Walworth Clubland: Social justice in youth work

Operating between 1922 and 1976 under the visionary leadership of Revd James Butterworth (1897-1977) in Walworth in London, Clubland was designed to bring learning opportunities to young people in the deprived area of Walworth, opportunities similar to those given to young people from wealthier backgrounds.

21 May 2024

Coming back from World War I, Revd Butterworth wanted to make a difference to society and create a youth club within a church that he would build from scratch. Walworth Clubland in the London Methodist District was designed to be an oasis of friendship and opportunity – a ‘Temple of Youth.’

Revd Butterworth understood that, in Walworth, young people would not be drawn to the church by sermons but by offering them practical activities. Taking over Walworth Methodist Church in 1922, his mission was to provide good facilities, activities and equipment, self-governance and to take part in the life of the church.

Clubland offered a continuity of training, with members going from Juniors to Seniors and, finally, Club Officers.

Clubland needed money to operate; some of it was donated, and every young person paid a subscription and participated in fund-raising activities. It was not as much a financial contribution, more a way to make the young people feel that the club belonged to them.

First Clubland

The old Victorian church was demolished and Clubland Church was completed less than a year later, in 1929.

By the mid-1930s, the activities offered to children and young people at Clubland were dazzling: sports, drama, art, music, debating, dance and even summer camps in Guernsey. Clubland had its own Parliament that was led by young people and a communications team creating reviews, magazines and newsletters.

Because of this wide range of activities, Clubland attracted huge numbers of young people, many of them without religious backgrounds. It also provided skills and knowledge to talented young people who later became painters, politicians and actors, including a young Sir Michael Cain.

With almost a thousand members, and after several years of fundraising, Clubland was finally completed in 1939 – it had a chapel, a theatre, a gymnasium, an art room, Boys’ and a Girls’ Clubs, modern amenities and a rooftop playground

Unfortunately, the chapel and some of the rooms were destroyed during the Blitz in 1941. The remaining rooms were requisitioned by the London County Council to help the local population.

Like other children in London, many of the Juniors were sent to the countryside, whilst Seniors were conscripted. Revd Butterworth spent most of the war providing for the evacuees and corresponding with the conscripted.

New Clubland


After the war, Clubland was resurrected through Revd Butterworth and the remaining Seniors. Despite the lack of structure and volunteers, more than 400 signed up when Clubland reopened with Seniors and even former members’ helping to provide activities and supervision.

The church was rebuilt and opened in 1964 – notably thanks to Revd Butterworth’s relentless and international fundraising tours. Revd Butterworth planned to extend the premises and build hostels that would provide income to help the club.

Yet, times, people and expectations were different. Walworth was not only a deprived area, but one in which gang violence spread throughout the late 40s and 50s.

The building of the huge Aylesbury Estate at the end of the '60s meant the relocation of some families and, for Clubland, the loss of 300 members including 30 of its 36 officers.

Despite all that Clubland provided, young people increasingly showed more interest in other forms of entertainment in the 60s and 70s. Revd Butterworth’s vision also became too formal, and perhaps conservative, for younger generations.

With Revd Butterworth’s retirement, Clubland closed in 1976 and Walworth Methodist Church’s mission changed, focusing more on its cosmopolitan congregation – the largest in London – rather than solely on fostering young people.

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