....The Duke of Buckingham's delight in dance
would have been appreciated at
Y.M.C.A. hostels. These became
the subject of a Village People hit
at discos in the nineteen seventies.
The song describes the hospitality.
It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.,
the lyrics tell us, as it's somewhere you
can get yourself clean, have a good meal and
hang out with all the boys like these men here.
And this year is the bicentenary
of Y.M.C.A. founder Sir George Williams,
born in eighteen twenty one. He was
a farmer's boy from Somerset, unruly,
loud and drunk, as he described himself.
He was apprenticed to a draper in
the town of Bridgwater where he became
a member of the congregational
assembly, evangelicals to you
and me. Young George converted, sobered up
and heard the call to London where he was
appalled that all the city had to offer
young men in their down-time was cheap beer
and prostitution in the brothels and
the bars. He held a meeting at the draper's
office where he worked in St Paul's Yard
and with some friends in eighteen forty four
set up the christian association
for young men with opportunities
to study, eat, relax, play chess, attend
a lecture or a prayer meeting, refrain
from alcohol and keep their trousers on.
The venue was a Ludgate Hill cafe,
the London or St Martin's Coffee House
and this new venture proved immediately
to be what young men wanted. The Y.M.C.A.
had a stall in eighteen fifty one
at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park
which introduced the concept to the world
and very soon the clubs had opened in
the U.S.A. and Canada with others
close behind. George Williams prospered too
in trade and worked for draper George Hitchcock
who fell under the Williams spell and took
the role of Y.M.C.A. treasurer.
Williams and his daughter fell in love,
got married and brought up a family
of seven children. Hitchcock died and left
the Williamses the company and they
were made. In eighteen ninety four George was
ennobled by Victoria and when
he died a decade later he was buried
in St Paul's Cathedral. His creation
is the largest charity for youth
the world has ever seen and one day his
descendant would become prime minister.
His great-great-grandson is our own BoJo.
Here is the Great Russell Street branch where
you will indeed find many things to do.
They have a gym, a swimming pool and lounge
to keep you from the brothels and the bars
although that gambling joint looks rather odd.
No one expects you to believe in God.