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.[1] [2]

In 1962 a motorcycle section was established, meeting once a week on Saturday evenings at Eton Mission where there was ample parking and a large hall with table tennis, billiards, a juke box and a coffee bar. Motor Cycle staff writer Mike Evans in 1963 reported: "Ably managed by the Rev. Bill Shergold, the club is affectionately known by London riders as 'The Vic's Caff'!".[3]

It was notable for its adoption by the British motorcycling subculture known as 'rockers', initially in the London area during the mid-1960s, its badge taking on an iconic value.[4]

Eton Mission, original home of the 59 Club, and St. Mary of Eton Church, Eastway, Hackney Wick, London

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.[5]

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 at Rev. Shergold's parish of St Mary's.[6] [7] in Paddington in the West End of London. In 1965, AP news agency quoted the membership as "nearly 7,000, from almost every corner of Britain".[7] 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.[citation needed]

Father Graham Hullet, a leader of the 59 Club seated on motorcycle, with original 59 Club and Road Rats MC members at the Enfield Motorcycles factory, UK
Diving Section badge attached to a Lewis Leathers Super Bronx jacket sleeve

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.[8] 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 ageing Ton-Up/Rocker scene.

By the late 1980s, a Rockers revival was underway and a number of enthusiasts started a 'Classic Section' within the club, a sub-group of members dedicated to upholding the 1960s rockers subculture (fashion, music and motorcycles).

Present day[edit]

Father Graham Hullet, a leader of the 59 Club, with an original 59 Club and Road Rat MC member being interviewed 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 and 59 Club member, as being like “a father figure that many of the boys never had”,[9][dead link] was the president until he died aged 89 in Wells, Somerset in May 2009.[9][10] The chairman is currently Father Scott Anderson. The current committee openly accepts rockers. Father Graham Hullet was interviewed for BBC Radio 4 Home Truths[11] when he spoke of the club's heyday. Father Hullett left the club in the early 1970s over a matter of principle which he was too gentlemanly to discuss and had been largely written out of the club's history by the other parties. He died in a Lincoln hospital in 2012, aged 80.[5][12] 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 sections in Australia, Belgium, California, Chicago, France, Germany, Italy, Nebraska, Spain, and Switzerland.

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ St. Mary of Eton Church, Eastway, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5JA Retrieved 8 July 2014
  2. ^ Church of England Retrieved 8 July 2014
  3. ^ Motor Cycle, 28 Feb 1963, pp.250-251 Coffee Bar Survey by Mike Evans. "Every Saturday night the motor-cycle section attracts a crowd of young riders from all over London". Accessed and added 8 July 2014
  4. ^ Motor Cycle, 7 January 1965, p.21 Emergency Vicar 59 by Mike Evans. "In the two short years since we published the news of the formation of the 59 Club motor-cycle section, Father Bill has won the hearts—and the respect—of thousands of motorcyclists from all over the country". Accessed and added 7 June 2014
  5. ^ a b Stuart Barker (20 December 2010). "The 59 Club: London's outlaws". Visor Down. Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Motor Cycle, 7 January 1965, p.21 Emergency Vicar 59 by Mike Evans. "What vicarages do you know that run a breakdown service for motor cyclists? St. Mary's, Paddington, is about the only one, I imagine! The emergency service is but one of the activities of this enterprising club—in spite of the fact that it has no HQ at the moment ". Accessed and added 7 June 2014
  7. ^ a b Priest in jeans cares for Britain's Toughs The Free Lance-Star, 19 March 1965 Retrieved 7 June 2014
  8. ^ Motor Cycle, 28 Feb 1963, pp.250-251 Coffee Bar Survey by Mike Evans. "The great thing is that there are no membership fees, no regulations. Anyone is welcome and almost anything goes!". Accessed and added 8 July 2014
  9. ^ a b The Times, May 23, 2009. 'The Rev William Shergold: biker priest'[dead link]
  10. ^ "Death of pioneering rocker priest". BBC News. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  11. ^ BBC Radio 4 Home Truths programme
  12. ^ Motorcycle News obituary, December 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2014

Further reading[edit]

  • 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]