It’s fitting that this, the very first post on this blog, should focus on Liverpool. For it’s not only the birth-city of The Beatles but, as Bill Harry, an old friend of the band since their early days living there has said, a place with “ghosts, hauntings, pacts with the Devil – everything.” The veteran journalist, author and former teenage art college-mate of John Lennon’s has also suggested that, actually, its history is so infested with all manner of spookiness and devilish goings-on, “you could call Liverpool: ‘Shiverpool.’” He made the observations during a 2009 interview with Bill Noory, host of the ‘Coast to Coast’ radio and internet-show.
If The Beatles were indeed ensconced to some degree or other within what is termed, The Occult, it makes sense for this site to begin by focusing on the dark, chilling and arcane aspects of this city where they grew from. For example…
There’s the oft-told tale of a noted 19th century English builder of railways who’s said to have had his corpse entombed in an upright position and above ground in a Liverpool graveyard in a bid to ward off the attentions of the Devil who he had made a deal with. So Bill Harry recounts, this man who’d made the pact “was a railway magnate who was completely hooked on gambling, and he gambled so much… he was losing a fortune, and he said, ‘I’ll make a pact with the Devil. I’ll sell my soul to the Devil if I can win this hand.’ So, he did it and he says he was so afraid that the Devil would take his soul – his name was William Mackenzie – that he left instructions that when he died, he wasn’t to be buried… he thought, if he was buried sitting upright and not buried in the ground, then the Devil wouldn’t be able to take his spirit.” William Mackenzie? Any relation to Eleanor Rigby’s “Father McKenzie” who, according to the Beatles lyric is “wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave… no one was saved”? Consider that alongside what’s been claimed by a member of UK band, Amsterdam. In a posting on the group’s official website, their vocalist and guitarist, Ian Prowse has declared that the inspiration for their early 2000s landmark single, ‘Does This Train Stop on Merseyside?’ came in the form of an email he’d read that was all to do with the various stories surrounding Mackenzie’s life and alleged pact with the Devil. “Mackenzie made and lost fortunes most men can only dream of,” he states. “He backed the early railways and financed George Stephenson’s locomotive machines. He was seen as (a) pillar of the community and a backer of commerce and industry; but there was another unsavoury side to the man few people were aware of. He was a compulsive gambler and an ardent atheist…. there were strange rumours about the man… In 1826, eleven bodies were found in barrels in the cargo-hold of a ship at Liverpool Docks. The police traced the barrels to a house at Number 8 Hope Street. That house was being looked after by a James MacGowan, who was an associate of… Mackenzie. Anyway, the police arrested Mr. MacGowan after they found 22 corpses of men, women and children that had been dug up from the local cemetery. Mr. MacGowan refused to name names, but everyone suspected Mr. Mackenzie of being the instigator. There were whispers that he had turned Number 8 Hope Street into a body-snatcher’s warehouse, where the corpses were pickled in barrels, ready to be shipped to the medical schools in Scotland. The going rate was £15 per corpse, be it a man, woman or a baby. But Mackenzie needed the money.” A few short years after Mackenzie’s death in the mid-1800s, a large granite pyramid was erected at his grave. It’s what he’s said to now be sitting upright in. Incidentally, it’s situated in a churchyard in Liverpool’s Rodney Street – the birthplace of Beatles manager, Brian Epstein.
What was the thinking behind erecting such a monument? Perhaps Mackenzie was a high-ranking Freemason? Or maybe not, if we’re to believe the opinion of Dr. David Harrison who – in his own words – “is a UK-based Masonic historian archaeologist who has written six books on the history of Freemasonry.” He states “there is no evidence” to suggest he was. Whether he was or whether he wasn’t, the very fact that a 15-foot tall pyramid was built on his grave does raise questions as to the possible occult connotations behind such a move.
By the way, with regards to Freemasonry… Some members within the fraternity have publicly hailed Liverpool and the county it lays within, Lancashire, as pivotal to the organisation. This has certainly been stressed in no uncertain words in an address said to have been given back in 2008 by Worshipful Brother, Grahame Dunn, a Liverpudlian and then-officer in the Hawke’s Bay Research Lodge, No. 305, New Zealand. He’s quoted as saying, “the province of West Lancashire is not only the largest of the provinces ranged under the banner of the Grand Lodge of England, it also has claims to be the birthplace of English Freemasonry. The initiation of Elias Ashmole in Warrington in Lancashire on October 16th 1646 is the earliest recorded initiation into English Freemasonry.” Furthermore, “any description of the province inevitably begins in Liverpool. Here is the headquarters of the province…”
Liverpool and its surrounding areas are home also to a significant number of vast underground constructions of a mysterious, occult nature. Check out the research-data and the speculation, rumours and grisly accusations in connection to what’s referred to as, the Williamson tunnels, the ‘Crank Caverns’ near Merseyside, as well as the ancient carvings and subterranean sights of Bidston Hill, which is roughly six miles from the city. On a smaller scale, there’s the legendary ‘Cavern Club’ too of course, the cellar-bar situated in Liverpool centre where the pre-fame Beatles performed regularly in the very early 1960s to their growing base of fans. It closed its doors in 1973 and ended up buried in rubble when the warehouse-block it was housed in was taken over by ‘British Rail’ and then demolished. In the early 1980s, efforts began to excavate and re-open the site to the public, a goal that was finally reached in 1984. In his book, ‘The Cavern Club: The Rise of The Beatles and Merseybeat,’ music-author and veteran Merseyside BBC radio-presenter, Spencer Leigh states, “when The Cavern was excavated in 1982, the builders stumbled upon an old shaft that led into a huge hole, a cavern underneath The Cavern as it were. It was filled with water and the architect and the site-agent bravely investigated it in a rubber dinghy. The lake was 120 feet long and 70 feet wide and, in parts, eight foot deep. There was no other exit and because of the scrapings in the sandstone wall, they could tell it was man-made. But why was it constructed?” Why indeed? It’s said to have been built by Mathew Pluckington, a wealthy 18th century merchant who owned the old dirt-road above it, one that eventually became an invaluable trade-route and then a street that bears his first-name, and that’s been made world-famous thanks to The Cavern. It’s been claimed that he was a dabbler in the occult and that the excavators’ unexpected findings back there in the early ’80s were the remnants of an underground temple he’d built.
