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The 59 Club: Rockers to host reunion at Hackney Wick church where world famous biker club was born

PUBLISHED: 08:35 24 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:59 24 April 2018

Fr Graham with 59 Club members.

Fr Graham with 59 Club members.

Archant

The 59 Club was the world’s most famous biker club in the 1960s at the height of the rocker scene. It all started in a Hackney Wick church, and now it’s going back. The Gazette spoke to the man behind the revival.

Fr Graham Hullett.Fr Graham Hullett.

Rockers from the world famous 59 Club will return to the Hackney Wick church where it all started for the first event there in more than 50 years.

Hundreds of bikes are expected to roll up to St Mary of Eton Church on May 5 for a reunion party organised by The Spirit of 59 Club.

Formed as a youth club by John Oates in 1959, the 59 became the biggest biker spot in the world during the heydey of the rocker scene in the mid-’60s.

Its success was down to the work of Fr Bill Shergold and Fr Graham Hullett, who started the motorbike section of the club in 1962.

Susie and Lenny.Susie and Lenny.

It took off immediately, and its official launch night brought the likes of Sir Cliff Richard, Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Margaret to the East End.

In 1964 the club moved to Paddington, and it was there that Marlon Brando’s banned biker movie The Wild One was first shown in the UK – 15 years after its release.

It remained there for 20 years, before moving back to Hackney with a new base in Yorkton Street, Shoreditch.

The reunion came about when, in 2005, lifelong member Lenny Paterson started contacting alumni in the hope of raising money to buy a bike for Fr Graham and get him back on the road.

Lenny, right, and Jill Hargreaves, second right, writing letters to members advising them of the move to the new premises in Yorktown Street, Hackney.Lenny, right, and Jill Hargreaves, second right, writing letters to members advising them of the move to the new premises in Yorktown Street, Hackney.

“He must have been 76 and he hadn’t had a bike for about 40 years,” Lenny told the Gazette. “I got 59 members of the club to donate £59 each and we got him a Royal Enfield with a sign saying ‘Spirit of 59’.”

After the official 59 Club, now based in Plaistow, declined to donate to the fund, Lenny decided to launch the Spirit of 59 with the same ethos of the original.

“When I joined in 1966 it was a place that looked after the young scrotes like us,” Lenny continued. “The mods and rockers thing was going on and the 59 Club was a sanctuary for us.

“There must have been 10 mods to every rocker. The flats I grew up in in Battersea, there must have been 800. There were no more than 10 rockers and the rest were kids my age, my mates, who just walked down different paths. I used to fix up my mates’ scooters and mess about with clocks. The mods weren’t mechanically minded, they were mohair minded.”

Fr Bill and Fr Graham.Fr Bill and Fr Graham.

But whenever there was a fight or a rocker was in trouble, they knew they could head down to the club.

“Fr Bill was your typical very well spoken vicar,” added Lenny. “Fr Graham wasn’t – he was one of the lads. Don’t get me wrong though, he would pull you up if you were out of order. He was able to command respect from people who didn’t even respect themselves.

“One of the lads was banged up for eight years for shooting a bloke up on the Chelsea Bridge and he went to see him throughout. But we only found out what he was like was when I started calling up people to make donations. Everyone had a story about how he had helped them.”

Fr Bill died in 2009 and Fr Graham in 2012. He left the bike to Lenny, who sold it and paid for a memorial bench in Lincoln Cathedral where he had worked in his later years.

In fact, the priest at St Mary of Eton only agreed to host the upcoming event because he had trained in Lincoln and knew of Fr Graham.

Lenny believes the get-together could be the start of a proper revival for the rockers – though it almost didn’t happen. He and fellow organiser Susie Rose held a farewell event for the Spirit of 59 just 12 months ago, but had a change of heart.

The Facebook group now has more than 1,500 members around the world, with the youngest in their early 30s.

“I’m amazed it’s spread around the world,” he said. “The Japanese have a big group out. They dress more like rockers than we did!

“If this event resonates it could be the start of a new era for it. It’s reverberated all around the world and now it’s coming home again.”

The event takes place at St Mary of Eton Church in Eastway, Hackney Wick, at 1pm on May 5.

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