Nov 08, 1971
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James “Jim” McCartney (7 July 1902 – 18 March 1976) and Mary Patricia McCartney (née Mohan) (29 September 1909 – 31 October 1956) were the parents of musician, author and artist Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Wings, and younger brother photographer and musician Mike McCartney (better known professionally as Mike McGear), who worked with the comedy rock trio the Scaffold.
Like many families in Liverpool, the McCartney and Mohan families are of Irish descent. Jim worked for most of his life in the cotton trade, as well as playing in ragtime and jazz bands in Liverpool, while Mary was a trained nurse and midwife.
The McCartney family lived in council houses during Mary’s life, but Paul later bought his father a house called Rembrandt, in Heswall, Cheshire. Jim encouraged his two sons to take up music by buying instruments for them to learn, as well as improving their education. Mary was Paul’s inspiration for the song, “Let It Be“. After Mary’s death, Jim married Angela Williams and adopted her daughter from a previous marriage, Ruth McCartney.
McCartney and Mohin
Jim’s great-grandfather, James McCartney (an upholsterer), was born in Ireland, but it was previously unknown where Jim’s grandfather, James McCartney II, was born. New evidence found in Scottish archives suggests that James McCartney moved with his family (including James McCartney II) from Ireland to Galloway, Scotland, around 1859, before moving south and settling in Liverpool.
James II (a plumber and painter) married Elizabeth Williams in 1864, in Liverpool. The pair were both under-age when they were wed, but found a place to live together in Scotland Road. Jim’s father, Joseph “Joe” McCartney (born 23 November 1866) was a tobacco-cutter by trade when he married Florence “Florrie” Clegg (born 2 June 1874) in the Christ Church, Kensington, Liverpool, on 17 May 1896. Joe never drank alcohol, went to bed at 10 o’clock every night, and the only swear word he used was “Jaysus”. Florrie was known as “Granny Mac” in the neighbourhood and was often consulted when families had problems.
Mary’s father was born in Tullynamalrow, County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1880, as Owen Mohan, but permanently changed his name to Mohin when he was at school to avoid confusion with many other pupils with the same surname. After moving to Liverpool, he worked as a coalman, and married Mary Theresa Danher from Toxteth Park, at St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, on 24 April 1905.
Jim was born at 8 Fishguard Street, Everton, Liverpool and was the third eldest of seven children. The McCartney children were John (Jack), Edith, James (Jim), Ann, Millie, Jane (Jin) and Joe (who was named after a brother who died in infancy). Joe and Florrie McCartney moved shortly after Jim’s birth to 3 Solva Street in Everton, which was a run-down terraced house about three-quarters of a mile from the Liverpool city centre, where Jim attended the Steers Street Primary School off Everton Road. After leaving school at 14, Jim found work for six shillings a week as a cotton “sample boy”, at A. Hanney & Co.; a cotton broker in Chapel Street, Liverpool. Jim’s job entailed running up and down Old Hall Street with large bundles of cotton that had to be delivered to cotton brokers or merchants in various salesrooms. He worked ten-hour days, five days a week, although he received a bonus at Christmas that was almost double his annual salary.
When World War II started Jim was too old to be called up for active service, as well as having previously been disqualified on medical grounds after falling from a wall and smashing his left eardrum when 10 years old. After the cotton exchange closed for the duration of the war, Jim worked as an inspector at Napier’s engineering works, which made shell cases that were later filled with explosives. He volunteered to be a fireman at night and often watched Liverpool burning from his rooftop observer’s position. Between 1940 and 1942, Liverpool endured 68 air-raids, which killed or injured more than 4,500 of the population and destroyed more than 10,000 homes. After the war he worked as an inspector for Liverpool Corporation’s Cleansing Department before returning to the cotton trade in 1946.
Jim avidly read the Liverpool Echo or Express, liked solving crosswords and instigated discussions about varied subjects. His attitude to life was based upon self-respect, perseverance, fairness and a strong work ethic. His political views were far from left-wing, as he insisted that there was nothing anyone could do about the situation the working classes were in at the time, and nothing would ever change.
