The origins of the first UK Hells Angels Chapter.
As a small boy in the mid 70’s, I remember a local pub at St. Georges Circus called The Duke of Clarence at the top of London Road leading down to the Elephant & Castle. It wasn’t that I was regular in there, there may have been underage drinking but I was at least 10 years under age at that time. No, the shop next door was the only one in the area that opened late at the time, so armed with enough pennies to buy a short measured quarter of Cola Cubes, I’d regularly pass the pub which sat on the corner with the junction of Borough Road. One Saturday evening as I approached the shop, a deafening roar greeted me as a gang of Hells Angels pulled up outside the pub alongside the other bikes that were already there. I’d heard of Hell’s Angels, there were often scare stories in the papers on a regular basis about them and the 8 year old me wasn’t sticking around to have his Cola Cubes swiped. No doubt, you may be wondering what this has to do with a president called Buttons, well the answer is that Buttons was the first man outside the USA to earn the right to wear the Death Head and Hells Angel patches. This curious little book was published in 1971 by Sphere, and follows Buttons from his beginings as a rocker in Dalston through to establishing the first Chapter oustside America. Christened Peter Welsh, he was originally called the Mad Hatter as he used to wear a different one depending on his mood. After seeing a film about Cockneys he decided he was going to have a jacket covered in buttons and spent 4 months sewing 1300 onto a soft pvc jacket. At this point he was also fighting with the local Mods led by Beardie Pegley, on a weekly basis, which culminated with him getting shot in the upper chest, a story that has gone down in Mod folklore. When two Californian Angels came to England, namely Sweet William and Frisco Pete, two of Buttons fiends met them and brought them round to his flat where they bonded. Upon their return to the US, Buttons wrote to Sweet William to ask permission to start a UK chapter. This resulted in an invite to San Francisco and a process of acceptance which in turn allowed him to operate a UK chapter. The book ends with Buttons declaring war on other bike gangs who display fake death heads and Hells Angels England patches, the patches always remain the property of the Hells Angels and as such are ripped from the backs of unofficial members. The book itself is quite rare though it does turn up from time to time, expect to pay between £30 - £60 for a copy. It’s an interesting document that goes back to Mods v Rockers wars and will only increase in value over time. As an aside to the rough and tough image portrayed in the book, here’s a BBC documentary about the Hells Angels from 1973, that makes them seem more like the Anthill mob. There appears to be no sign of Buttons but it's his official Chapter, all 32 official Hells Angels.
Originally published on 7th October 2012.