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What Happened to the Firkin Pubs

(Please Note: This article was originally written in 2000 when I created my first pub review and travel guide. I’ve added some annotations and additions, and these are indicated.)


Firkin Dogbolter Pump ClipThe Firkin pub chain was started in London in 1979 by David Bruce[1]. He stepped in and bought a few run-down pubs off the major brewers where they were unable to make them pay. As well as redocorating the pubs in a basic but friendly style, he introduced the long forgotten concept of pubs brewing their own beer.

The breweries were tiny and were located behind or underneath the pubs – often with viewing windows or hatches so that the ‘machinery’ became part of the environment.

I first became aware of the chain in 1980 when friends took me to one of the original pubs, the Goose and Firkin in Borough, London SE1. The pub was packed and the atmosphere very lively, with a pianist leading everyone through an old style pub sing-song. I also used to frequent the original Frog and Firkin – a tiny pub just by the Hammersmith & City line near Westbourne Park station. Another well known pub was the Phoenix and Firkin which occupied the old ticket office at Denmark Hill station in South London. The name refers to the fact that the ticket office was previously destroyed by fire, but was renovated to create the pub.


With the success of the concept, the chain grew rapidly until 1988 when David Bruce sold the chain to European Leisure. The pubs changed hands a couple more times in a short period until in 1991 the chain was taken over by Allied Lyons (later Allied Domecq).

Flyman & Firkin, Shaftesbury AvenueAfter this the chain expanded again, not just in London but all over the country – typically in university towns. There were a few wobbly periods but generally the pubs were excellent, had a great atmosphere and played good music too.

The 1995 CAMRA Good Beer Guide records that the chain had 44 pubs of which 19 actually brewed. (The non-brewery pubs were supplied by one of the other Firkin pubs). Each pub tended to have it’s own named bitter, along with the Dogbolter and other seasonal beers.The Dogbolter[2] was always my favourite drink as it tasted like nothing else – a rich, dark, strong brew, although it didn’t do to drink it all night long.

When going for a night out in London, trips to Firkin pubs were always on the schedule. My favourites were The Flyman and Firkin, Fanfare and Firkin in the West End of London, along with The Fringe and Firkin in Shepherds Bush. I can’t remember the name but the Firkin pub in Winchester was really good too.

The Bass Takeover

Apparently in the spring of 1999, Whitbread and Punch Taverns both made hostile bids to take over the entire Allied Domecq pub roster. After a bidding war, Whitbread pulled out of the running leaving Punch Taverns to take over with financing from Bass. It then appears that Punch Taverns sold the Firkin chain on to Bass.

Early in October 1999, signs were appearing in Firkin pubs in London announcing that Firkin beers were to be discontinued, to be replaced with two ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ brews – namely Tetleys and Burtons.

So on October 8th 1999 all brewing of Firkin beers stopped completely and all the brewing staff were made redundant. Some of the Central London Firkin pubs had stock left for a few days, but because of the high turnover, it didn’t last to the following weekend.

It is unclear why Punch Taverns/Bass bought the chain and then decided to cease production of the distinctive Firkin beers, but it was certainly not done in the interest of consumer choice[3]. Tetleys, and Burtons especially may have been quality beers, but they are limp and lifeless when compared to Firkin beer.

Following any of the links in this section will take you away from this site and I can’t be held responsible for their content.

2010 Notes

  1. David Bruce is now a director of the Capital Pub Company which operates about 25 pubs in London. These pubs are appranetly not themed in the same way the Firkin pubs were, and none of them brew their own beer.
  2. Dogbolter actually does live on! The Ramsgate Brewery, based in Broadstairs brews Gadds’ Faithful Dogbolter Porter which I believe uses the same recipe as the original Firkin versions. And I have read comments that it tastes very like the original. You can read more about it in a blog post elsewhere on this site from 2009 entitled Firkin Dogbolter.
  3. In 2000 I naively believed that pub chains would care what their customer thought since it was the customers that chose to go there and buy the beer. Looking back it was obvious that Punch wanted to minimise costs and maximise profits so weren’t really interested in the craft brewing and other unique aspects of the Firkin chain. I guess they were also interested in acquiring a chain of pubs that were often in prime locations within towns.

77 Responses to “What Happened to the Firkin Pubs”

  1. karl says:

    I used to go to the goose in early 80’s. Believe the brewer “Nigel” was the same I knew as “Huggie”- great guy and great brewer. Think that Alastair and Tint were the “Guv” and his wife. All great people and hope they are well. Wish David Bruce had brought his magic to the US.


  2. Jim Thompson says:

    While stationed in Germany in the early 80’s, the Stars and Stripes ran an article on CAMRA, David Bruce and the Goose and Firkin. In June of 1981 we visited England and of course made a beeline for the pub in Southwark and was introduced to ‘Dogbolter’. This began a love of English Ales and Porters and with some additional information I went to the adult candy store “Boots Dispensing Chemists” and found kits to make both ‘Dogbolter’ and English Bitter. Merrily I took 10 kits back to Germany and began brewing in my kitchen. Long story short, I actively brewed from August of 1981 to June of 2004. We history has a habit of repeating itself and once again we hope to visit England in June of 2015 and my mouth is already watering for a pint at a local. Hope we will be able to find some pubs that still brew on premises.


    Jim Thompson Usque ad mortem bibendum!

  3. John Robertson says:

    I had the honour of being “the Head Brewer” for a period of time when the original chain was owned by Stakis Leisure. My office was above the Ferret in Chelsea and I was the guy who sent out the Tee shirts to those who completed the Firkin trail from Manchester via Derby to the London pubs. There were some great people working in the group at the time. Good times. Allied ruined them.

