On this day in history : 24th April 1906 – The birth of Mimi Smith – the maternal aunt and parental guardian of Beatle John Lennon – and who thought his music would never amount to much….

Mimi Smith – Fair use

Mary Elizabeth ‘Mimi’ Smith (nee Stanley) was the eldest of five sisters and from an early age had to help look after her younger siblings…. The family lived in a small terraced house in Newcastle Road, Liverpool – not far from Penny Lane…. On leaving school Mimi trained as a nurse (later in her working life she was to become the private secretary of businessman Ernest Vickers)…. When her mother died Mimi took on the matriarchal role in the family….

She met George Smith, a milkman who delivered milk to the hospital she worked at, in 1932…. He and his brother ran the family dairy and shop – Mimi would have considered him a good catch…. After a seven year courtship the pair finally married on the 15th of September 1939 and bought a semi-detached house – ‘Mendips’ – in Menlove Avenue, a middle-class area of Liverpool….

‘Mendips’ – Image credit : Havaska – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Mimi’s sister, Julia – younger than her by eight years – had married Alf Lennon on the 3rd of December 1938 and baby John was born on the 9th of October 1940…. Julia phoned her sister from the hospital and Mimi rushed to see her and the new arrival in the midst of an air raid….

Not long after Julia and Alf separated – Julia took John with her and moved in with her new lover…. Mimi undoubtedly would have been appalled by her sister’s behaviour – and even more so about the living arrangements…. Twice she contacted social services because the child was sleeping in the same bed as the adults…. Eventually Julia was persuaded to hand John over to Mimi and George – who incidentally were never to have any children of their own….

In July 1946 Alf Lennon took his son on an extended holiday to Blackpool – only his real intention was to emigrate to New Zealand with him…. It was Julia who managed to get John back and return him to Mimi…. After that he was to spend the rest of his childhood at ‘Mendips’….

John Lennon at home with Aunt Mimi at Menlove Avenue – Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

As a guardian Mimi was strict…. She could be stubborn, impatient, unforgiving and didn’t suffer fools lightly…. Money and keeping up appearances were important to her…. That said she had a good sense of humour…. Often when she was chastising John he would crack a joke and the two would end up in fits of giggles…. He thought the world of her – even so she was a little jealous of the relationship he had with his Uncle George….

With Uncle George – Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

John’s mother bought him his first guitar, although Mimi was to claim it was her…. She and Julia saw him first perform with The Quarrymen – who over time evolved into The Beatles…. Mimi gave the impression of being shocked by his performance – but secretly she was probably quite proud….

George died of a liver haemorrhage in 1955…. Not long after Julia was killed on Menlove Avenue, after being knocked down by a car being driven by an off duty police officer….

John was to attend Liverpool College of Art – as Mimi insisted that he get some academic qualifications…. “Music’s all right John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”…. She was dismissive of his friends – calling Paul McCartney ‘John’s little friend’ – and disapproving of him because he was working-class…. Mimi was never ashamed of showing her snobbery…. She was equally disapproving of John’s girlfriends – and later even more so of his wives….

When John married Cynthia on the 23rd of August 1962 Mimi refused to go to the wedding and pulled out all the stops to prevent the rest of the family from attending either…. She blamed Cynthia for falling pregnant and trapping John into marriage – but when Cynthia nearly lost the baby she agreed to rent them a downstairs room at ‘Mendips’…. By this time John’s career with The Beatles was taking off, which meant he was often away – leaving Mimi and Cynthia alone…. Mimi made her life unbearable – and shortly after the birth of Julian she could stand it no more and so in November 1963 she went to live with her mother….

Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1963 – Public domain

In 1965 John bought Mimi a £25k bungalow in Poole, Dorset…. He also gave her a weekly allowance of £30…. However, on discovering Cynthia’s mother also received the same allowance she was furious…. John, Cynthia and Julian visited her at the bungalow in the summer of 1965 – it was the last time she would see the three of them together….

John and Yoko Ono married on the 20th of March 1969…. Mimi happened to bump in to Cynthia at a funeral – she criticised her strongly, for divorcing John and letting him start a relationship with Yoko….”making a fool of himself”…. But she was later to admit Yoko was a good wife and mother….

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, March 1969 – CC0

After John’s death Yoko took their son, Sean, to visit Mimi – who said “Sean is like John in every way – looks and manner – and he has got John’s sense of humour. As long as he keeps away from music he will be alright”….

Yoko was later to buy ‘Mendips’ and donate it to the National Trust…. Mimi died at her bungalow in Poole on the 6th of December 1991….

Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

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