They seemed an unlikely pair. That wise-cracking, aggressive, scruffy teddy-boy Lennon was a world away from the demure, composed, Cynthia Powell who came from Hoylake ‘over the water’ on the Wirral, and who spoke posh.
It started in the lettering class at Liverpool College of Art. John Lennon’s speciality was cartoons – often cruel caricatures – and he only ended up in lettering after other teachers declined to have him disrupting their lessons. He ambled into an empty seat behind Cynthia and, typically having brought no equipment with him, asked to borrow a pencil and brush. She discovered they had both lost a parent, and also shared chronically poor eyesight. Gradually, the shy Miss Powell found herself looking forward to lettering classes – despite being engaged to Barry back home in Hoylake. At 17 going on 18, Lennon had a reputation as a trouble-maker, a certain notoriety with the opposite sex, and appeared to make little effort with anything except music. Sometimes, he would take out the guitar that was often slung across his back and bash out a tune – generally a cover of something popular at the time, perhaps by Lonnie Donegan or Chuck Berry. One day, when John and Cynthia were the last to leave class, he started to strum, “Oh, ain’t she sweet? Well, see her walking down that street? Yeah, I ask you very confidentially – ain’t she sweet” – whilst looking directly across at her. Cynthia scuttled from the room self-consciously.
Cynthia’s engagement did not prevent her dying her hair blonde one weekend, after she discovered John’s publicly expressed admiration for the flaxen and fragrant Brigitte Bardot. And she was chuffed to bits to note his approval on Monday. “Get you, Miss Hoylake!” he remarked.
The end of summer term 1958 approached. Somebody suggested a lunchtime party before everyone went their separate ways for the holidays. A record-player was procured and a sympathetic teacher offered the use of his room (provided he could attend the party). John gruffly asked Cynthia if she’d like to dance and, as they did so, whether she’d like to go out with him. Panicking, Cynthia blurted out that she was engaged, to which John retorted that he hadn’t asked her to ******* marry him, and stomped off. Later, all seemed to be well when John asked Cynthia and her friend Phyllis, if they wanted to go to the pub, Ye Cracke.
Ye Cracke in nearby Rice Street was the college boozer, which John and his close circle frequented. It was a place for poor man’s black velvet (Guinness and cider) and cheap Woodbines. Being genuinely well-behaved students, Cynthia and Phyllis had never been there before. They found the place was heaving. John was with his acolytes and, after a couple of drinks, the girls decided it was time to go. When Cynthia turned to leave, John made some comment above the noise about Miss Powell being a nun. As Ray Coleman tells it in his biography of Lennon, “She span round, their eyes met, and she walked over to his side.”
Cynthia explains in her book, ‘John’ that after a couple more drinks the two of them slipped away to the bedsit rented by John’s best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe in nearby Gambier Terrace. Here, Cynthia became Cyn. Later, they raced so that she could catch the last train home. “What are you doing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next?” John called as the train pulled away. “Seeing you”, replied Cyn.
So, if you’re on the Beatle Trail in Liverpool, you need to visit Ye Cracke. It looks a nondescript, fairly tired, place; a Victorian public house sitting in a Victorian residential street that might have seen better days. Inside, I was glad to see that little attempt had been made to glamourise it. Sure, there were references to one of its more famous drinkers, and even a picture of John and Cyn on the wall, and some interesting artwork. But the seats were wooden or plastic-covered, the tables had obviously had good use and the floors were bare boards. I was a little disconcerted to see that the bitter was Thwaites Original, which sometimes argues explosively with my digestion, but it was a surprisingly fine pint. In short, Ye Cracke is an unpretentious pub, a little blokeish, obviously proud of its heritage, but still very much a local despite the fact that daft visitors like me occasionally drop by. I liked it very much and, communing with the ghosts of pop history, would happily have enjoyed a second pint, but was encouraged to move on by Mrs Britain. Maybe if I’d been 18 with a DA, an attitude and a guitar…
Go to A Bit About Britain’s directory listing for Ye Cracke and other Beatle shrines.