In the 1960s, the 59 Club was the biggest, most famous motorcycle club in the world, and a notorious hangout for outcasts and misfits. Half a century later, the incredible story of a gang of hoodlums and a pair of leather-clad vicars continues to amaze.
But even the toughest of the Bike Boys respected Father Hullett, says Paterson. "There was one guy who shot someone and stuck an axe in another guy's head. He wasn't the most pleasant of people but he had a tremendous amount of respect for Father Hullett. That speaks volumes about the kind of guy Father Hullett is." While the threat of violence was never very far away, the club was more about having fun and blowing off steam than it was about fighting. Len Paterson has many fond memories of the illegal 'burn-ups' from Chelsea Bridge to the 59 Club's headquarters in Paddington and back again. "The burn-ups from Chelsea Bridge to the 59 Club and back were legendary. Edgware Road, Park Lane, Sloane Square on a Saturday night - they were unreal. Every one of us was taking our lives in our hands. How most of us survived I don't know. The soldiers used to come out of the army barracks in Chelsea and sit on the wall to watch this lunacy. Imagine 40 or 50 bikes all racing as hard as they could through the streets of London. You couldn't do it now but the cops pretty much left us alone back then. There was no quarter asked or given either - we were on the wrong side of the road, scratching round corners, forcing cars onto the pavement. You just had to get back to Chelsea Bridge first. It was madness but it was fantastic." The classic Rocker image and bad boy reputation was a magnet when it came to pulling girls too. Now happily married with three children, Len Paterson remembers the fringe benefits of club membership. "The club was great for pulling birds," he says. "All the waifs and strays who came to London ended up either at Chelsea Bridge or the 59 Club. You didn't need a helmet then so they just jumped on the back of the bike. The standard line was, 'Do you want to have a go on the Big Dipper in Battersea Park?' They always said yes, thinking we were talking about the funfair - but we were talking about our nobs!" Now retired, Father Hullett left the club in the early 1970s over an internal dispute which he is too gentlemanly to discuss. By 1980, he was forced to sell his bike because he could no longer afford to run it. He had always wanted to get back on two wheels but funds simply didn't permit. Len Paterson finally saw his chance to show his gratitude. He secretly contacted other old members of the club and asked 59 of them to donate £59 each to get Father Hullett back on the road. "When I started talking to people to raise the money, I realised how many of them Father Graham had helped. I thought he was just helping out a few of us but it turns out he was at it everywhere, doing whatever he could do to help." In May 2005, BBC Radio 4's Home Truths programme followed Hullett on a nostalgic tour of the Royal Enfield factory. Unknown to him, scores of club members from the 1960s who he hadn't seen in decades were waiting in hiding. Every one of them had a reason to thank the man who had improved their lives - and quite possibly saved them in some cases. When they came through the factory doors and cheered, Father Hullett was completely taken aback. There was more to come. Sitting in the factory was a new Sixty-5 Royal Enfield Bullet complete with custom 'Spirit of 59 Club' logo on the tank. Father Hullett was literally speechless when told the bike was his and all his riding gear and insurance was taken care of. His 25-year dream of getting back on two wheels was about to come true. "I was speechless when I was presented with the bike," says Father Hullett, "and I'm still on a high about it nearly a year later. It was a total surprise, and to have all the old club members hiding there waiting to greet me... It was just the greatest day of my life." It couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.
The 59 Club still exists today although it has changed a great deal since its heyday in the 60s. The club is now located in Plaistow, East London and, in keeping with tradition, is under the guidance of another man of the cloth, Father Scot Anderson. Sadly, internal politics and frictions mean the club is now divided between older and newer members. Many members of the original 59 Club feel their spirit has been lost along the way and they refuse to have anything to do with the club as it is now. Likewise, many current members prefer to distance themselves from the less-than-savoury reputation the club had in the 1960s.
But the club continues to bring all kinds of bikers on all kinds of bikes together to enjoy themselves. Events include trips to the Isle of Man TT races, bike shows, rallies, live bands and rockers reunion events, ride-outs and even trips abroad to join up with foreign affiliates of the 59 Club. Almost 50 years after its inception, you can still become a member of the most famous bike club in the world.
Details The club meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7.30-11pm at The Swift Centre, 387a Barking Road, Plaistow, London. Tel: 07751 676091 on club nights, or leave a message on 020 7476 5957 or look at www.the59club.org.uk
For an alternative look at the club's glory years in the 1960s visit the unofficial tribute site at www.the59club.com
Posted: 29/11/2010 at 22:42
Posted: 29/11/2010 at 23:21
God Bless Father Shergold. We'll not see his like again.
Happy memories - Brighton runs, Greeks and bacon buttie runs.
I don't believe the Ton-ups have 'evolved', it's a different breed with matching gloves and plastic fantastics; not the same feeling or identity. It was a real club and everyone helped each other, not like a lot of the posers of today.
Sorry it it offends - I'm just an old fart possible related to V.Meldrew.
Posted: 21/12/2010 at 11:27
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Posted: 10/11/2015 at 06:03
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