> It wasn’t easy being a young biker in the early 60s. You might have a Norton Dominator with Rita Tushingham on the back, but good luck finding somewhere that would serve you a frothy coffee. Society was in high dudgeon over these leather-clad tearaways blasting past Middle England’s Rover P4s on the way to Margate. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mods wanted to throw deckchairs at them when they got there. There were sanctuaries of course – Watford’s Busy Bee café, on the “norf circ” there was The Ace and down in Hackney Wick, there was the 59 Club. This was founded – in ’59 – by Reverend John Oates as the youth club of the Eton Mission. Somehow, Rev Oates persuaded Cliff Richard and Princess Margaret to open the club, which became hugely popular. Working at the Mission at the time was Reverend William Shergold, who in 1962 saw an opportunity to reach out to these bequiffed pariahs causing havoc on the nation’s arterial routes. Rev. Shergold had been a motorcyclist since arriving in London during the Blitz, and on visits to places like the Ace was able to talk to the bikers as an equal as he handed out leaflets; “I just had a chat and invited them to my church”. Soon ton-up kids were riding from all over the South East to visit the 59 club with its jukebox and coffee machine, but also for services at the Mission where there were blessings of both riders and machines. The bikers were welcome at the 59, not shunned. At one stage the club was the largest of its type in the world, with a three year waiting list. “Father Bill” (pictured above in leathers and dog collar) died on May 17th aged 89, no doubt happy in the knowledge that the 59 club is still going strong.
I may be a heathen, but riding a motorsickle along the Embankment on a deserted summer dawn is a spiritual experience indeed. And you just don’t ever feel that in a car.