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.co.uk
Abbreviation The 9
Eton Mission, original home of the 59 Club, and St. Mary of Eton Church, Eastway, Hackney Wick, London

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]


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 Fathers 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 London 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, some rockers were considered folk devils, due to their clashes with scooter-riding mods (see Mods and Rockers).

In May 1964 the club moved from Hackney Wick to a church property at Paddington Green when Rev. Shergold moved to a new parish of St Mary's.[6][7][8][9] in Paddington in the West End of London.

In March 1965, AP news agency quoted the membership as "nearly 7,000, from almost every corner of Britain".[8] The club celebrated its third birthday at a function held at their two-storey church hall on 23 October, with a large iced cake weighing 84 pounds (38 kg) created by Arthur Keen and decorated by 'Jiminy' as a facsimile of Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. The hall was packed with 1,200 members and friends attended with some sleeping overnight and near to 1,000 motorcycles parked outside. At that time, Motor Cycle magazine quoted the membership at 10,000, further confirming the previous year's membership with the comment: "That's well over 250 new members a month, if you care to work it out!". The celebrations were concluded the next day, Sunday, when Rev. Shergold held a service at his nearby church.[10]

The January 1966 issue of Motorcycle Mechanics magazine carried a letter submitted previously by a Charles Howe, on behalf of the 59 Club, successfully applying for a free motorcycle, a vintage 1939 Royal Enfield v-twin donated by Assistant Editor Ian Speller, when the membership was quoted at 9,500.[11]

The venue for the next function, the club's fourth birthday, was Alexandra Palace, allowing for 3,000 attendees on 10 December. The membership in September 1966 was quoted at 13,000, with a stand at the Earls Court motorcycle show to recruit further new members.[12]

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.[13] 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 Club Barbeque still occurs every year at TT in Laxey, on the Isle of Man coast.

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 who 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 (the style, 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”,[14] was the president until he died aged 89 in Wells, Somerset in May 2009.[14][15] The chairman is currently Father Scott Anderson. The current committee openly accepts rockers. Father Graham Hullet was interviewed for BBC Radio 4 Home Truths[16] when he spoke of the club's heyday. Father Hullett left the club in the early 1970s over a matter of principle. He died in a Lincoln hospital in 2012, aged 80.[5][17] 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 pushed the membership age upwards, but members aged 18 to 65 still attend. The management committee has 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. The Fifty Nine Club has officially recognised sections in America, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

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


  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, 23 April 1964, p.505 At St Paul's. "Next Sunday Father Bill Shergold climbs the steps of the magnificent new Mottistone pulpit beneath the great dome of St. Paul's Cathedral to conduct one of the Popular Evening Services. On the morning of the same day Father Shergold is holding his farewell service at St Mary of Eton...Next week he will take up duties at his new parish, St. Mary's, Paddington Green.". Accessed and added 30 December 2014
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Priest in jeans cares for Britain's Toughs The Free Lance-Star, 19 March 1965 Retrieved 7 June 2014
  9. ^ Motor Cycle, 24 June 1965, p835. HQ lost. "The Sunbeam club have unfortunately lost their meeting place at the Byron Hotel, Greenford...There is a possibility that the film show, scheduled for July 1, will be held at the 59 Club, Unwin Place, Harrow Road, London W2...". Accessed and added 25 February 2015
  10. ^ Motor Cycle 28 October 1965 pp.629, 636. Three years. Accessed 2 September 2015
  11. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics January 1966, p.5. Accessed 7 September 2015
  12. ^ Motor Cycle 15 September 1966 p.361. Accessed 2 September 2015
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ a b The Times, May 23, 2009. 'The Rev William Shergold: biker priest'
  15. ^ "Death of pioneering rocker priest". BBC News. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  16. ^ BBC Radio 4 Home Truths programme
  17. ^ 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]