62-year-old Jim was earning £10 a week in 1964, but Paul suggested that his father should retire, and bought “Rembrandt”; a detached mock-Tudor house in Baskervyle Road, Heswall, Cheshire, for £8,750. He bought his father a horse called “Drake’s Drum”, and a couple of years later, the horse won the race immediately preceding the Grand National.
Jim died of bronchial pneumonia on 18 March 1976. His second wife, Angela McCartney (née Williams) said that his last words were “I’ll be with Mary soon.” Jim died two days before a Wings European tour; his eldest son was unable to attend the funeral. Jim was cremated at Landican Cemetery, near Heswall, Merseyside on 22 March 1976.
Mary Patricia Mohan was born at 2 Third Avenue, Fazakerley, Liverpool. After two years Mary’s father met and married his second wife, Rose, while on a trip to Monaghan, in Ireland. Rose arrived in Liverpool with two children from a previous marriage, but Mary, who had until then been looking after the Mohan family, realised that Rose did not care much for domesticity or her new husband’s children. After a year she chose to live with her aunts. In 1923, at the age of 14 years, Mary started work as a nurse trainee at the Smithdown Road Hospital, and then took a three-year training course at Walton Road Hospital in Rice Lane, Liverpool, eventually becoming a state registered nurse.
Mary became a domiciliary health visitor and midwife, and was on-call day or night, where she was needed as a midwife. Her eldest son, Paul, said his first memory was watching her cycling away when it was snowing heavily. After she had been diagnosed with cancer, Mary still carried on cycling to work, but often doubled up in pain and had trouble breathing. The day Mary was due to have a mastectomy operation, she cleaned the McCartney house and laid her two sons’ school clothes out, ready for the next day. She said to Dill Mohin, her sister-in-law, “Now everything’s ready for them in case I don’t come back.” Mary died of an embolism on 31 October 1956, after an operation to stop the spread of breast cancer. Her last words to Dill Mohin were “I would love to have seen the boys growing up.” Mary was buried on 3 November 1956 at Yew Tree Cemetery, Finch Lane, Liverpool. Paul later named his daughter Mary after his mother, and Michael released an album entitled Woman in 1972, including the song, “Woman,” with a photo of Mary on the front cover.
Mary met her future husband during an air raid on Liverpool in 1940, when Jim was 38 years old, and had settled into what his friends thought was, “a confirmed bachelorhood.” Mary had been too career-conscious to think of marriage and, at the age of 31 years, was thought of as a spinster. They met in June 1940, at 11 Scargreen Avenue, West Derby, the McCartney family home. Mary was staying with Jim’s sister, Jin, because of the lack of accommodation in Liverpool at the time. As Mary sat quietly in an armchair, the air-raid sirens sounded at 9:30. At that time, the group moved to the Anderson shelter in the back garden to wait for the all-clear, but as there was an intensive bombing raid, the signal did not come and everyone was thus forced to sit in the cellar until dawn. Mary talked long enough with Jim to become romantically interested in him, and thought that he was “utterly charming and uncomplicated,” as well as being entertained by his “considerable good humour.” They took out a marriage licence at Liverpool Town Hall on 8 April 1941, and were married a week later at St. Swithin’s Roman Catholic chapel in Gillmoss, West Derby, on 15 April 1941. They first lived at 10 Sunbury Road, Anfield, and then resided for a short time at 92 Broadway, Wallasey, during November 1942. Jim’s job at Napiers was classified as war work, so the McCartneys were given a small, but temporary, prefab house at 3 Roach Avenue, Knowsley.
Mary’s job enabled the McCartneys to move to a ground-floor flat at 75 Sir Thomas White Gardens, off St. Domingo Road in Everton, to live in a rent-free flat that was supplied by her employers. They moved shortly after, in February 1946, to 72 Western Avenue in Speke. In 1948, the family moved again to 12 Ardwick Road (also in Speke) which was part of a new estate in the suburbs of Liverpool. The frequent moves to better areas were Mary’s idea, as she wanted to raise her children in the best neighbourhood possible.
