Beer history Brew Britannia london

The Original Hackney Hipster Brewer

Godson's Brewery.
Snaps of Godson’s Brewery yard via Patrick Fitzpatrick.

It’s London Beer City from Saturday 9 to 16 August and we thought this would be a good time to answer a question Brew Britannia unfortunately left dangling: what did happen to Godson’s brewery?

Founded in 1977, Godson’s was the first new brewing company to be established in London for decades, and we’re quite proud of having tracked down its founder, Patrick Fitzpatrick.

We’ve described him a few times now as the original Hackney hipster brewer — bearded, charming and hippyish, he was only in his twenties when he went into business in East London, having been inspired on a trip to India.

For one reason and another, we were obliged to remove a section explaining the downfall of Godson’s from the final draft of the book, but accidentally left in a teasing line suggesting that ‘everything that could go wrong did…’

Now, slightly edited (but hopefully transparently so) is a chunk of the transcript of our interview with Mr Fitzpatrick, which will hopefully satisfy those of you who were left on tenterhooks.

The first brewery was in Hackney and that was a temporary premises. We knew it was due to be redeveloped, at some point, into a car park, but we asked how long we had it for and they said, oh, five or ten years. Then Mrs Thatcher came to power and, to stimulate the economy, ordered councils to spend on capital projects. Someone in Hackney Council didn’t realise we’d been promised this premises by their property division and the development was suddenly moved forward.

Tower Hamlets heard about this and they invited us in. The Gunmaker’s Lane property was totally unsuitable – absolutely everything about it was wrong. It was an old, wooden-floored warehouse. We also had staff problems, employing people through the local employment exchange. It was a bad summer for brewing, by which I mean it was really hot, so we had quality control problems, but we had to keep up the supply to customers.

I also had a bit of a falling out with [logistics manager] Hugo Freeman and [brewer] Rob Adams… [and] they both left the industry, as far as I know.

In the autumn/winter of the same year, we moved again, to the Black Horse brewery. This was much better, but, again, everything had to be moved. While we were moving around, we couldn’t brew or sell our own beer…

Then there was the Tisbury merger, which was really a reverse takeover. We heard about them through John Wilmot, who was also working as a consultant for them. My wife wanted to move out of London and so this seemed like a good opportunity. It was in a mess, though, and we had to close it down and rebuild it, all the while having the beer brewed in London, which wasn’t ideal. Then, in 1983, they got taken over, while we were in the process of ‘due diligence’ for the merger, by a company which was investing gold salvaged from a World War II shipwreck… I pulled out, being owed something like £120k.

Then Everards, Adnams, Hall & Woodhouse and Ruddles set up their own distribution company and offered me the chance to go in with them. I think, now, wrongly, I did so. I thought, great – if they take on distribution, then I can concentrate on brewing, but I hadn’t realised what an essential combination the two were…

We also took on another brewery, Chudley, which was run by Tom Chudley in Maida Vale. I thought we were taking on a business partner who could actually brew and would look after production, but… [actually] we inherited his debt. [B&B: And then Chudley left the company.]

All this ‘corporate’ stuff began to take over from the actual brewing, and just wore me out. We eventually sold the rights to the name to Peter Gibb at Gibb’s Mews, and I left brewing.

So there you go –the lack of a decent, stable premises, and a series of partnerships that didn’t work out, were what did for Godson’s.