The story of Jimmy Butterworth (1897-1977) and his legendary girls and boys club in south London
Jimmy Butterworth – best known as JB – was the founder and lifetime head of Clubland, the most celebrated youth club of the twentieth century.
Clubland had its beginnings in 1922, in rooms below the Walworth Methodist Church, in what was then one of London’s most deprived districts, and grew and flourished for over fifty tumultuous years: the Twenties and Thirties, the War years, the Rock and Roll years. They were the Clubland Years, and during them thousands of boys and girls, young men and women, and visitors and supporters from all walks of life, passed through its doors.
Clubland took twenty years to complete, enabled by generous patrons, the efforts and commitment of its members, and the sheer will and determination of its founder. JB’s concept was revolutionary. The beautiful chapel, theatre, gymnasium, studios, workshops, library, and Parliament room – designed by architect Sir Edward Maufe, and opened by Queen Mary in 1939 – proclaimed unashamedly that nothing was too good for the young people of Walworth: it was theirs by entitlement, and if it bore more resemblance to a university college than a typical church youth club, that was the idea.
The thirties were Clubland’s glory years, but they came to an abrupt end when the Church was destroyed in the Blitz just two year after the Royal Opening. The Club never closed, and its activities continued throughout the war – but with the senior members lost to the forces, and the juniors to evacuation, its crucial continuity was broken and its future threatened. The 1950s were dominated by a demanding programme of reconstruction, taking JB five times to the USA on lecturing and fund raising tours. A chance meeting with the comedian Bob Hope, and his subsequent generosity, helped save the Club’s fortunes. Clubland continued to thrive for two more decades, with a strong and flourishing membership, until shortly before James Butterworth died in 1977.
Clubland made a profound difference to the early lives of its members, and according to many of them shaped and enhanced their futures. A large number met their partners there, their baptised by JB, and later members themselves. Many still meet regularly, and though the numbers are declining, the Clubland community is kept alive by their families, who were never members but feel bound to it.
The accompanying pages of this website tell the Clubland story, both in words and in pictures, thanks to an extensive gallery of original photographs.
The years 2019-20 mark the centenary of the start of Jimmy Butterworth’s ministry. Returning from France, where he served as a private in the Lancashire Fusiliers, he triumphed, against the odds, in a different battle to gain admission to Didsbury Theological College, and eventual ordination as a Methodist minister. In the light of his own challenging start in life, it was an impressive achievement, though only the first of many. He had grown up on the edge the Lancashire moors, in the small town of Oswaldtwistle, the eldest of five, working in the local mill at 12 and supporting his family after his father’s suicide. But far from deterring him, it was this early hardship, coupled with the horrors of the Western Front, that impelled him in his lifelong struggle to right the balance of privilege for others.
To mark the centenary, JB Club Press has relaunched this website and is publishing the first full-length biography of Jimmy Butterworth and history of Clubland.