Let’s now venture from The Cavern and head approximately seven miles out to Woolton, an area of Liverpool regarded as affluent and well-to-do. It’s where John Lennon grew up. He lived there for the majority of his childhood and his teens with his aunt in her semi-detached house, ‘Mendips’ in Menlove Avenue. If you look at the small ‘Google’-map below, you’ll see, not far from there, is Calderstones Park, named after and home to, ‘the Calderstones’ which are, “six sandstone blocks of varying size which originally formed part of a small megalithic tomb,” states Mike Royden, a noted lecturer, researcher, author and historian of Liverpool.
Said to be of the Neolithic period, the stones currently stand inside a greenhouse, but this isn’t the site where they initially stood. They’re thought to have been removed from their original position either in the 18th or 19th century.
Royden informs us, “during the mid and later 19th century, certain academics had declared the Calderstones to have been part of a druidic circle.” Interestingly, as you can see in the map, the names of two of the locations facing Calderstones Park and connecting to Menlove Avenue are, Druids Cross Road and Druidsville Road. Additionally, you’ll find, if you choose to inspect this vicinity even closer, that there are a couple of leafy suburban areas here going by the names of, Druids’ Cross Gardens and Druids Park. Not more than a mile and a half a way from there (at Booker Avenue on the map) and enclosed within railings on a road-corner, stands what’s called, Robin Hood’s Stone, an upright structure said to be related in some shape or form to the Calderstones. Mike Royden notes that the “suggestion has been made that the stone was formerly a druids’ altar” and had felt “the blood of sacrificial victims(!)”
Look at the map again, and not far off from Mendips you’ll see Quarry Street. In his book, ‘800 Years of Haunted Liverpool,’ John Reppion, a writer and son-in-law of occultist and ‘V for Vendetta’ author, Alan Moore, states that Woolton wasn’t always “a quiet, predominantly middle-class, suburban area… Thoroughfares such as Quarry Street were once overcrowded slums with underprivileged families crammed into tiny houses. Quarry Street was at the time home to more than a dozen public-houses, despite the fact that it is less than half a mile in length; this led to problems with drunkenness and disorderly behaviour and brought about the construction of a new police-station and courthouse in the late 1800s. During the 1970s the building was used as a training-centre for ambulance-men and women and in the first week of October 1974, staff complained of odd disembodied noises and windows seemingly breaking of their own accord. Apparently, similar incidents had occurred in the station previously, at least according to the retired police officer, Jack Elsworth, who was born in the building back in 1889, when his father was sergeant there.” Reppion goes on to inform us that Jack had told a Liverpool newspaper “that he had heard tales from his father about strange goings-on in the station; at one time a corpse had been laid out on a table in the back room, covered with a tarpaulin and locked up until morning when it could be taken away by a doctor. When the door was unlocked, the body was found lying on the floor still covered as if it had been carefully lowered to the ground.”
Woolton is where, at the age of 16, John Lennon first met his co-Beatle-to-be, Paul McCartney, who’d only just turned fifteen. He lived in nearby Allerton which, as it happens, is where Calderstone Park is situated. All three of these locations are based in South Liverpool which, John Reppion reckons “is possibly known as ‘Beatle territory’” to its non-residents. For example, “a few miles south of Woolton is Speke where a young George Harrison would have once caught his morning bus up to Dovedale School, just off the now world-famous Penny Lane.” Speke is where you’ll find Liverpool John Lennon Airport, “formerly known as Speke Airport and RAF Speke… one of the UK’s oldest operational airports. Scheduled flights began leaving from Speke in 1930… The modern site is about 2 miles south-west of the original airport which has since been converted into a business-park housing a hotel, restaurant and gym amongst other things.” It’s also said to be the home of the ghost of Captain Thomas Campbell Black. He “found fame when he and his co-pilot Charles William Anderson Scott won the London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race (also known as the MacRobertson Air Race) in 1934. They completed the journey in a record seventy one hours and were awarded the huge sum of £10,000 in prize-money as well as the Britannia Trophy. Black and Scott were regarded as true luminaries in their field and their names became known across the globe. On September 19th (1936), Captain Black was in the cockpit of his Percival Mew Gull (newly-christened: ‘Miss Liverpool’) preparing for takeoff. Out of the blue, a Hawker Hart bomber came in to land and collided with the craft. The bomber’s propeller ripped through the side of Black’s cockpit and into the captain himself.”
