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Yet Another Favourite Blog

March 4, 2023
by the gentle author

I am delighted to publish this extract of a favourite post from GRAVE STORIES, Come with me into the graveyard, all human life is here, written by a graduate of my blog writing course. In this post, The Gravedigger visits a suburb of Liverpool in search of the origins of Eleanor Rigby.

We are now taking bookings for this spring’s course, HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on 25th & 26th March. Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches and cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog.


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Before the Industrial Revolution and the opening of the great quarries in the nineteenth century, Woolton was a village outside Liverpool. Old terraces remain in the centre and isolated sandstone houses survive, stranded on islands in the middle of approach roads today. Now Woolton is a smart suburb with large, detached houses and thirties semi-detached, an abundance of coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, and the  famous Woolton Picture House dating from 1926.

The parish church of St. Peter’s was built in 1886 using the same local sandstone as Liverpool Cathedral, one of the last customers before the quarries closed. The church has windows by Charles Kempe and William Morris, and its bell tower is the highest point in Liverpool. When I visited it was enjoying an open day with a profusion old documents, photographs, maps, and local history books on display.

But my objective was Eleanor Rigby, the dark, narrative song about loneliness which came out in 1966 on the Beatles’ Revolver album and on a 45rpm single with its hauntingly beautiful, pensive lyrics oddly paired with the chirpy Yellow Submarine. The origin of the name of the protagonist is disputed. Paul McCartney suggested that it was inspired by actress Eleanor Bron, who starred with the Beatles in the 1965 film Help, combined with the name of a store in Bristol, Rigby and Evans Ltd, which he had noticed during a visit to Jane Asher when she was performing at the Bristol Old Vic.

But in Woolton they see things differently, for it was here at the Woolton Village Fete in July 1957 that John met Paul. The day’s events included a procession, the crowning of the Rose Queen, a fancy dress parade, a display by Liverpool police dogs, and performances in the school grounds behind the church by John Lennon’s band, the Quarry Men. The latter took second billing, after the George Edwards Band, at the Grand Dance held in the church hall at 8pm with tickets priced at two shillings, and “refreshments at moderate prices.” In the hall they have marked the spots on the floor where a mutual friend introduced a sixteen-year-old John to a fifteen-year-old Paul and the latter auditioned to join the Quarry Men.

In St. Peter’s churchyard, across which the young John and Paul frequently took a short cut, a headstone bears the name Eleanor Rigby. McCartney said that he had no recollection of ever seeing the stone yet he admitted that he could have unconsciously borrowed the name.

I was predisposed to find the origins of Eleanor Rigby here. The wardens and parishioners extended the warm welcome at which Liverpudlians excel. In response to my quest, an enthusiastic volunteer explained where the grave was, urging me to look out for Father McKenzie’s prototype as well. He explained that if I went to the edge of the graveyard I could look upon the location of the stage where the Quarry Men performed in 1957. Then he drew my attention to the additional presences in the churchyard of George Toogood Smith, John’s uncle, and of Bob Paisley – the Liverpool football manager – he explained, noting my blank expression. Cheerfully he instructed me to come back if I failed to find any of these treasures, offering to abandon his post and conduct me thither personally. In many a larger cemetery I have wished for such  assistance but here I left him surrounded by other eager visitors while I located Eleanor Rigby with ease.

‘Eleanor Rigby

Died in the church and was buried along with her name’

The original Eleanor Rigby worked in the City Hospital at Parkhill, married Thomas Woods in 1930, and died at only forty-four of a brain haemorrhage.

Only a few graves away was John McKenzie.

‘Father McKenzie

Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.

John McKenzie was only a short distance from Eleanor Rigby – come on, it’s obvious they were the inspiration for the song!

Following my friend’s directions, I also located George Toogood Smith and Bob Paisley.

George Toogood Smith, John Lennon’s Uncle

Bob Paisley, Liverpool Football Manager

I recommend an excursion to St. Peter’s in Liverpool to meet the warm, friendly congregation. If you are  lucky, your visit may coincide with a performance in the church hall by the remaining Quarry Men. But most importantly pay your respects to the original Eleanor Rigby, most assuredly the muse – whatever Paul McCartney may say – for one of the greatest Beatles songs.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Peter H permalink
    March 4, 2023

    Delightful and fascinating read. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  2. March 4, 2023

    A very interesting and entertaining blog from the Gravedigger. As GA says, a successful blog needs a theme and a clear identify and this blog has that in spades. It is my hope that when I retire, I can start a new blog with much more purpose and focus than my current dilettante ramblings and, should it still be on offer, to take the Gentle Author’s blog writing course.

  3. keithb permalink
    March 4, 2023

    Nice piece.

    A trip to Birmingham’s Key Hill cemetery (train to New Street, Metro outside direct to Jewellery Quarter easiest) might yield a few stories for the Gravedigger along with its twin Warstone Cemetery.

    The Jeweller’s Arms would extend the welcome.

  4. March 4, 2023

    Delightful! Custom-made story-telling for people of a certain age (methinks……..) who still
    recall the earliest rumbles of the Fab Four and the direct HIT they made on America. Girls were absolutely walking into walls, so enthralled with the boys, the hair, the tunes, the lyrics, the souvenirs, the marketing, the Ed Sullivan Show, the magazines. Oh, the magazines! At the local pipe shop, there suddenly appeared a rash of cheaply-produced Beatle fan magazines. We bought them all, and carried them secretly within our stack of school books — and eagerly reviewed them during our lunch hour. Boys harumphed. Girls squealed. I had a centerfold of Paul hanging in my locker. (his photo replaced George Chakiris……..go figure) How I would love to stand on those spots, marking the place Where John Met Paul.

    Thank you for this wonderful/musical post today. Happily, I still have a turn-table and will go find my original Beatle albums and give them a spin. “A splendid time is guaranteed for all!”

  5. Christine Swan permalink
    March 4, 2023

    An excellent blog from the Gravedigger. I find cemeteries difficult places to spend a lot of time in. I only lost my mum last year and my dad just three years ago so I think it’s still a bit raw. My family history research has taken me to a number of graveyards but they do make me sad. I prefer streets, pubs and homes where people were alive. I did used to enjoy my walk through the grandiose Brompton cemetery after lectures on my way home from uni. Still sad though. Not my favourite places.

  6. Gillian Baxter permalink
    March 4, 2023

    My cousin’s husband is one of the original ‘Quarry Men’ and performed with
    John and Paul at St Peter’s.

  7. Saba permalink
    March 4, 2023

    Wonderful article, although Eleanor Rigby and the lonely priest are so sad to think about. Somehow, I always wish they would get together.

    I recently completed a master’s degree at the State University of New York’s Empire State College graduate center. There was a woman who studied graveyards for a Liberal Studies degree. Presumably, she completed a thesis on the design and history in the United States, possibly including some stories about the residents. Maybe she could now be found online for a U.S. version of this admirable pursuit.

  8. John Cuningham permalink
    March 5, 2023

    What a fascinating blog. As a Beatles fan and a bit of a romantic I’ve always been inclined to believe that Paul subconsciously found Eleanor Rigby here. Makes more sense than his “official” explanation as he was in this churchyard on several occasions as the blogger notes. Also the Liverpool legend Bob Paisley buried here. I never knew that. A great blog. Keep it going. Graveyards can be fascinating places and there is nothing morbid in saying that!

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