On the trail of Liverpool’s lost Beatles Maze

The International Garden Festival opened in 1984 to a huge fanfare as it turned the world's attention to Liverpool.

Billed as "a five-month pageant of horticultural excellence and spectacular entertainment" the festival attracted over three million visitors that summer and was deemed a resounding success.

After years spent falling into disrepair and eventual closure, the Liverpool Festival Gardens reopened in 2012 with the Japanese garden and restored pagodas reinstated – but one particular attraction was missing.

The Beatles Maze was an apple-shaped labyrinth with a bronze statue of John Lennon and a 51ft long Yellow Submarine at its centre.

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The maze won the premiere prize out of all the gardens at the 1984 festival and both of its iconic structures have since found new homes in and away from the city.

It was created by botanical garden expert Graham Burgess who was personally invited to design one of the festival's unique attractions.

Graham, who lives in Hampshire, explained the unique symbolism behind its construction.

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He said: "I was asked if I wanted to do something and along with a colleague of mine we designed The Beatles Maze.

"The design is based on Liverpool’s industry. The two industries I focused on were shipping and The Beatles.

"Basically, the maze was an apple shape with the submarine in the middle and that was the core.”

A sketch of the design for The Beatles Maze which won the premiere prize at the International Garden Festival in 1984

The initial concept designs show swirling yellow brick pathways made inside the shape of an apple – a reference to The Beatles record label.

At the centre – or core – was the Yellow Submarine which had been specially built at Cammell Laird shipyard.

Graham said: “As you entered the maze the pathway was yellow brick, and the yellow brick road was a reference to the music.

“In the centre was four bricks in a row and that represented each of The Beatles.”

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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on their visit to Liverpool in 1984 on the Beatles yellow submarine looking out on to the John Lennon statue

He added: “Then you entered the submarine on a one-way path. Then up a spiral staircase to the top of the conning tower.

“As you looked out one way you saw the core of Liverpool trade, the River Mersey. Looking the other way the statue of John Lennon.”

The festival garden was built on a site south of the old Herculaneum Dock which was used as a giant landfill before being redeveloped in the 1980s to host the International Garden Festival in 1984.

Liverpool at the time was suffering from crippling unemployment following the closure of the docks and the shrinking of the city’s manufacturing industry.

The Beatles Maze designed by Graham Burgess has become a lost part of the International Garden Festival but the Yellow Submarine and John Lennon that were part of it found new homes

The submarine was especially important part of the garden and Graham remembers the construction of it fondly.

It had a replica control cabin containing genuine submarine equipment with spiral staircases leading to the bridge and the hull even tilted as if about to submerge into the water.

Graham said: “I came down to Cammell Laird and showed them the design and they agreed to make the submarine as part of an apprenticeship training scheme."

In building the yellow submarine, 80 apprentices from the Cammell Laird shipyard were taken on to work on its manufacture.

He added: “I’d be interested to know what those young lads are doing now.”

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Despite the popularity of the festival and the hope that it would leave a legacy in the area, the site fell in to disrepair in the years after the festival.

From the 1980s until 1996, the Festival Hall was used as a Pleasure Island amusement park.

Both the bronze statue of John Lennon and the yellow submarine are the only two elements of The Beatles Maze that survived.

After the festival ended, the Yellow Submarine was initially housed at Chavasse Park, which today forms part of Liverpool ONE, before its condition worsened and it was removed from public view.

In 2005, after the model was restored and renovated, the Yellow Submarine was moved to Liverpool John Lennon Airport where it remains to this day.

The bronze statue of John Lennon created by sculptor Allen Curran was sold at auction and found a new home at the top of the stairwell to the "restroom" at the Hard Rock Café in Washington DC.