breweries london

Notes from a Godson’s dogsbody c.1980

When Robin Davies stumbled across a mention of Godson’s Brewery in one of our blog posts, he got in touch to tell us he worked there as a young man.

Godson’s was founded by Patrick Fitzpatrick in East London, in 1977. We’ve previously described him as “the original Hackney hipster brewer” and interviewed Fitzpatrick for our 2014 book Brew Britannia: the strange rebirth of British beer.

Now, we have another angle on the same story – not from the boss’s perspective but from someone who really got their hands dirty. Here, in his own words, are Robin’s memories.

* * *

It was the early 1980s when I left school which was just up the road from the brewery.

I’d messed about my whole time at secondary school and came out with next to nothing other than having learnt how to swear, fight and play drums – all useful stuff in the East End right?

Even though they were plentiful at the time I’d no idea how I was gonna get a job.

A mate of my brother in law said that he knew or had met Patrick Fitzpatrick, the Godson’s owner, and that he’d put in a word for me if I fancied it. After bumming around for a few months I was just about ready to work so why not?

I wasn’t  really expecting anything to happen but I said “Yeah, if he’ll have me I’ll give it a go” As if by magic, a couple of days later, I was off to meet the main man.

On meeting Patrick he seemed like a nice bloke, and indeed he was, always friendly, sometimes firm, made the odd joke or two, a decent boss and I guess he thought I was OK because he offered me the job.

Dogsbody? No, not really, but I did do a bit of everything from making tea to cleaning out the mash tun, all for the sum of 80 quid a week, and I loved it.

I got up early every day and couldn’t get there quick enough. I loved the work, I loved the smell of the place, which in the beginning had the effect of making me feel slightly drunk.

It was great and I was learning loads, the whole brewing process from start to finish. I watched and soaked everything up like a sponge. I soaked up the odd glass of the brewery’s finest, too, and after a hot day’s work it tasted amazing.

It was a very small team at Godsons. There was Patrick, of course. Chris and Lorraine, I think their names were in the office. There were the two dray men, tough old East Enders that I’m pretty sure were both called Roy. The older one appeared to hate my guts from the off and talked to me like dirt but I could just about handle it and every now and then I got the guts to tell him where to go.

From time to time Patrick’s brother Finnian would show up. If I remember rightly, he would normally be out and about trying his hardest to sell the various ales. A real nice bloke that used to brighten the place up whenever he returned to the brewery.  Always a big smile on his face.

Once or twice my least favourite of the brothers would turn up for a bit of work when he had nothing better to do.

About a year before I left we got a new brewer who also happened to be called Robin, again a real nice bloke who I was more than happy to work with. I often wonder what he’s up to but he was a smart bloke so he’s probably retired and living in luxury somewhere. I hope so anyway.

Robin picked up the workings of the brewery pretty quickly and soon I think we were teaching each other a thing or two.

One time Robin went on holiday which left me doing the lot. I did the week’s brew completely alone from start to finish, plus all my usual work. This all went perfectly and I was left feeling pretty proud of myself – had I really learnt all this from nothing? I decided to call myself the assistant brewer and if I felt like impressing someone I’d say I was a brewer. No one else ever called me that but to be fair I got a few compliments. Happy days!

How did it all end? 

I worked as hard as I could for the place, and at times felt I was running myself into the ground, so I did the inevitable and asked for a pay rise. My 80 quid was no longer going very far at all so I had to go for it.

A week or so later, Patrick called me into the office and said that he’d had a good think about it; he would give me a raise; and at this stage he considered the raise to be a substantial one.

I was excited so didn’t even ask how much but instead just carried on as normal and waited until Friday for my new super-massive pay packet.

Come Friday, I opened up my little brown envelope to find an extra fiver inside.

Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy. Being young and stroppy, I decided there and then that this would be the last day at the brewery. Not the way to leave a job, especially one I loved, but it seemed like the thing to do.

Sadly, some months later, I heard that things had gone south and the brewery was toast. I didn’t know the full story of what had gone wrong but I felt quite sad for the place and maybe a little angry towards Patrick for allowing Godson’s to fail, though I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.

