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.
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'!".
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.
It was started by Curate John Oates, who went on to become the Canon of St. Brides in Fleet Street. Father William Shergold started the motorcycle section in 1962 after a visit to the Ace Cafe and was later run by Graham Hullet 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.
From 1962 to the early 1980s, 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 on Paddington Green Church St Mary's. 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". 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 59 Club attracted both male and female members and, according to Father Bill Shergold its success was based on its almost entire lack of rules. 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, the club witnessed the birth of a very different type of motorcycle club — American-style outlaw motorcycle clubs, the rise of these groups, which tended to cater to an older, tougher crowd, was a contrast to the 59 way of life marking the end of the 1960s British Rocker sub-culture.
This was followed by a period when Japanese motorcycles outnumber the old British irons, 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.
The Club relied on a new breed of modern Rockers on their newer bikes through the 80's and was very popular at its headquarters in Hackney Yorkton St. It has always carried its Rocker roots,with rock and roll still on the Jukebox as it is today.
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), this again died away until recently, but the 59 has never stopped attracting a mixed motorcycling membership many of whom are Rockers.
Father Bill Shergold, remembered as being like “a father figure that many of the boys never had”, was the president until he died aged 89 in Wells, Somerset in May 2009.
Father Hullett left the club in the early 1970s. He died in a Lincoln hospital in 2012, aged 80. he was interviewed for BBC Radio 4 Home Truths when he spoke of the club's heyday.
Mike Cook retired from the club in 1992.
In 1993 The 59 Club moved from Yorkton Street in Hackney to Plaistow, up until that time all the club heads were paid either by the church or the GLC but since then have manged the club on a voluntary basis.
The chairman is currently Father Scott Anderson & it remains a registered charity as established in 1965 still meeting twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday, it's management committee of 5 members have been helping the club since the 1960's & it has been staffed purely by unpaid volunteers since the early 1990s.
It has evolved into a central hub where motorcycling, rock & roll, & leather jackets are the common denominator, with membership ranging from 18 to 65+, including families as well as individuals.
Many original members still attend & enjoy what the 59 club stands for.
The 59 Club maintains links with the Ace Cafe who now administer memberships for the club.
In September 2009, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, Trafalgar Square, London. This was attended by many old members, the mayor and the service blessing the bikes was finished off with 400 motorcycles going to the Ace Cafe.
Since 1962, the club has attracted over 33,000 members with many renewing their membership every year, largely being enthusiasts of classic or vintage British and Italian motorcycles & many enjoying the revived rocker style, plus the club has a large international following with officially recognised sections in America, Belgium, France, Italy & Spain.
The club is now planning its 60th Anniversary in 2019.