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.

The status of Guinness

Guinness promotional clock, South London.

Our post about the Big Six a while back prompt­ed an inter­est­ing response from US beer blog­ger Bill K, aka the Pitts­burgh Beer Snob: the gist was that our list of big brew­ers looked much cool­er than the Amer­i­can equiv­a­lent. In par­tic­u­lar, Guin­ness (the sev­enth mem­ber of the Big Six…) is still viewed pret­ty pos­i­tive­ly around the world.

But what is its stand­ing in the UK? Well, fun­ni­ly enough, that sub­ject came up again yes­ter­day.

Pio­neer­ing beer writer Richard Boston had this to say in his Guardian col­umn of 22 June 1974:

As you know, “draught” Guin­ness nowa­days is a keg beer, while the real thing is to be found in bot­tles. The rea­son draught Guin­ness is so supe­ri­or to any oth­er keg beer is that (apart from being a bet­ter prod­uct to start with) it is deliv­ered not by pure CO2 but by a mix­ture of 36 per cent CO2 and 64 per cent nitro­gen (which is not absorbed by the beer).

In his mem­oir A Life on the Hop (2009), beer writer and CAMRA lead­ing light Roger Protz recalls his won­der­ment at drink­ing draught (keg) Guin­ness for the first time, describ­ing it as ‘a rev­e­la­tion’. He quotes his CAMRA col­league Bar­rie Pep­per as say­ing that if all keg beer had been so good, CAMRA would nev­er have got off the ground.

Was Guin­ness real­ly, real­ly good? Or was its cult appeal part­ly down to the fact that it was dif­fer­ent? By our count of those list­ed in Frank  Bail­lie’s Beer Drinker­s’s Com­pan­ion (1973), there were few­er than 60 stouts on sale in the UK in the ear­ly 70s, all of them bot­tled, and most of them of the rel­a­tive­ly weak ‘sweet’, ‘nour­ish­ing’ or ‘milk’ vari­eties. As the post-CAM­RA micro­brew­ing boom kicked in, and brew­eries began to released new porters and stouts, per­haps Guin­ness came to seem less inter­est­ing: it ceased to be the most beau­ti­ful girl in the room.

By the time we start­ed drink­ing as stu­dents in the 90s, it had a hard­core fol­low­ing of peo­ple who iden­ti­fied them­selves as Guin­ness drinkers – a bit quirky, more grown-up than every­one else and ‘pret­ty chilled out’. It was also the fall­back beer of choice for beer geeks in mediocre pubs – reli­able and with at least some char­ac­ter, com­pared to Fos­ter’s or Car­ling.

As recent­ly as the last cou­ple of years, though, that remain­ing hint of cred­i­bil­i­ty seems to have all but dis­ap­peared, and bars and pubs increas­ing­ly sig­nal their ‘craft’ sta­tus by announc­ing that they’ve ripped out the Guin­ness taps and sourced an alter­na­tive stout – per­haps even one made in bla­tant imi­ta­tion, with not much more flavour.

What a turn­around.

We don’t have a uni­fied cor­po­rate line on Guin­ness: Boak can’t stand it, while Bai­ley is always pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by how lit­tle its gross monop­oly and smug mar­ket­ing are man­i­fest­ed in its flavour.

Pinning down the Big Six

Window with the Bass logo, Kennington, South London.

We’ve been grap­pling with a prob­lem this week­end: com­men­tary on the British beer indus­try makes fre­quent ref­er­ence to the Big Six, a set of colos­sal brew­ing com­pa­nies emerg­ing from the takeover mania of the nine­teen-fifties and six­ties. Some­times, though, it’s the Big Five, the Big Sev­en, or even the Big Eight; and the com­pa­nies mak­ing up the Big Six in 1960 merge with oth­ers, grow and change names, which makes it hard to keep track.

In try­ing to tell a sto­ry, this is a pain.

Should we explain every name change as it hap­pens, pos­si­bly con­fus­ing the read­er and slow­ing down the nar­ra­tive? Rely on foot­notes? Or, as we’ve seen peo­ple do when writ­ing about, say, the Roy­al Air Force, or Archibald ‘Cary Grant’ Leach, refer to them through­out by one name for the sake of clar­i­ty at the expense of accu­ra­cy? (With an explana­to­ry note, of course.) We’re inclined towards the lat­ter approach, but still think­ing.

Any­way, for your infor­ma­tion, in the oh-so-2002 Schot­t’s Mis­cel­lany style, here’s our best attempt to explain the Big Six.

UPDATED: Tan­dle­man high­light­ed that we’d picked a bad source for our 1960 list, so we’ve found a bet­ter one from 1959 and changed the first sec­tion below.

UPDATED AGAIN: based on Mar­tyn’s sug­ges­tions below. (We’ll also try to iden­ti­fy news­pa­per sources for each of the mergers/changes.)

