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.
If you rode a motorcycle and wore a black leather jacket in London in the 1960s, there were few places you'd be welcome. The Biker Boys of the time had such a bad reputation that most cafés, cinemas and clubs banned them. The only place they could congregate was at a truck stop in North London called the Ace Café. There, the original ton-up boys would work on their bikes, swap tales of riding exploits, eat greasy trucker food and take part in illegal burn-ups. A favourite pastime was to put a rock'n' roll record on the jukebox and race each other round the block, trying to get back before the song had finished.
If you didn't ride a bike and didn't adhere to the ritual dress code of leather jacket, duck's arse haircut and battered jeans, you didn't dare go to The Ace. Many citizens were terrified to even pass the place. In polite society, these disaffected young men had no friends. They were outcasts, despised and feared in equal measure.
Like everyone else, the late Father Shergold (1919-2009) feared the Rockers who hung out at The Ace but, being a keen bike rider himself, he felt they could be 'saved' from a life of crime if they had some purpose and somewhere to belong. In the November 1966 issue of Link - the magazine of The 59 Club - Father Shergold recalled: "Because of their dress, their noisy bikes and their tendency to move in gangs, nobody wanted them. Dance halls refused them, bowling alleys told them to go home. Youth clubs were afraid of them. Even transport cafés didn't welcome their custom.
Shergold wanted to go to the Ace and give out religious posters for the benefit of the bikers but feared the reception he would get. Eventually he decided to try. Concealing his dog collar under a white scarf, he rode off on his Triumph Speed Twin. Father Shergold's recollection of the trip shows the terror which the Biker Boys instilled. "Just past Staples Corner about a dozen bikes, ridden by sinister figures in black leathers, roared past in the opposite direction. I felt sick with fear. By the time I reached the bridges at Stonebridge Park I was in such a panic I opened the throttle and fled past the Ace as fast as I could. I realised I was being a coward, so I turned back. Again panic seized me and I went past. Then I turned back again and finally rode into the forecourt. By now, the Ace was practically deserted but I consoled myself that I had at least penetrated into the lions' den, even if the lions were out on the prowl."
Father Shergold returned a few weeks later, armed with leaflets and making no attempt to hide his dog collar. "It was packed. Hundreds of boys were milling around, laughing and talking. I thought, 'This is it. I shall almost certainly lose my trousers or land up in the canal'."
But there was no need to worry about getting a ritual dunking. Father Shergold was treated with every courtesy and was amazed at the positive reaction he got when he invited the bikers to attend a special service specifically for bikers at his church the following evening. Father Shergold arranged to have various bikes on display in the church itself and, incredibly, some bikers even wheeled their machines into the church to be blessed!
Continue the story of The 59 Club - 2/3
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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