Reppion continues, “despite all efforts, Tom Campbell Black died on the way to hospital. The shadowy figure of a man has reportedly been sighted on numerous occasions pacing around what was once Hanger Number One, where Miss Liverpool was kept. Some claim that this apparition could be Old Tom out in search of a new plane or else trapped in some kind of perpetual repeat of events leading up to his death. Certainly, stories of Black’s phantom were still circulating amongst airport employees right up until the old site’s closure in the mid-1980s.”
South Liverpool was also the childhood home of Richard Starkey, more commonly known today of course as, Ringo Starr, drummer of The Beatles. He’d grown up around the Toxteth area. He once recalled, “it was really rough… There were… gangs and fights and madness and robberies.” There have been hauntings here too it’s said – and, of a particularly dark and nasty flavour. We’re told they occurred at a site where a hospital – the Royal Southern – had existed between 1842 and the late 1970s when it was replaced and closed. Reppion claims he’s spoken to an individual, referred to in his book somewhat anonymously as, “Mr. D.,” who’s alleged to have experienced spooky goings-on during the 1980s whilst working at the building that now stands in its place, Toxteth ambulance-station. The mystery source is quoted as saying, “when the station was quiet at night, you would often hear sounds which would normally be associated with old hospitals.” These “sounds,” he assumes, were perhaps old metal porter’s trolleys and iron concertina doors rattling and banging, although, Reppion informs us, “there were no such things at the station.” Mr. D. is then reported to say that he‘d also heard during his time working there, “footsteps, as though someone was coming out of an office, walking a few paces across the corridor and then going into another office. I discussed the noises with other staff and many admitted to hearing them. It was a very modern building and there really wasn’t any explanation for those sounds.” Situated just over a mile away from where Ringo once lived, Toxteth ambulance-station stands on Grafton Street. Reppion adds that nearby “Caryl Street, where the hospital’s entrance once stood, is very close to the docklands and it has been alleged that this area was once the location of a dreadful place of confinement.” The allegations, he states, are that African slaves were held and confined to cells in this part of the city before being shipped off to plantations in America and the West Indies. The restless spirits of those who died whilst incarcerated in this docklands prison, it’s claimed, now haunt the site where the old hospital was. For sure, the city’s links to this most despicable of trades is a reality. The official website of Liverpool’s ‘International Slavery Museum’ states that “Liverpool was a major slaving port.” Furthermore, “nearly all the principal merchants and citizens of Liverpool, including many of the mayors, were involved. Several of the town’s MPs invested in the trade and spoke strongly in its favour in Parliament.” One such merchant was James Penny, a slave-trader who’s said to have had the Liverpool street, Penny Lane named after him, the very same one that The Beatles made famous in their 1967 hit single. Reppion claims “stories of ghostly slaves and hidden cells are common along the docklands. Tales are told of strange happenings during the renovation of the Albert Dock” in Liverpool. For example, there have been reports of “spectral arms reaching out toward workmen as they sandblasted walls which still had ‘slave chains’ attached to them. The ‘Baltic Fleet’ public-house, about one mile north-west of the ambulance-station, is rumoured to have its own subterranean passageway leading to the docks and again, there are stories of wall-mounted chains and slaves hidden away in dank cells.” Reppion asks, “are these macabre tales echoes of some clandestine part of Liverpool’s history, unrecorded but known to the few, or is this simply a city haunted by its past misdeeds?” Good question. And here’s another… George Noory asked Bill Harry during their chat on ‘Coast to Coast’ if the ghostly, occultish atmosphere pervading over Liverpool affected the young John Lennon, to which he replied, “well I think it sort of must have… but, I had all these sort of strange things happening to me in Liverpool, and I suppose John did as well, you know, because you can’t live there without having some sort of strange things happen to you, you know?” If it did indeed have an effect on him as Bill Harry suggests, then how so? And what about his fellow Beatles? What influence would this environment have had on them? Well, what is evident certainly from anecdotal accounts given by those who’ve been close to those in the band – if not from the group itself no less – is that some of its members – whether consciously or not – had tapped into or dabbled in various forms of the occult during their early days in Liverpool, and a number of years prior to 1963 when they first began to experience mass-fame and adulation. They practised it in ritual form within the boundaries of the so-called, ‘paranormal,’ and they expressed it through the use of art and imagery too – as far back as the late 1950s in fact. Indeed, it seems one or two of them had been at it long before the word, “Beatles” was even uttered, and certainly more than a decade before the face of Aleister Crowley was chosen for inclusion on the front-cover of their Sgt. Pepper album in 1967.
Be sure to check back here as there’ll be an instalment to come that’ll delve into those early pre-fame years of occult discovery.