A motorcycle club with its origins in the 1960s has gathered in Hackney to celebrate the rich history of rockers and bikers.
The Spirit of 59 Club is an offshoot of the world famous 59 Club which was founded in 1959 at St Mary of Eton Church in Hackney Wick. Members held reunion events on May 5 at the Old Baths Café, Eastway and nearby St Mary’s.
Bikers rolled up to the café car park set aside for the gathering, as stalls sold club merchandise and rockers clad in black leather and patchwork welcomed old friends.
One member of the club, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The reunion is beautiful. The word spirit in the name is particularly appropriate today.”
The Spirit of 59 Club have another event planned in Norwich in June. The occasion will be set in a large field and will feature camping with motorhomes and tents.
Lenny Paterson, 68, founder of the Spirit of 59 Club, works as a mechanic specialising in tuning the cylinder heads of historic cars and motorcycles.
Paterson said: “Everything is about giving people good value at minimum expense. Any money made goes straight back into the club, as long as we have people supporting it.”
The Spirit of 59 Club is a splinter group of the original 59 Club. Paterson and other members felt the original club had strayed from its initial ethos and went about setting up an alternative.
For Paterson, this month’s reunion was his last as leader of the Spirit of 59 Club. He said: “I will bow out. My politics have spilled into the club and I feel like I am the bad blood, especially with my relationship with the 59 Club. People do not care about politics, they just want to get out and ride their bikes.
“I am still passionate about it [the Spirit of 59 Club], and I hope it will continue to grow and expand and generate enough enthusiasm for it to be self-perpetuating. Even if it fails, at least I can say I’ve tried.”
The organisation will continue to be spearheaded by Paterson’s partner, Susie Rose, with Paterson offering advice along the way.
The 59 Club is an organisation of motorcycle enthusiasts who meet to ride together and attend events. It began in 1959 at the Hackney Wick church, and was originally founded as a youth club by Reverend John Oates. In its heyday the club drew fame with Cliff Richard and Princess Margaret attending events.
Father Graham Hullett, a vicar and keen motorcyclist, later assisted the running of the club, developing an ideology that helped people and rockers from troubled backgrounds.
Paterson said: “Back then we were considered the equivalent of the kids nowadays riding around on motorcycles throwing acid in people’s faces.”
Violent motorcycles groups like the Hells Angels and the Road Rats began to break out onto the scene, especially after the release of the rocker-centred film ‘The Wild One’ starring Marlon Brando.
Paterson told ELL: “The council of general management said they no longer wanted to help these troubled people as they were too violent and too disruptive, they wanted to keep it exclusively motorcyclists.”
Father Hullett would later disagree with the management of the club and was asked to leave. Paterson said: “It was a big part of his life that he never quite got over. When he left, a lot of us stopped going because he was the spirit. When he wasn’t there, it felt like someone poured cleaning fluid over the club, and there was no more roughness, no atmosphere, no soul to the club.”
Members of the Spirit of 59 Club spoke highly of Hullett, with Paterson saying: “We were misfits and the 59 Club was somewhere we felt at home. I did not have a dad and there were a few others who were in similar scenarios, so we saw Hullett as a dad we never had.”
The Spirit of 59 Club has had issues with the 59 Club even after the days of Hullett, especially those revolving around name similarities and threats of legal action. Paterson said: “Hullett was deeply devastated by the actions of the council of the 59 Club.
“For me, the original ethos of the 59 Club was no longer there. Now, it felt like they were just chasing the pound notes. They don’t organise their own events, and there’s no atmosphere left like there used to be.”
The 59 Club still operates today. It attends motorcycles events and hosts club days at the Ace Café, a venue popular for petrol heads. They can be found here: https://www.the59club.co.uk
In 2003, Paterson took Hullett, who had not driven for years, to a motorcycle show. Paterson told ELL: “We saw a bike at the Royal Enfield stand and Hullett sat on it like a little kid, pulling the clutch and the front brake, with a big smile on his face, and he said how much he missed motorcycling. But he couldn’t afford a bike.
“I went back to the Royal Enfield stand and struck a deal with them. Fifty nine people chipped in £59 each and we managed to buy the bike for Hullett.
“The bike was the spirit of the 59 Club and that is where it all emulated. We even had ‘Spirit of 59’ written on the bike.”
When Hullett died in 2012, he left the bike to Paterson and it was sold for £5,000 at auction. Half of that sum was donated to Lincoln Cathedral (where Hullett worked for 15 years) on the condition they provide a sculpted bench in the Mary Magdalene Chapel.
Paterson said: “Hullett always told me that God works in mysterious ways. Now, I’m not religious but a couple of years ago I tried to get the vicar to let us use St Mary Church for a tribute for Graham, but they said no. There had been some bad politics with people abusing their heritage so they said they did not want to know, as they were not related to the 59 Club anymore. So I sold the bike and we held the tribute at Lincoln Cathedral, which was very touching.
“I later rang the church and explained that I was a friend of Hullett, mentioning the donation for the bench to Lincoln Cathedral. The vicar then said how she did her training there and, to me, it felt like God working in a mysterious way. She was really keen for us to do something. We all just wanted to go to pay our respects and give a nod to the past.”
The Spirit of the 59 Club can be found here.