Alfred "Alf" 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. Alf 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 as Alf by his family, he later released a record as Freddie Lennon, and was quoted in newspapers under that name.
Alf and Julia Stanley married in 1938. John Lennon was their only son together, but Alf was often away at sea during World War II, so consequently did not see much of Lennon during his infancy. Alf later found out that Julia was pregnant with another man's child and offered to look after Julia, Lennon and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. Alf had very little contact with Lennon until Beatlemania, when they met again, but later had intermittent contact with each other. Alf died in Brighton, where he had gone to live after marrying the 19-year-old Pauline Jones.
The Lennon family
James Lennon (b.1829) and Jane McConville (b.1831)—Alf's grandparents—moved with their respective families to Liverpool in the 1840s. James and Jane were both from County Down, Ireland, and were married in St. Anthony's Chapel, Scotland Road. Liverpool, on 29 April 1849. James was a warehouseman/Cooper at the time. They had seven children together: Elizabeth (b.1850) James, John "Jack", William George, Richard Francis, Joseph (b.1865) and Edward. Jack Lennon (b. 1855)—a shipping clerk/bookeeper—is the father of Alf Lennon and the grandfather of 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 as man and wife. In total they had fifteen children, eight who 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 Mary (Polly) Maguire 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 is buried in a common and unmarked grave (along with five unknown adults and three children) in the Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool.
Polly couldn't read or write, but was reported to be very humorous and supposedly had psychic abilities. After Jack had 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 Bluecoat 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 (by the Lennon family) that Alf's grandfather was a professional singer, a ship's cook, and that he emigrated to America, and that Alf's father, Jack Lennon, became a "refined" British minstrel, who toured America with 'Roberton's Kentucky Minstrels' Vaudeville troupe in the late 1800s. 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—by checking birth certificates, the 1861, 1871, and 1901 censuses—to be false.
Alfred Lennon (always called 'Alf' by his family) was known as being happy-go-lucky, and "couldn't resist having a good time". Alf had rickets as a child and wore leg braces, which led to his growth being stunted at 5'4". In 1927, Alfred auditioned for a children's music hall act, Will Murray's Gang, at the Liverpool Empire Theatre. Having passed the audition he ran away from the orphanage and joined the show. Alf travelled with the troupe for a time before being discovered in Glasgow and returned to the orphanage, where he was severely punished. Alf 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 Alf, after Sydney got a job in a tailor's shop.
It was at the 'Trocadero' club (a converted cinema on Camden Road, Liverpool) that Alf first saw an auburn-haired girl with a bright smile and high cheekbones; Julia Stanley. Although Alf did not speak to her, he saw Julia again in Sefton Park, where Alf had gone with a friend to pick up 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 Alf's hat looked "silly," to which the 15-year-old Alf replied that Julia looked "lovely," and sat down next to her. Julia asked Alf to take off his hat, so Alf promptly took it off and threw it straight into the lake.
Alf was musical, and specialised in impersonating Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson. He played the banjo, (as did Julia) though neither Alf nor Julia pursued music professionally. (Julia would later teach Lennon 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, Alfred 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. Alf was later offered a job on a whaling ship for two years—which could have earned Alf 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 Alf as far away from Julia as possible.
On 3 December 1938, eleven years after they had first met, Julia married Alf after proposing to him. They were married in the Bolton Street Registry 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 Lennon 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 Alf went back to his rooming house.
Julia's family did not like Alfred at all: Julia's father said Alf was "certainly not middle class," and Julia's sister Mimi was particularly opposed to him. Julia's father demanded that Alf present something concrete to show that he could financially support Julia, but Alf's 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 traveled between the Greek islands, North Africa and The West Indies. Alf 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. Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, in the second-floor ward of the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, during the course of a German air raid in World War II. Alf first saw Lennon 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 Lennon at 9 Newcastle Road (the Stanley family's home). Alf occasionally went back to Liverpool, but did not stay long before he was sent off on another ship. The cheques to Julia stopped when Alf went AWOL in 1943. Neither Julia nor the Merchant Navy knew of Alf's 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 Alf.
