Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 14:01 UK

Death of pioneering rocker priest

Father Bill Shergold on his bike in the 1960s. Picture: This is Somerset/Wells
Father Bill (complete with dog collar) loved his motorbikes.

A biker priest who founded one of the world's largest motorcycle clubs has died in a Somerset care home, aged 89.

The Rev William Shergold opened up the 59 Club to rockers in the East End of London, where it became a famous venue for bikers during the 1960s.

In its heyday it was claimed to be the largest motorcycle club in the world with more than 20,000 members.

In 1969 he went on to found a second bikers' club, the 69 Club in Dover, which also became hugely popular.

Ordained in Poplar, east London, in 1942 during the Blitz, Father Bill, as he was known to everyone, rode motorcycles around his parish as a cheap and efficient mode of transport.

Dover move

The 59 Club was set up at the Eton Mission youth club based at Hackney Wick as a church-run youth club but under his auspices it turned into a refuge for bikers to share their passion.

Father Bill Shergold.  (Picture: Jason Bryant, This is Somerset/Wells)
Father Bill died in a care home in Wells, Somerset

At the time rockers were feared and the club became a place where they were respected and welcomed.

Many stars of the time supported the club and Cliff Richard, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon went to its opening night.

In 1969, Father Bill moved to Dover where he was contacted by local motorcyclists, who asked him to help the town have its own club, and set up the 69 Club.

After a few years in the countryside, he moved back to his first parish in Poplar, and on retirement carried on his work unpaid before moving to Wells in Somerset in 1999 to be closer to his family.

Members of the 59 and 69 Clubs each elected him life president.

The 59 Club will hold a memorial service for Father Bill on 12 September, which coincides with its 50th anniversary, where there will be a blessing of bikes.

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