May 28, 2009

Biker priest dies aged 89

by David Masters

The Rev William Shergold, famous for founding one of the world’s largest biker clubs as part of his ministry, has died at a Somerset care home, aged 89.

Rev Shergold, known to his biker pals as Father Bill, or Farv, founded the 59 Club for rockers in 1959 in the East End of London.

During the 1960s the club became a favourite with bikers, at its peak racking up more than 20,000 members.

In 1969, Father Bill set up a second bikers’ club in Dover, the 69 Club, which also proved popular.

Father Bill was ordained in Poplar, east London, in 1942 during the Blitz.

By the time he founded the 59 Club, he’d been riding motorcycles for years as a cheap and efficient way to get round his parish.

He considered giving up biking in the early 1950’s because his congregation frowned at his oily hands when he arrived to take services.

However, he persisted, and went on to set up the 59 Club as a church-run youth club in Hackney Wick.

Because of Father Bill’s passion for biking, the club quickly became known as a haven for bikers and rockers.

At the time, the general public were often fearful of rockers – as they are of hoodies today – and the 59 Club was a refuge where they were welcomed and respected.

Celebrities supported the club’s founding, with Cliff Richard, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon going to its opening night.

In 1999, when Father Bill moved to Somerset to be closer to his family, members of the 59 and 69 clubs elected him life president.

The 59 Club will hold a memorial service for Father Bill on 12 September to coincide with its 50th anniversary.

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