The Big Six in 1959#
Ind Coope and Tay­lor Walk­er, Wat­ney Mann, Courage and Bar­clay, Bass Rat­cliffe Gret­ton, Whit­bread, Scot­tish Brew­ers.
Brew­ery mergers/takeovers 1960–67
Courage Bar­clay + Simonds = Courage Bar­clay & Simonds (1960)
Scot­tish Brew­ers + New­cas­tle Brew­eries = Scot­tish and New­cas­tle (1960)
Bass + Mitchells & But­lers = Bass Mitchells & But­lers (1961)
Ind Coope/Taylor Walk­er + Ansells+Tetley Walk­er = Ind Coope Tet­ley Ansell (1961)
Ind Coope Tet­ley Ansell = Allied Brew­eries (1963)
Char­ring­ton Unit­ed + Bass Mitchells & But­lers = Bass Char­ring­ton (1967)
The Big Six in 1967##
Bass Char­ring­ton, Allied Brew­eries, Whit­bread, Wat­ney Mann, Scot­tish and New­cas­tle, Courage Bar­clay & Simonds.
Brew­ery mergers/takeovers/name changes after 1967
Courage Bar­clay & Simonds = Courage (1970)
Wat­ney Mann + Tru­man Han­bury & Bux­ton (owned by Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan Hotels) = Wat­ney Mann & Tru­man (part of Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan) (1973)
Allied + J. Lyons = Allied Lyons (1978)
Bass Char­ring­ton = Bass (1983)
The Big Six in 1989###
Allied, Bass, Courage, Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan, Scot­tish & New­cas­tle, Whit­bread.
The Big Sev­en
As above, but with Guin­ness.
  • # ‘Towards Larg­er Units in the Brew­ery Trade’, The Times, 19 Feb­ru­ary 1960, p.17. ‘What the Brew­ery Merg­er Means’, The Finan­cial Times, 4 June 1959, p.11.
  • ## Beer: a report on the sup­ply of beer, Monop­o­lies Com­mis­sion, 1969, table IV, p.5.
  • ### The Supp­ply of Beer, Monop­o­lies and Merg­ers Com­mis­sion, March 1989, Appen­dix 2.3, p.238.

Memorable Beers #14 – Guinness With Nick

By Bai­ley.

The only rea­son I start­ed drink­ing was because of peer pres­sure from my mate Nick. I stayed at uni­ver­si­ty for an extra year to do a mas­ters and he had anoth­er year of his engi­neer­ing degree to go and. Ear­ly on, the full hor­ror dawned on him: “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this mis­er­able city with only a tee­to­taller for com­pa­ny.”

I start­ed drink­ing to keep him com­pa­ny and soon learned that Nick had a set of rules about pubs and beer:

1. Pubs should be dark brown up to waist height and nico­tine brown above.

2. Red Stripe is the go-to beer for most sit­u­a­tions, but espe­cial­ly night­clubs and pic­nics.

3. Beck­’s tastes of blood.

4. Stel­la gives you headaches because it is “dirty”.

5. No-one likes Guin­ness, but you have to drink it on Sun­day lunchtime – “It’s a rule.”

Hav­ing only been drink­ing for about two months, I remem­ber vivid­ly being bul­lied into get­ting a pint of Guin­ness and tak­ing two hours to drink it. It only got worse as, sit­ting next to a roar­ing fire, it got warmer and warmer. I’d nev­er tast­ed any­thing so bit­ter or so vile.

I was not reas­sured by Nick­’s Sixth Law:

6. Guin­ness makes you shit trea­cle.

These days, of course, Nick is him­self tee­to­tal, and I’ve got way more rules about beer and pubs than he ever did.

Memorable Beers #6: Guinness FES

When we host a par­ty, we’re always delight­ed to open the door and have a plas­tic bag thrust at us: “We know you like beer so we brought a few inter­est­ing things we picked up.”

We have a very vivid mem­o­ry of the end of a par­ty some time in around 2005. Every­one had gone and music was play­ing into an emp­ty front room strewn with emp­ty beer cans and paper plates. We slumped onto the sofa, slight­ly exhaust­ed and a lit­tle tip­sy, and decid­ed to split one more beer before tidy­ing up. We reached for a bag of beers a friend had brought, har­vest­ed from the cor­ner shops of Waltham­stow.

The bot­tle that came to hand was Dublin-brewed Guin­ness For­eign Extra Stout. Being snot­ty about Guin­ness, we did­n’t expect much except a nas­ti­er, boozi­er ver­sion of the stout we occa­sion­al­ly drank in an emer­gency in the pub.

The aro­ma, like smelling salts, snapped us out of our post-par­ty drows­ing: jad­ed as were our palates, it poked its way through. It tast­ed, we both agreed, like a deli­cious pud­ding. (We were enjoy­ing, not tak­ing notes, so that’s where the insight end­ed.)

Why do we remem­ber this par­tic­u­lar moment so vivid­ly? Per­haps because of the shock of hav­ing our prej­u­dices over­turned.