Who was Julia Stanley?
Would the world have been a different place without her?
I believe it would, particularly in one aspect of our lives. I suspect though that the name might not be familiar to a lot of people. In many ways, history has not been kind to this woman, who died an early, tragic death. Her family, and her life, made a difference to so many people and yet she never knew it.
As you can tell from the old photograph, she lived in the twentieth century, being born in 1914 to a normal family - normal for the time, that is. But during her lifetime, attitudes, morals and society itself were all very different in those days.
What would appear normal to us now was looked at differently in those days.Julia was a lively, attractive girl; one of five sisters born into a home that was dominated by their strict father. She died when she was forty four and millions of words have been written about her but many portray her in the wrong light.Let's put the record straight.
In 1938 she married a man called Alf
They had known each other for ten years. They were just young teenagers when they met; Julia was only fourteen. But they became firm friends despite the differences in their backgrounds.
Julia's father, always known as Pop, was a disciplinarian who decided from day one that Alf just wasn't good enough for his daughter. Alf was from an Irish family, which Pop disapproved of, and furthermore was from a poor family.
Alf and Julia had no home of their own and shortly after the marriage, Alf found work (possibly due to Pop's intervention) on an ocean-going liner. That type of job was available in the area as the couple lived in a seaport - Liverpool. It was commonplace for women to live alone or with their families whilst the menfolk were at sea
.Alf sent money home and during one shore leave, in 1940, Julia became pregnant. Almost two years after their marriage, with Alf back at work aboard ship, Julia gave birth to their son who she named John Winston Lennon.
This photograph was taken in 1966 - many years after the events described here.
Of course, there's no need for me to explain about John's later life. But when Beatlemania was at its height, the members of the press were constantly looking for stories about the group. Often, these were distorted, sometimes deliberately but sometimes stories were sheer fantasy based on the slenderest of facts.
The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, was conscious of the group's image and you'll remember that John's wife, and eventually son, were rigorously hidden from the press because the adoration from young girls might be lessened if one of their heroes was a married man.
One of the stories that became distorted over the years was about John's childhood. Teenage fans loved the romantic story about John's fickle and flighty mother who abandoned him as a child, leaving him to be brought up by his Aunt Mimi. Poor John, they thought, and loved him all the more.
In fact, it was poor Julia
- Julia loved her baby son. He was born into a happy and stable marriage. The fact that her husband was way at sea and that she lived with her parents was not at all unusual in those days. She was musically talented and was a natural entertainer and taught her son to be the same.
- She was accustomed to collecting Alf's wages every fortnight and this kept mother and son in relative comfort. When John was about a year old however, and went to collect his wage, she was told that he had jumped ship in the States. No-one knew where he was and of course, there was no money.
- For another year and a half, she heard nothing from her husband. Because she was living in the family home (she briefly moved into another small house owned by the family) she was able to survive and devote herself to bringing up her son. Alf reappeared briefly when John was two and a half. Julia was prepared to have him back, for the sake of her son, but Alf soon disappeared to sea again - again sending no money and no word.
Most of the information you will read below comes from this book. John's sisters are the only people who genuinely knew what was happening in those days and who knew about the times that John and his mother were together.I'm not going to write a spoiler here, that wouldn't be fair, but there are revelations in this book that go a long way towards explaining exactly why Mimi behaved the way she did. This is a very frank book that pulls no punches.
As time went by, the income of the family home diminished. Pop was now retired and Julia took a series of part time jobs. After two years, with still no word of Alf, and still no money, she had an affair with a soldier.
This was shortly before the end of the war and hardly unusual. Many young women were without their menfolk and affairs of this type were commonplace. But Julia became pregnant.Her family was outraged.The father of the baby was adamant that he would stick by her but there were two problems.
- She had no idea where Alf was so there was no way she could divorce him and marry her lover.
- Although the father of her baby said that he would stand by her, he wanted nothing to do with John. There was absolutely no way Julia would accept that.
During Julia's pregnancy, Alf unexpectedly showed up. He declared that he would accept the baby as his own. However, he brought no money and no explanation for his recent absence. Very soon, he was back at sea.
The lost baby
What followed seems to be totally cruel to us in this day and age. Julia's father, Pop, insisted that Julia give up her baby for adoption. Now that she was pregnant and couldn't work, and now that Alf was once more goodness-knows-where and sending no money, Julia's and John's welfare was dependant on her family.
She had no choice.
Unbelievably, the practice at the time was for babies for adoption to remain with their mothers for a full six weeks before the adoption took place. Heartbreakingly, the baby she had named Victoria, and who she'd cared for for six weeks, was taken away from her and given to new adoptive parents. But at least she still had her beloved John.
What happened next
- Julia's pregnancies were never easy. During the time before her daughter's birth, she was grateful to her eldest sister Mimi who would look after John from time to time. Mimi was married, had no children and was comfortably-off, living in a middle class suburban home.
