Whether or not she was the real inspiration behind one of The Beatles’ most famous songs, an Eleanor Rigby really did live and die not far from where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up in Woolton, Liverpool. And her burial place is at the same church where Lennon’s first band, The Quarrymen, played at the Woolton Village garden fete and where Paul and John would later sunbathe in the graveyard.
The real Eleanor Rigby?
There are no surviving photos of this Eleanor, but we know she was born Eleanor Whitfield on 29 August 1895, at 8 Vale Road, Woolton in the home of her grandfather, John Rigby. Her father died while she was young, and it appears that Eleanor took the Rigby surname to prevent the line dying out.
Her mother remarried when Eleanor was 15; and she doted on her two half-sisters Edith and Hannah Heatley. She spent her youth helping her mother with the children and her work as a laundress. Eleanor only married relatively late in her life, at the age of 35, to Thomas Woods a railway foreman who was seventeen years older than her. Sadly, she found that she was unable to have children.
“Buried along with her name”
One month after the outbreak of World War II, Eleanor died of a massive brain haemorrhage at the age of just 44 and was “buried along with her name” in St Peter’s Parish Church, Woolton. Her half-sisters Edith and Hannah lived out the rest of their lives in the family home, but never married and died within a month of each other in 2001.
So she may or may not be the ‘real’ Eleanor Rigby, but her memory lives on and her family’s story echoes some of the loneliness and isolation of the lyrics of the famous song. Her grave has become a pilgrimage site for Beatles fans across the world and featured in the 1995 video ‘Free as a Bird’.