Not far from where I live is Clubland. No, I don’t mean the Ministry of Sound, but that is pretty close by too.
Maybe the historians among you are already making connections. The church is where William Booth used to worship when he was working in a pawnbrokers on the Walworth Road. The same William Booth who founded the Salvation Army, and whose memorial College is in neighbouring Camberwell.
Or maybe you know that Clubland is where Michael Caine, who lived round the corner in Urlwin Road, first discovered his love of acting.
I used to walk past Clubland twice daily on the way to and from work. I heard about Jimmy Butterworth, the diminuitive minister who was pioneer in youth work, how he raised funds for the building which opened in August 1939, only to see it flattened in the Second World War. Diminuitive and indefatigable. He went Stateside on a fundraising mission, brought home the goods and got the place rebuilt.
“You should go inside,” someone told me more than thirty years ago, “there are plaques to all the stars who donated; Bob Hope, people like that.”
I didn’t go in. I wondered, looked at the outside, let the years pass.
Then two weeks ago I had ten minutes to kill while my car was being washed. I walked into the building. I wanted to ask someone if I could look around. There was no one there.
Unsure if I would be challenged, I walked through the foyer and saw a courtyard. I pushed the door and went through.
It was like a roll call of the famous and celebrated of the mid twentieth century. I walked around with my mouth open reading the names; Bertie Mee, Laurence Olivier, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Cecil B de Mille, Cary Grant.
I didn’t have my camera. So last week I went back. I took far more photos than I can possibly share here.
Royalty had visited.
Arsenal Football Club evidently were very supportive, as were other sporting organisations.
Bob Hope was the biggest supporter and he has a hall named after him. He brought along his friends, and made sure Hollywood’s finest are well represented on the walls.
Inside, a photo of Jimmy Butterworth, looking impossibly young, with another thank-you to Bob Hope.
But the one that really stopped me in my tracks was this.
Look at the first name. He was only thirteen, and it was here in Clubland, that Robert Kennedy made his first public speech.
I think I should make a belated thank-you to whoever it was who told me all those years ago to look inside. It has taken me a very long time, but the advice stuck in my mind, and without it I would be ignorant to this day.