29 October 2007
Clubland is many things to many people.
It is not only an institution that has served and saved youths in Southwark, but was also used to show London’s wartime defiance when it was resurfaced after being hit by a bomb.
This alone makes it a worthy nominee for the Southwark News Blue Plaque for 2007.
You cannot talk about the Clubland without discussing its charismatic founder and long time leader, Jimmy Butterworth.
The Lancastrian came to the Southwark Methodist Church in 1922 and it was the beginning of 50 years of pioneering youth work in the borough.
Jimmy Butterworth is said to have been inspired by an incident with a young boy called Patrick in a slum. The lad was so disenchanted with life that he was considering committing a crime to go back to reform school, to return to friends and to play football regularly.
So began Jimmy Butterworth's crusade to work extensively with youths, much to the criticism of the Methodist Church, who thought he should work with people of all ages, and the physical construction of a place where he could get kids out of the surrounding slums.
This is where his charisma kicked in as it took years of fundraising, (no government grants were available to him), so he could demolish the old site in Camberwell Road and build a complex of gyms, art rooms and workshops available for both boys and girls.
The completed building was ready in 1939 and it was opened by long time club patron Queen Mary.
The club was only in existence for two years when German bombers intervened and undid over a decade of good work in one swoop. It was a massive blow to Butterworth and the community.
But Jimmy Butterworth would not be beaten, and he clicked into charisma overdrive and embarked on a lecture tour of the USA to raise the funds to build the club again.
It was here on this tour that a chance meeting with Bob Hope secured the future of the club. Hope was so taken with Jimmy Butterworth and Clubland that he made a series of donations over decades and became a patron of the club. Bob Hope was so loved by the organisation that the canteen was named after him.
Flicking through family photo albums you can view Jimmy Butterworth with a variety of stars, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, and many members of the acting dynasties of Mills and Attenborough's.
This was not self publicity or vanity, for while Jimmy Butterworth was using one hand to greet them he was holding out the other for donations. The amazing pictures had a purpose, the future existence of Clubland and the opportunity to continue to serve the young community in his adopted London borough.
Through sheer will and persistence Jimmy Butterworth succeeded again. The club reopened on May 12, 1964, again opened by a royal - this time the Queen Mother came to Clubland.
The contribution of Clubland to Southwark is immeasurable, you would need to census the multitude of kids that have been through the doors to detail its legacy, but one contribution it did make to the world of acting is easy to see.
A certain Michael Caine, known then as Maurice Micklewhite, made his first stage appearance there as a robot in wellington boots.
To vote for Clubland or any of the other Blue Plaque nominees e-mail email@example.com or all 020 7525 2000.
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