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 the young Lennon 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 came home on 13 January 1945, he offered to look after Julia, Lennon and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. Alf took Lennon to his brother Sydney's house, in the Liverpool suburb of Maghull, a few months before Julia came to term. 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 Lennon sleeping in the same bed as Julia and Dykins—Julia reluctantly handed the care of Lennon over to Mimi. Whilst Alf was away at sea, Charlie said that people used to visit the Lennon house in Copperfield Street, offering large sums of money (up to £300) if Alf would divorce Julia, but were told to "get lost" by Charlie.
In July 1946, Alf visited Mimi's house at 251 Menlove Avenue and took Lennon 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 Lennon choose between Julia or him. Lennon chose Alf (twice) and then Julia walked away, but in the end Lennon, crying, followed her. Alf lost contact with the family until Beatlemania, when he and Lennon met again. In 1968, 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 (Absent Without Leave) in 1943. He claimed that he had sailed from America 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 troop ship from North Africa to Italy before finally boarding a ship that was making its way to England, in 1944. In 1949, Alfred'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 his son again until the height of Beatlemania (claiming he didn't know who they were). Alf was working as a kitchen porter at the Greyhound Hotel in Hampton, South London, when someone pointed out a photograph of Lennon in a newspaper and asked if Alf was related to Lennon. Alfred and Charlie visited one of the 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 Lennon to NEMS office. Alf was shabbily-dressed, with his unkempt, balding gray hair greased-back. He stuck out his hand, but Lennon did not take it, saying "What do you want?" Alf placated Lennon somewhat by saying, "You can't turn your back on your family, no matter what they've done." Their conversation didn't last long, as Lennon 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 Lennon opened a copy of The Daily Express and saw a photo of his father.
A few weeks later, Cynthia opened the door of Kenwood (Lennon and Cynthia's 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 Lennon came home, which he was expected to do in an hour or so. Whilst 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. Lennon was annoyed when he came home, and told Cynthia (for the first time) about Alf's visit to the NEMS office a few weeks before. Lennon relented slightly and contacted Alf over the next few months, telling Cynthia that Alf was, "Alright, Cyn. He's a bit 'wacky', like me." After Christmas, in 1965, Lennon was embarrassed to hear that Alf had made a record: "That's My Life (My Love and My Home)," released on 31 December 1965. Lennon asked Epstein to do anything he could to stop its release, or becoming a hit. The record never made it into the charts, and was soon forgotten.
Three years after meeting Lennon in the NEMS office, Alf (who was then 56-years-old) turned up at Kenwood again, with nineteen-year-old student Pauline Jones, who was Alf's fiancée. Pauline had been an 18-year-old Exeter University student when she met the 54-year-old Alf in 1966. They said that they were in love and wanted to get married, although Pauline's mother was horrified and totally against the idea. Alf asked Lennon if he could give Pauline a job, so Pauline 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, but Cynthia remembered Pauline, "crying all the time and arguing with her mother on the phone."
Alf and Pauline grew tired of trying to convince Pauline's mother to allow them to get married, so they eloped and were married in Gretna Green, Scotland. Alf and Pauline moved to a flat in Bourne Court, London Road, Patcham (in a suburb of Brighton) before relocating to Ladies Mile Road, Brighton, in November 1969. Alf had two sons with Pauline: David Henry Lennon and Robin Francis Lennon, half-brothers whom Lennon never met.
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 that he had not been in contact with his son, and to explain that it was Julia, and not Alf, that had broken up their marriage. Lennon commented: "You know, all he wanted was for me to hear his side of the story, which I hadn't heard." By 1976, Alfred had contracted terminal stomach cancer. Pauline contacted Lennon via Apple to make sure that he knew that his father was dying. Lennon sent a large bouquet of flowers to the hospital and phoned Alf on his deathbed, apologizing for his (John's) past behavior. When Alf died, Lennon offered to pay for the funeral, but Pauline refused, and paid for the arrangements herself. In 1990, Pauline published a book called Daddy, Come Home, detailing her life with Alf and his meetings with Lennon. Pauline later remarried, and is now known as Pauline Stone.