59 Club

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59 Club
59 Club logo.jpg
Founded 1959
Location London, UK
Founder John Oates
Key people Reverend Bill Shergold, Reverend Graham Hullett
Type Charity
Region Worldwide
Membership 30,000 (600 annual renewals)
Website www.the59club.org.uk
Abbreviation The 9

The 59 Club, also written as The Fifty Nine Club and known as 'the 9', is a British motorcycle club with members distributed internationally.

The 59 Club started as a Church of England-based youth club founded in Hackney Wick on 2 April 1959, in the East End of London, then an underprivileged area suffering post-war deprivations. It is notable for its adoption by the British motorcycling subculture known as 'rockers' in the early 1960s, its badge taking on an iconic value.

Eton Mission, original home of the 59 Club

History[edit]

Father Bill Shergold and Father Graham Hullet, leaders of the 59 Club

It was started by Curate John Oates, who went on to become the Canon of St. Brides in Fleet Street. Leadership duties at different times were later taken over by Father Graham Hullett, William Shergold and Mike Cook. The club became well known, and attracted luminaries such as Sir Cliff Richard, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon to its opening night, and later many motorcycling sportsmen and musicians. Its trustees included Bishop Trevor Huddleston, the famous anti-apartheid campaigner. For British motorcyclists, it was famous for being one of the first places in the UK to preview the previously banned biker movie The Wild One, in 1968.[1]

From 1962 to the early 1970s, the club enjoyed fame as the top hang-out spot for British rockers and motorcyclists, and overall it created a positive archetype for the young members to follow, in the bad boys made good vein. At the time, the rockers were considered folk devils, due to their clashes with scooter-riding mods (see Mods and Rockers). The club had to split in two to keep both sides apart; the mods staying in Hackney Wick, and the rockers moving to a church property in Paddington in the West End of London. During its 1960s heyday, the club may have been the largest motorcycle club in the world, with over 20,000 members, who had to sign up in person. Members came from all over the UK, and even Europe.

Father Graham Hullet, leader of the 59 Club, seated on motorcycle, with original 59 Club and Road Rats MC members at the Enfield Motorcycles factory, UK.

By the late 80s, the 'Rocker Reunion Movement' had started and a number of enthusiasts, young and old, started a 'Classic Section' with the club, a sub-group of members dedicated to upholding the 1960s rockers subculture (fashion, music and motorcycles).

The 59 Club attracted both male and female members and, according to Father Graham Hullett, its success was based on its almost entire lack of rules. Besides motorcycles and 1950s rock and roll, the club involved activities such as football and sub-aqua diving — which gave the youths, mainly from underprivileged backgrounds, an outlet for their energy. Each year, the club organised ride-outs to famous winter motorcycle rallies such as The Dragon Rally in Wales, The Elephant Rally at the Nürburgring in Germany, and to the Isle of Man TT races. The 59 BBQ event still occurs every year at TT in Laxey.

Towards the end of its heyday,[when?] the club witnessed the birth of a very different type of motorcycle club; American-style outlaw motorcycle clubs such as the London-based Road Rats and the California-originated Hells Angels. The rise of these groups, which tended to cater to an older, tougher, and sometimes criminal crowd, was in complete contrast to the 59 Club way of life, and it marked the death of the 1960s Rocker sub-culture. The subculture would not see a resurgence for almost a decade, but the legend of the 59 Club carried on with original members that were determined to keep the spirit of the 1950s alive with the aging Ton-Up/Rocker scene.

Present day[edit]

Father Graham Hullet, leader of the 59 Club, and original 59 Club and Road Rat MC member, interview by Dilly Barlow of BBC Radio 4 Home Truths.

The club still exists in London, and has a large international following. Father Bill Shergold, remembered by Len Paterson, an original Rocker, 59 Club member and founder of the Rocker Reunion movement, as being like “a father figure that many of the boys never had”,[2] was the president until he died aged 89 in Wells, Somerset in May 2009.[2][3] The chairman is currently Father Scott Anderson. The current committee openly accepts rockers. Father Graham Hullet was recently[when?] interviewed for BBC Radio 4 Home Truths programme when he spoke of the club's heyday. Now retired, Father Hullett left the club in the early 1970s over a matter of principle which he is too gentlemanly to discuss and had been written out of the club's history by the other parties until recently.[1] The 59 Club moved from Yorkton Street in Hackney to Plaistow, London and meets twice weekly.

St Augustine's Church in Yorkton Street, Hackney. A 59 Club clubhouse.

It remains a registered charity as established in 1965, and has evolved into a place where families and individuals are welcome. The difficulties and expense of getting a motorcycle licence has pushed the membership age upwards, but members aged 18 to 65 still attend. The management committee has amongst its committee four members who have been helping the club since the 1960s. The club has been staffed purely by unpaid volunteers since the early 1990s.

The 59 Club maintains links with both the Ace Cafe and the Rockers Reunion. As of 2009, the club had over 30,000 members.[citation needed] Often members of the club are enthusiasts of classic or vintage British and Italian motorcycles such as Norton, Triumph, Ariel, Matchless, AJS, BSA, Royal Enfield, Moto Guzzi and Ducati. The Fifty Nine Club currently has officially recognised chapters in Australia, Belgium, Chicago, France, Germany, Italy, California, Spain, Switzerland, and Texas.

In September 2009, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, Trafalgar Square, London.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Stuart Barker (9 January 2008). "In The Name Of The Fathers". Visor Down. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  2. ^ a b The Times, May 23, 2009. 'The Rev William Shergold: biker priest'
  3. ^ "Death of pioneering rocker priest". BBC News. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  • Cohen, Stanley (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London: Mac Gibbon and Kee. ISBN 0-415-26712-9.
  • Stuart, Johnny (1989) Rockers! Kings of the Road. Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-85965-125-8
  • Cook, Mike (1965–1970) Link Magazine, magazine of the fifty nine club. London: 59 Club

External links[edit]