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A Bench for Stuart - The Story
I have been a Beatles fan since I was 14, and now just turned 50, so in those 36 years I have visited Liverpool many times. I have always known of Stuart Sutcliffe, what Beatles fan hasn't? Whatever Beatles book you pick up there is bound to be a picture of Stu in there some where, as he is so amazing looking that it takes your breath away. You cannot miss him.
So the internet has made it easy to find out more about this young man: I have always been drawn to him, his look, his talent, his story.... because he is just that.. a story all of his own, I often tell people - ‘There was more than just '4' of them, then hand them Backbeat.’ The internet, gave me that extra information to find out where he was buried, as I was shocked to find out he was in Liverpool, and not Hamburg. On my many visits to Liverpool I needed to go and see for my self. I don't know why, as many people think its strange that you would want to pay your respects to someone you didn't know - a stranger, but the Beatles had become my life, Liverpool had: I don't own a passport, never been abroad, so every given opportunity I dash of to the ‘pool’ and live a little.
I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to go to pay my respects as I had not heard of any of my fellow Beatle fans visiting him. So I contacted the church, asked if it was ok and did the family allow people to visit. I was told Yes, they welcome it, so I got what I needed, a map of the area, the church, the grave, even though I had been told where it was. When I got to Huyton, I seemed to lose all my logical thinking, even with the map in my hand and I began to get nervous: my heart was beating like a drum and it started to rain. After spending at least 45 minutes at the church itself, something didn't click, there wasn't a grave in sight that looked like the pictures I had seen of Stu's grave.
In the end we asked a passer-by where the graveyard was, and the young lady pointed in a direction away from the church in the left-hand corner of Blue Bell Lane. I got to the small graveyard, and I was so relieved, but nervous. As we approached the gates, my heart was beating out of my chest. It was a small, “oldie-worldie” type of graveyard with lots of statues of angels with no heads, vandalised in parts.
My friend was asking me, 'You ok?' ‘Yeah, sure’ I said confidently, but anything but. I wasn't sure how I felt, I was about to pay my respects to one of my idols, and all these different emotions were running around in my head, and my heart. We split up trying to find him, and there, without realising how I got from the gates to Stu's grave side, I was there: we found him.
STUART SUTCLIFFE, Born 23rd June 1940, DIED 10TH April 1962 AGE 21YEARS
My heart sank, trying to fight back the tears, with a lump in my throat, and hide it from my friend. He already gave me the rolling eyes when I bought flowers a Lime Street station (he’s a man). I had to hold back the tears, but I did lean forward and kiss the headstone, like I was kissing the top of Stu's for head, and have done every time it go. My friend sort of hit the nail on the head even though he wasn't a Beatle fan said it had just hit him, who was lying beneath his feet: a Beatle, a young man just 21 years old. Someone’s son, all that could go through my mind was how young he was. My son was the same age at the time of my first visit, and my thoughts were with this family, how they must have coped with this tragedy: his poor mother, must have broken her heart. It would have killed me.
It started to pour down very heavily with rain, so much so we could not see in front of us, we looked for shelter, but ....nothing... nowhere to sit. We had to make a mad dash somewhere to get away from this downpour. We were like drowned rats, but no matter where we went the rain followed, and before we knew it I was back in the Cavern, and left with the strangest feeling. I don't know what it was I was feeling as I couldn't describe it to my friends, but I left Liverpool with it, and for weeks after it stayed with me. I knew I wanted to do something for Stu, but what I did not know what. Until I took my dog for a walk back home to the local Crematorium, there were loads of benches! Memorial benches, with names, dedications and I wondered, could I? how would I? I didn't know what, but a light bulb went off in my head. I asked a few friends what they thought and they said it would make sense, as there was nowhere to sit when I was there, and wouldn’t it make a nice tribute. I had no idea how to go about it.
I was on the Stuart Sutcliffe web site and noticed I could send a message, it was run by the family, Pauline Sutcliffe, so well, I could ask, it may not get to her, but someone will get it. I mentioned my idea, and asked if it was possible to, if I could try and get some funding from some fans as a tribute for Stu, and went on to tell them about the grave yard and nowhere to sit. To my surprise, in a few days, I got a response from Pauline. She thought it was a wonderful idea, and gave me her and the family's blessing from the ‘get go’. Wow , I was over the moon, over whelmed and shocked.
Thank goodness for social networking! I began to throw some ideas out there, about what I wanted to do, and got a fund up for anyone who wanted to contribute. It was slow in getting people interested as I know things and times are hard, but we got some interest and a fund began to happen. This wasn't as easy as I thought, as Pauline had mentioned to me, with these things comes complications, and the Church is a listed building, so this could take a while, and we may come across some difficult things: well she wasn't wrong there.
There was paper work upon paper work to fill in, and send off. I was put in touch with Stuart’s oldest sister Joyce, as she lived in Huyton still, and Pauline lived in the States, so it was easier for me just in case we needed help at that end, and we did. I managed to arrange a visit to Liverpool to meet up with Joyce to show her my ideas, and what plans we had. That was one of the most surreal and overwhelming days of my life. I arranged to meet Joyce at the graveyard, stood by Stuart’s grave, with her son and her grandson, (Stuart’s Great Nephew). It was very very emotional for me, I was a wreck. We talked about the bench, and the company we would buy it from. They were all happy, (as long as I didn't buy it from B and Q!)
As I had never bought a Memorial Bench before, I didn’t know how to go about this, so thank goodness for Google. I did some research and finally decided on a company Memorial Benches UK. Their quality benches made from teak, and sturdy, heavy and well made, I settled for a 3-seater one, as Huyton Parish Church graveyard is not that big and I didn’t want it to over take anything. The 3-seater bench and has a fitting tribute engraved on the front with the words. “Stuart Sutcliffe, Painter, Artist, Poet Musician, founder member of the Beatles 23.06.1940 - 10.04.1962. 21 years old, with
love from family and fans.”
Just simple.. not too much but enough as a fitting tribute. I hope people will like it, and that all will be happy with it, especially the family. It was much needed for people to have somewhere to sit in
the graveyard, and a fitting tribute also.
The Bench was installed and unveiled - read about it here