Clubland

Not far from where I live is Clubland. No, I don’t mean the Ministry of Sound, but that is pretty close by too.

Clubland

Clubland

Walworth Methodist Church

Walworth Methodist Church


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.

Amazement.

Courtyard

Courtyard


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.
528

528


Royalty had visited.

Arsenal Football Club evidently were very supportive, as were other sporting organisations.
Arsenal Football Club
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.
Jimmy Butterworth

Jimmy Butterworth


But the one that really stopped me in my tracks was this.
Youth of All Nations

Youth of All Nations


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.

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7 thoughts on “Clubland

  1. Thank you for sharing. I found your blog when I was looking for a photo of the Jimmy Butterworth, whom I called “uncle Jimmy.” I met him when I was a schoolgirl. In my father’s papers I found a letter he had written to Bob Hope, who was a generous supporter of Clubland. It included this description of Jimmy Butterworth’s early life. I thought you might enjoy it. He must have been a remarkable man and I was too young to realize it.
    My dad wrote:
    “I had the chance, too, to sit and talk with Jimmy many times, He told me of his own childhood: he lived with his Mum and Dad in a village in the hilly country of south Lancashire, where his father worked in a cotton mill. As soon as Jimmy himself reached the age of eight, he also started to work in the mill – eight or ten hours a day for five days and four hours on Saturdays. It was two miles from their home to the mill, so he and his Dad had to start off to walk across the moors before six each day, rain or shine, as soon as they heard the wake-up siren from the mill. Oftentimes, he told me, he was so tired he couldn’t wake up, so his Dad would throw him across his shoulder sleeping and start off on the walk to the Mill. He was one of three or four boys, whose job was to watch the newly woven cotton sheeting, to guide it into the tub of bleach. Sometimes the edge of the web would cut into the palms of their hands until they bled, but the work had to go on, and the hands would grow calloused. Then the First World War started, and Jimmy enlisted in a special Regiment of Lancashire men all of whom were less than five feet tall. After the War, he went to Seminary to become a preacher. You may think that those were the very “Olde Days”, but actually they weren’t too far back. My memory of him remains clear, and a copy of the book he wrote called Clubland, describing his vision stands on my shelf.”

    • Thank you so much for this Phyllis. I am surprised he is not more celebrated in Walworth. I hope recognition will come, and come soon. As you so rightly say, it wasn’t so very long ago.\With best wishes, Isobel

  2. My Dad was a member just after WW2 and continued his association with ‘The Club’ for many years until JB passed away. I used to go to reunions with Dad and met JB on many occasions. A truly wonderful and inspirational man. Dad made many friends at Clubland – friendships that lasted a lifetime. His friend’s families became our lifetime friends along the way – and I’ve very fond memories of meeting up with them all at Clubland, particularly at the yearly carol services. I’m not a religious guy at all, but JB really left a mark on me as someone who REALLY achieved something in life and his teachings and ethos outlasted him by many years.

    I really don’t think that it could possibly be appreciated today, the enormity of what he achieved. Heads of state, royalty and megastars of stage, screen and sport – all coming freely from around the world, to visit this little imp of a clergyman at his youth club in the backstreets of London – and donating generously of their time and funds.

    You mentioned that Michael Caine attended the Club, but both Richard and David Attenborough are also past members.

    Yesterday I attended the funeral of the last of Dad’s little ‘Gang of five’ Clubland buddies – but the spirit lives on – as during the summer I’m hosting the ‘Clubland Kids’ get together for the kids (all in our 50’s now) of Dad’s friends.

    The Rev. Jimmy Butterworth. Gone – but very far from being forgotten.

    • Thanks for this Luke. I think it is an amzing story, and Clubland is one of the wonders of Walworth (to echo an old advertisement). I am intrigued that the Attenborough brothers were members. How did that come about?

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