In 1955, the McCartney family moved for the last time to a small three-bedroomed brick-built terrace house at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton, which is now owned by The National Trust. It only cost £1:6s:0d per week, which was due to Mary’s seniority at the hospital. Before moving to Forthlin Road, Jim had been secretary of the Speke Horticultural Society, and had often sent his sons out to canvass for new members. Jim planted dahlias and snapdragons in the front garden of Forthlin Road and regularly trimmed the lavender hedge, although it was Paul’s job to collect horse manure from the local streets in a bucket to be dug into the flowerbeds. As Jim was a heavy smoker, Jim would first dry and then crush sprigs of Lavender and then burn them (like incense) in the ashtrays to kill the smell of his cigarette smoke.
Money was a problem in the McCartney house, as Jim only earned up to £6.00 a week, which was less than his wife. Because of their financial situation, the McCartney family could not afford to buy a television set until the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and never owned a car. His two sons were the first in the McCartney family line to buy cars. When The Beatles became successful, Jim had to leave Forthlin Road because fans used to stand outside and stare through the windows, which made him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Eight years after Mary’s death, Jim married Angela Williams, on 24 November 1964. Williams had a daughter from a previous marriage, Ruth, whom Jim legally adopted.
James Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) and Peter Michael McCartney (born 7 January 1944) were both delivered in the Walton General Hospital in Rice Lane, Liverpool, where Mary had previously worked as a nursing sister in charge of the maternity ward. Mary was welcomed back shortly before she gave birth to her first son by being given a bed in a private ward. Jim was not present at the birth as he was fighting a warehouse fire, but arrived at the hospital two hours later.
As Mary was a Roman Catholic and Jim a Church of England Protestant—who later turned agnostic—their children were baptised Roman Catholic but raised non-denominationally, although Mary had married Jim on the promise that any children would be baptised in the Catholic faith. Although registered on his birth certificate as James Paul McCartney their first son was known as Paul thereafter. The two boys were not enrolled in Catholic schools, as their father believed that they leaned too much towards religion instead of education. Paul remembers his mother encouraging her children to use the Queen’s English and not the Liverpudlian dialect, which was unusual for the area they lived in.
Jim and Mary would often take Paul and Michael for a walk to the local rustic village of Hale (home of the giant Childe of Hale’s gravesite). According to Paul, these frequent trips out of Liverpool to the countryside inspired his love of nature. The McCartneys had a full set of George Newnes encyclopedias which Jim encouraged Paul and Michael to use, and told his sons to look up any word they did not understand. After Paul had passed the Eleven-plus Exam—meaning he would automatically gain a place at the Liverpool Institute—it was hoped that Paul would become a doctor or a teacher. Michael would also attend the Liverpool Institute two years later. After Mary’s death, Paul and Michael were sent to live with Jim’s brother Joe, and his wife Joan, for two months, so as to let their father grieve in private. Jim depended heavily on his sisters, Jin and Millie, to help around the house. Jim later took part in the running of the household, as Cynthia Lennon remembered that when she and John Lennon used to visit Forthlin Road, Jim would often answer the door with his sleeves rolled up, a tea towel in his hand and an apron tied around his waist. When Paul later played at The Cavern during lunchtimes, Jim would drop off food there that Paul would later put in the oven at Forthlin Road. Ruth remembered that Jim was funny and musical with her, but also strict when she was young, and was insistent that she learned good table manners and etiquette when speaking to people.