- Now that John was five, Julia enrolled him into a local school, leaving her able to take a part-time job. She was actually not in the best of states, having only just recovered from giving birth and the heartbreak of giving away her second child. However, with Pop now retired, she was the only source of income. There was still no sign of Alf.
- Several months later, Julia thought her dreams had come true. She met a lovely man, Bobby, who loved her. He knew all about the baby she had given up and he was very fond of John. Even Pop grudgingly approved of the relationship.
- Mimi though was outraged. Her sister had disgraced the family by having a baby by a man who wasn't her husband. And now she was blatantly consorting with another man. Mimi, the tough, bossy elder sister, swept John away to her home until Julia came to her senses about her 'immoral relationships'. Now, Julia could only see her son at Mimi's house.
The bad penny
Shortly afterwards, almost as though he had supernatural powers, Alf reappeared. He was horrified to find that Mimi had taken John and in effect, she had kidnapped him. Alf decided to do the same.Mimi allowed Alf to take John out for the afternoon but in fact, he decamped to the seaside town of Blackpool where the two of them stayed with Alf's brother.
When Julia found out she was frantic.She and Bobby tracked them down. There was a showdown and John was asked whether he wanted to be with his mother or his father. With memories of the recent ice-creams, beach visits and funfairs, John declared he wanted to be with his father but soon changed his mind.
Julia and Bobby took John to a tiny apartment that they had rented just a few days previously. There, they could be a family.
Mimi was furious - and probably embarrassed that she had allowed John to be kidnapped in that way. She was also adamant in her assertion that Julia, as a married woman, was immoral because she was openly living with another man.
Pop was on her side too. With Julia now living with Bobby, there was no-one to look after him in his old age. It was in his interests to break up the relationship too. With his support, Mimi swung into action.
- Mimi stormed to Julia's apartment. She demanded that John should be given to her. Julia naturally refused. It was Bobby who finally got rid of her by being adamant that John was happy, loved and well cared for. There was no reason for him not to be with his mother.
- Appalled by the tiny flat, and still furious - especially now she had been spoken to in such a way by her sister's lover - Mimi returned with a social worker. But the social worker agreed with Julia and Bobby. John was well cared for and happy and there was absolutely no need for him to be removed.
- Mimi was determined to get John back. Now she recruited a senior inspector from the social services department and pointed out that this was a one-bedroomed flat and that a small boy should not be living in such close proximity to a man was wasn't his father. This time, she won. The official determined that John should go back to Mimi until the couple found two bedroomed accommodation.
- Pop won too because the couple gave up their apartment and moved back to Pop's roomy house where John could have his own room. She immediately went to Mimi's to get John. Mimi refused.
- However, for the next three years, Pop was happy to have John in the house at weekends and during the school holidays. He even insisted that Mimi take John to the house on a regular basis and Julia visited John there often. He was far from abandoned by his mother who was determined to have him back.
Her influence - and the end
When Pop died, Julia and Bobby moved into a three bedroomed council house. They had two daughters, Julia (see the book above) and Jackie.
John never left Mimi's home to live permanently with his mother and sisters but visited and stayed with them often. He never wanted to leave but despite Bobby regularly assuring him that he was welcome to stay permanently, John was evidently too frightened of Mimi to do so.
As John got older, his mother taught him to play the banjo. She would laugh and dance with him. She introduced him to Elvis recordings and the other popular music of the day. When he formed his own band, she would take his half-sisters to see them play and was their greatest fan. She encouraged his musical career and bought him his first guitar. Julia was knocked down by car on July 15th, 1958.
She died instantly. John was seventeen years old.
I have read the first two books shown here and both are truly absorbing.
The first one, I would recommend most highly. It is written by his ex-wife, Cynthia who met him when they were both teenagers and shared his life during the Beatle years.
She also tells of her life - and importantly that of their son, Julian - after she and John were divorced. Truly fascinating and thoroughly believable.
- The Very Best of John Lennon: Limited Edition
Own the selection of the very best songs by John Lennon. This is a limited edition so order soon.
- Nowhere Boy: John Lennon's early life - review
Does anyone really know the truth about John Lennon's early life? This film is as accurate as they come. As a Beatles 'historian', I can thoroughly recommend this fabulous film to all - fan or not.
- John Lennon: Will we ever know the truth?
Will we ever know the truth about John Lennon's life? There are so many contradictory books and articles about him. Who are we to believe?
- John: by Cynthia Lennon
John Lennon was murdered when he was still a young man. Now we have to rely on memories and memoirs to learn more about him and his life. Written by his first wife, this book is excellent.
- John Lennon: Biography by his sister Julia
John Lennon's first wife wrote about their years together. Julia Lennon, John's sister, also wrote about her brother. Both these books are fascinating and sincere accounts of Lennon's younger life.