Alfred “Alf/Freddie” 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 children.
The Lennon family
James Lennon (b. 1829) and Jane McConville (1831–1869), 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 and a 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/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 is buried in a common and unmarked grave (along with five unknown adults and three children) in the Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool. 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 America 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.
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. 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.”
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