The Beatles' personal stories were kept out of the newspapers—by agreement with journalists who were offered exclusive stories in return—but one day John opened a copy of the Daily Express and saw a photo of his father.
A few weeks later, John's wife Cynthia opened the door of Kenwood (their home in Weybridge) to see a man who "looked like a tramp" but, alarmingly, with John's face. Cynthia invited Alf in, and gave him tea and cheese on toast until John came home, which he was expected to do in an hour or so. While waiting, Cynthia offered to cut Alf's "long, stringy locks" of hair, which he allowed her to do. After waiting for a couple of hours, Alf left. John was annoyed when he came home, and told Cynthia (for the first time) about Alf's visit to the NEMS office a few weeks earlier. Later he relented slightly and contacted Alf over the next few months, telling Cynthia "Alright, Cyn. He's a bit 'wacky', like me." After Christmas, in 1965, John was embarrassed to hear that Alf had made a record: "That's My Life (My Love and My Home)", released on 31 December 1965. John asked Epstein to do anything he could to stop it being released or becoming a hit. The record never made it into the charts. In 1966 "Freddie Lennon" (the name under which Alf recorded) tried again, and issued three singles with the group Loving Kind. These records did not sell well, either. Though the public at large quickly forgot these attempts to cash in on his son's success with the Beatles, the records do command fairly high prices among collectors of rare records, with "That's My Life" being worth over £50.
Three years after meeting John in the NEMS office, Alf (who was then 56 years old) turned up at Kenwood again, with his fiancée Pauline Jones. Pauline had been an 18-year-old Exeter University student and a Rolling Stones fan when she met the 54-year-old Alf in 1966. Alf and Pauline grew tired of trying to convince Pauline's mother to allow them to marry, so they eloped and were married in Gretna Green, Scotland. In 1966, Alf asked John if he could give Pauline a job, so she was hired to help, looking after Julian Lennon and also the piles of fan mail. Pauline spent a few months living at Kenwood in the attic bedroom. Alf and Pauline moved to a flat in Bourne Court, London Road, Patcham (a suburb of Brighton) before moving to Ladies Mile Road, Brighton, in November 1969. Alf had two sons with Pauline: David Henry Lennon (February 26, 1969) and Robin Francis Lennon (October 22, 1973).
Late in his life, Alf wrote a manuscript detailing his life story which he bequeathed to John. It was Alf's attempt to fill in the lost years when he had not been in contact with his son, and to explain that it was Julia, and not Alf, who had broken up their marriage. John later commented: "You know, all he wanted was for me to hear his side of the story, which I hadn't heard." By 1976, Alfred was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and Pauline contacted John via Apple Corps to make sure that he was aware that his father was dying. John sent a large bouquet of flowers to the hospital and phoned Alf on his deathbed, apologising for his (John's) past behaviour. On 1 April 1976, Alf Lennon died in Brighton.
Alf released the single, "That's My Life", b/w “The Next Time You Feel Important”, in 1965.
References in fiction
Although the main characters are fictional, some real people have been portrayed in the wartime sequences of the 1990s TV series Goodnight Sweetheart, including Alfred Lennon. A series of short animated films by Peter Bagge showed "Murry Wilson, Rock and Roll Dad" and had the father of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys collaborating with Michael Jackson's father Joe and "Freddy Lennon" (portrayed as an old man with horrible teeth).
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