I can’t actually remember how long I was there myself but it must have been around three years.

If anyone out there gets the chance to work at one of these little breweries, grab it, you’ll love it. It can be hard work but there’s something special about it!

These are Robin’s words with some edits for style and clarity.

If you want to learn more about Godson’s check out our book Brew Britannia.

And if you worked at a brewery at any time in the past 60 years, please write something down and, ideally, publish it somewhere.

Main image via the Brewery History Society Wiki.

Beer history london

The Original Irish Theme Pubs?


For now, the only biographical information we have about Patrick Fitzpatrick, founder of Godson’s, London, c.1977, is in some old cuttings Ian Mackey kindly shared. One article, from 1978, says that Fitzpatrick, at 23, was ‘one of the third generation of the Murphy family who have run a string of pubs in East London for 50 years’. We knew we’d seen the name Murphy in connection with London pubs and dug through the old paperbacks until we found this is from The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs by Martin Green and Tony White (1973):

Since the demolition of the Duke of Cambridge on the opposite corner, the White Hart is the only remaining old-style Murphy’s in the East End, apart from the tiny Manchester Arms in Hackney Road. (The Old Red Lion, Whitechapel Road, and the Mackworth Arms, Commercial Road, have both been dragged struggling into the Seventies.) Murphy’s is not, as some people think, a brewery, but a firm which was originated in 1934 by a Mr J.R. Murphy from Co. Offaly who pioneered draught Guinness in the East End of London… Murphy’s, Mile End, remains an honest-to-goodness East End pub… where you can hear Irish music and choose from a wide range of draught beers, including… what is probably the best kept pint of draught Guinness in the East End.

That bit about ‘old-style Murphy’s’ suggests they were quite an institution. That’s supported by the fact that modern pub review websites also say that the White Hart is ‘known locally’ by that name. And yet there is surprisingly little (easily accessible…) information about the pubs or J.R. Murphy & Sons. Company listings suggest that the White Hart was the group headquarters, at any rate, and that it was formally dissolved in 2010.

What we’re especially interested in is whether the ‘fifteen or so’ pubs the Murphys owned constituted the original Irish theme chain — or was it a chain of pubs that just happened to be founded by an Irishman? We’d need to see photos or read descriptions of the interiors to get a sense of how much set dressing there was, but the Guinness and Irish music mentioned are clues. If these pubs were self-consciously Irish, to what extent did they provide a template for the chains that followed in the eighties and nineties?

Do you remember Murphy’s pubs? Or know Patrick Fitzpatrick? If so, let us know below. UPDATE 10/7/2014: we found Mr Fitzpatrick and interviewed him.

Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Craft Fish Guts

Sturgeon by David Torcivia, from Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
There was a bit of a to-do the other week when a UK TV show about food production suggested that isinglass finings represented some kind of ‘dark side’ of the brewing industry. (We didn’t see it — we gathered this from the miniature Twitter storm that ensued.) Isinglass is made from the swim bladders of fish, so we’ll acknowledge that there is a certain ‘ick’ factor, but it’s been used in British brewing for a long time and isn’t something we have any problem with at all.

This 1978 article from CAMRA’s What’s Brewing, however, suggests that not only is isinglass harmless, but that brewers could be going a little further and making it part of their ‘craft’ schtick:

On the first floor of Godson’s Brewery… head brewer Rob Adams takes what looks like a large flat sea shell from a sideboard drawer… It is the dried bladder of a sturgeon fish… Mr Adams makes his own finings from sturgeon bladders, bought at £7 a pound and mixed with water in a large plastic dustbin.

Do any brewers these days make their own isinglass from scratch? And would a really ‘crafty’ brewery perhaps go a step further and have a saltwater pond full of fish in the back yard…?

Ian Mackey, author of this very useful book, has very kindly provided us with a treasure trove of useful clippings from this period, so expect a few more nuggets in weeks to come.

Picture by David Torcivia, from Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.