The London home of Mason & Sons has a rich history, as demonstrated by the blue plaque on the exterior wall of the building that reads: ‘John Lennon (1940-1980) Musician and Songwriter lived here in 1968’. But it wasn't only John Lennon who lived at the premises, there were other famous residents, included Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, and Jimi Hendrix. In addition to being the scene of mischief and mayhem during the late 1960s, McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" was arranged here and Hendrix penned "The Wind Cries Mary" whilst in residence.
English Heritage blue plaque at 34 Montagu Square
Montagu Square itself is a classic example of Regency terrace architecture that was popular in the 19th Century, with a communal garden located in the centre, surrounded by padlocked iron railings so that use would be limited to residents. It was built as part of the Portman Estate between 1810-1815 and named after Elizabeth Montagu, a social reformer, patron of the arts, salonist, literary critic and writer.
Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800)
Interestingly, James Bond author, Ian Fleming, had taken up residence in Montagu Place to be closer to his future wife, Ann Rothemere, who lived in Montagu Square. When Ann took her two children for a walk, Fleming would appear as if from nowhere to accompany them. The Rothemere residence at Montagu Square was frequently visited by Fleming, and is clearly visible from the front window of number 34. So, it seems fitting that Anthony Sinclair, the tailoring business that dressed Sean Connery for all his appearances as 007, should find its home in Montagu Square today as part of the Mason and Sons family.
Ian Fleming and his wife Ann
In 1965, Ringo Starr took a lease on the premises shortly before his marriage to Maureen Cox. At the time, Lord Mancroft - a resident of Montagu Square - welcomed Starr, saying to a journalist, “We’re a very distinguished square, and I’m sure we’ll welcome such a distinguished gentleman and his lady”.
Ringo Starr and his fiancee Maureen Cox
Unfortunately, staff at the Swiss Embassy located at the back of the house did not share Lord Mancroft’s sentiments, with an embassy spokesperson complaining that Beatles fans were defacing their wall with messages intended for Ringo: “Our back wall is now very unsightly and we shall have to redecorate. Our chauffeur, who is French and took part in the First World War, says the language some of these young people use is worse than anything he ever heard in the trenches”.
Some of Ringo's fans were overenthusiastic
The Starrs lived at Montagu Square until July 1965 when Ringo bought Sunny Heights, a country house in St. Georges Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. He retained the lease at no.34 and rented the property to Dutch design collective, The Fool, a group of artists who were employed by The Beatles record label, Apple, for various endeavours, such as painting both the Apple boutique in nearby Baker Street and John Lennon's Rolls Royce Phantom V. They also designed psychedelic clothes for all four of The Beatles as well as The Hollies, Marianne Faithful, Procol Harum, Donovan, and Cream.
Lennon's Rolls Royce Phantom V with paintwork by The Fool
Following the Fool’s departure in March 1966, Paul McCartney rented the Montagu Square premises, which was not far from the Abbey Road studios where The Beatles recorded their songs, and Jane Asher’s parents house at 57 Wimpole Street, where Paul was living at the time.
McCartney and Ringo on the steps of 34 Montagu Square
McCartney installed sound recording equipment in the premises, with the intention of creating a demo studio. He was assisted by Ian Somerville, an electronics technician and computer programmer (and boyfriend of American novelist William Burroughs), and together they experimented with tape loops to create avant-garde sounds. Spoken word recordings of poets, including Burroughs, were also made. Whilst at Montagu Square, McCartney produced a demo version of “I’m Looking Through You” and worked on the composition of “Eleanor Rigby”.
American novelist William Burroughs
McCartney moved on, and the place was left empty until December 1966, when Starr sub-let the premises to Jimi Hendrix, his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, his manager Chas Chandler, and Chas’s girlfriend Lottie Lennox. Hendrix himself (along with The Beatles) were customers of Mr. Fish, who ushered in the Peacock Revolution in the late 1960's, creating flamboyant and often psychedelic clothing which adorned the the backs of rock stars and royalty alike. The Mr. Fish name has recently been relaunched by Mason & Sons, providing another historical connection and endorsing the reason why Montagu Square is the perfect home for the company.
Jimi Hendrix found the perfect place to live
Whilst in Montagu Square, Hendrix's girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham, famously stormed out after an argument with Hendrix over her cooking skills. When she returned the next day she asked Jimi what he had been doing while she was away. He told her that he had written a song, and handed her a piece of paper bearing the title “The Wind Cries Mary”. Mary was Cathy’s middle name, and Jimi would use it whenever he wanted to annoy her… the song was about the row they’d had the previous day.
Hendrix cooking in the kitchen at 34 Montagu Square
Local residents had become increasingly concerned about the nuisance of noise emanating from 34 Montagu Square since the beginning of Paul McCartney’s tenure, and unsurprisingly the conditions had not improved following the arrival of Jimi Hendrix. However, Jimi’s departure was prompted by the effects of an LSD trip in which he decided to whitewash the walls of the property. The redecoration was not to Ringo’s liking, and Hendrix was subsequently evicted.
Hendrix and his upstairs neighbour did not see eye to eye
When John Lennon started a relationship with Yoko Ono in 1968, his wife Cynthia and son Julian moved into Montagu Square, living there for three months, before switching back to the family home, Kenwood, as Lennon and Ono preferred to live in London, rather than isolated Weybridge.
John and Yoko made 34 Montagu Square their home
During this period, The White Album was being recorded, and the couple were said to be living on a diet of “Champagne, caviar, and heroin”. John and Yoko’s experimental ‘Two Virgins’ album had been recorded at Kenwood, but the controversial cover photos were shot in the bedroom at 34 Montagu Square. Yoko was pregnant at the time and both were in the throes of heroin addiction. The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein had died the previous year and the group were struggling to keep it together.
Two Virgins album cover photographed at Montagu Square
On August 22nd 1968, Ringo Starr decided to leave the band and arrived at Montagu Square to break the news to John. There was a recording session booked at Abbey Road that evening, and the remaining members of the group went on to record “Back in the USSR” without their drummer. Ringo’s departure was kept from the press and he was later persuaded to make a return.
John spinning his discs in the basement of Montagu Square
Two months later, there was another unexpected knock on the door of 34 Montagu Square. At 11.30am on 18th October 1968, the premises were raided by an eight-strong police task force from Scotland Yard’s Drugs Squad led by the notorious anti-drugs zealot Sergeant Norman Pilcher. Both John and Yoko were arrested, with Lennon pleading guilty to hashish possession, absolving Ono, who miscarried not long after. Lennon was fined £150 plus 20 guineas costs and the couple returned to Kenwood. Fittingly, in November of 1973, Pilcher was arrested for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after it was alleged he had committed perjury. He was convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
John Lennon leaving the premises under arrest
After the raid, the landlord sought an injunction against Starr, forbidding anyone but Starr or his family to live there, and allowing no music or instruments to be played. Starr appealed, and a compromise was offered, but to finally settle the case, Starr sold the lease on 28th February 1969.
Yoko Ono unveils the blue plaque
In 2002, the property was bought by current owner Reynold D’Silva, who fought off a rival bid from musician Noel Gallagher, and on Saturday 23rd October 2010, Yoko Ono unveiled the Blue Plaque which commemorates the historic link between the building and one of the greatest cultural icons of our time.