Joe McCartney, Jim’s father, was a traditionalist who liked opera and played an E-flat tuba in the local Territorial Army band that played in Stanley Park, and the Copes’ Tobacco factory Brass Band where he worked. He also played the double bass at home, sang, and hoped to interest his children in music. Jim learned how to play the trumpet and piano by ear, and at the age of 17 started playing ragtime music. Joe McCartney thought that ragtime—the most popular music of the period—was “tin-can music”. Jim’s first public appearance was at St Catherine’s Hall, Vine Street, Liverpool, with a band that wore black masks as a gimmick, calling themselves the Masked Melody Makers. He later led Jim Mac’s Jazz Band in the 1920s, with his brother Jack on trombone, and composed his first tune, “Eloise”. Paul would later record it as, “Walking in The Park With Eloise”. Jim had an upright piano in the Forthlin Road front room that he had bought from Harry Epstein’s North End Music Store (NEMS) and Brian Epstein, Harry’s son, later became The Beatles’ manager.
Jim had a collection of old, 78 rpm records that he would often play, or perform his musical “party-pieces”—the hits of the time—on the piano. He used to point out the different instruments in songs on the radio to his sons, and took them to local brass band concerts. Jim also taught them a basic idea of harmony between instruments, and Paul credits Jim’s tuition as being helpful when later singing harmonies with Lennon. After Mary’s death, Jim bought Paul a nickel-plated trumpet as a birthday present. When skiffle music became popular, Paul swapped the trumpet for a £15 Framus Zenith (model 17) acoustic guitar. Paul also played his father’s Framus Spanish guitar when writing early songs with Lennon.
With encouragement from Jim, Paul started playing the family piano and wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” on it. Jim advised Paul to take some music lessons, which he did, but soon realised that he preferred to learn ‘by ear’ (as his father had done) and because he never paid attention in music classes. After Paul and Michael became interested in music, Jim connected the radio in the living room to extension cords connected to two pairs of Bakelite headphones so that they could listen to Radio Luxembourg at night when they were in bed.
After first meeting Lennon, Jim warned Paul that he would get him “into trouble”, although he later allowed The Quarrymen to rehearse in the dining room at Forthlin Road in the evenings. Jim was reluctant to let the teenage Paul go to Hamburg with The Beatles until Paul said the group would earn £15 per week each. As this was more than he earned himself, Jim finally agreed, but only after a visit from the group’s then-manager, Allan Williams, who said that Jim should not worry. Jim was later present at a Beatles’ concert in Manchester when fans surrounded drummer Pete Best, and ignored the rest of The Beatles. Jim criticised Best by saying, “Why did you have to attract all the attention? Why didn’t you call the other lads back? I think that was very selfish of you”. Bill Harry recalled that Jim was probably “The Beatles’ biggest fan”, and was extremely proud of Paul’s success. Shelagh Johnson—later to become director of The Beatles’ Museum in Liverpool—said that Jim’s outward show of pride embarrassed his son. Jim enlisted Michael’s help when sorting through the ever-increasing sacks of fan letters that were delivered to Forthlin Road, with both composing “personal” responses that were supposedly from Paul. Michael would later have success on his own with the group The Scaffold.
Paul wrote “I Lost My Little Girl” just after Mary had died, and explained that it was a subconscious reference to his late mother. He also wrote “Golden Slumbers” at his father’s house in Heswall, and said the lyrics were taken from Ruth McCartney’s sheet-music copy of Thomas Dekker’s lullaby—also called “Golden Slumbers“—that Ruth had left on the piano at Rembrandt. Hunter Davies, who was at Jim’s house at the time doing an interview for his Beatles’ biography, remembered Jim listening to an acetate disc of “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Davies wrote that Paul recorded the song specifically for his father, as Jim was then 64 years old and had married Angela two years previously. Paul wrote “Let It Be”, because of a dream he had in 1968. He said that he had dreamt of his mother, and the “Mother Mary” lyric was about her. He later said, “It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing ‘Let It Be’.”
In 1974, Paul recorded a song his father had previously written, entitled “Walking in the Park with Eloise”, which was released by Wings under the pseudonym, “The Country Hams”. The Country Hams’ single was backed with a tune entitled “Bridge on the River Suite”. Both songs can be found on the CD Wings at the Speed of Sound from The Paul McCartney Collection.
Last updated on December 23, 2022
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