  4. Mike Puddephatt says:

    I brewed at the Flamingo in Derby, The Flea in Manchester and later at the Phantom in Loughborough. Would love to hear from some of the old crowd.
    Very happy times.

  5. John Robertson says:

    I remember you working with “Mad” Maurice at Derby then moving up to The Flea. Good old days, mate. Hope you’re well.

  6. Pete Limmer says:

    My son and his mate Stu managed the Fresher & Firkin in Cambridge, whilst Stu had a flat right over the river c/w balcony etc my son had a closet just below the roof but they both enjoyed the life, we inherited a big table, numerous bar stools a couple of wine racks some cushions and a display of 66 Firkin Barrel Bushes which also has a Bloater/University Scarf and some dust. The table & stools live on our decking and occasionally go to the next village who have recently lost their pub and have a “Pop-Up” pub in the village hall, our table makes them feel as if they are in a real pub – sad really but there it is!!!

  7. John Dagnello says:

    Thank you for compiling this history.
    My interaction with the Firkin pubs was in 1983 as a 20 year old Yank spending a year studying at Queen Elizabeth College in Kensington High. After several months of sampling the offerings at many a pubs, I fondly remember accidentally wandering into the Frog and falling in love with the atmosphere and, of course, Dogbolter.

    This kind of craft beer foreshadowed the huge demand we see in the States now.

  8. Garry Anderson says:

    I fondly remember sessions held at the original Goose over 3 years from 1980-82. It was the pub of choice for us expatriates in UK on working holidays at that time.
    Currently I’m making a long overdue return to London (after 32 years) and naturally sought a Firkin pub to go to for a celebratory Dogbolter, not only for myself, but for many friends who reminded me to have one for them also.
    Sad to hear the breweries couldn’t give a toss for a popular theme and good beer.
    Thanks for the informative website.

  9. Cherie Holmes says:

    I worked in a number of Firkin pubs in the mid 80s when I was an Aussie backpacker. Particularly the Phoenix “if Phoenix my pint I’ll firkin thump him” and the Fox “for fox sake give me a firkin pint” and the phantom out at Plaistow. I lived in Southwark at the time, so also visited the Goose. Does anyone remember the name of the man who sang at the Fox every Friday night back then? He handed out a song sheet. So much fun.

  10. Conor says:

    I had the pleasure of working in the Goose and firkin just after it opened. It was mental, full on graft with a great team pulling together. I was telling my 20 year old daughter about the legend of Bruce and the firkins to encourage her to try the same path. Great days

  11. Ian says:

    I used the Goose & Firkin as a regular weekend haunt in the late 80s. Initially taken by friends, I would often go there alone as there were so many familiar faces. This included “Frankie-Boy Flame” who provided the piano singalong. I used to help him out by doing his collection, after which he usually gave me a fiver which helped support my dogbolter consumption for the evening. As a regular the landlord would ask me to do some rounds of glass collection too, paid in beer! So I could have an entertaining night out, several beers, and go home with a headache and more cash in my pocket than I set out with.. Great times, sadly missed!

  12. Al says:

    I’m sure I’ve still got a Frankie Boy Flame tape c1990 somewhere about the house. Must dig it out

  13. Richard Brett says:

    1981 to 1987 I worked in Holborn and lived in various flats etc in New Cross, Brockley and West Norwood, so the Firkin chain was very well customised. I particularly liked the Phoenix but was never a fan of Dogbolter, I’m afraid…
    Great pubs, great beer and great times

  14. Jim Cullen says:

    In 1982/83 I spend a year at the City University and lived around the corner from from the Pheasant & Firkin. As an American, the Pheasant and DogBolter provided my initiation into English pub culture, locally brewed beer and eventual the ritual pub crawl. My first “warm” beer, “pulled”, with bits of hops on top was a taste and memory i’ll never forget. Don’t know how I stumbled onto this page, but glad I did. Sad to read the corporate history, all too common. I loved every minute in London.

  15. Simon says:

    I used to go to the Frigate and Firkin, Blythe Road W14, in the early/mid 90s. A guy called Paul the Aussie Legend used to play there. He sang and played guitar with backing tapes – those guys were quite popular back then. They used to be great nights especially on a 5 nations Saturday.

    I’d hoped there might be some sort of Facebook page dedicated to it, but of course, that was all before we photographed our every move.

  16. Andy says:

    I used to frequent the Fox in Lewisham and the Phantom in Plaistow.
    I loved them both.
    “I spectre a firkin good pint when I ghost to the Phantom and Firkin”….poetry!

  17. Rowie Meers says:

    Being country folk from Swindon we used to love visiting the ol# goose n firkin and my initiation to the pub was when my sister and i gate crashed my soon to be brother in law’s stag night (marrying another one of my sisters – she had no idea we were going!) dressed as men! I just remember getting totally slammed on what must have been a good 10 pints of dogbolter – then ripping the boxer shorts off my ‘soon to be bro in law’ dipping them in my pint of dogbolter and wringing them out into my mouth! OH yes all the stags were mightily impressed and good old frankie boy was singing away in the back ground! So wish that pub still existed. went looking for it a year or so ago in the hope it was still rocking Actually with my nephew (son of said bro in law!) but alass we were disappointed not to find it!

  18. Chris Boyce says:

    So here I am, sitting in the “Firkin & Flyer”, newly opened in Baltimore BWI airport, with the forlorn hope of introducing my American colleague to the ultimate sweet, hoppy pleasure that is (was) Dogbolter… alas no joy. However, it did prompt me to Google Goose & Firkin and I stumbled across this site that brought back so many happy memories. I was a frequent visitor to the Goose in the early ’80s and have some wonderful recollections of Frankie et al. For my part, I seem to remember coming to a South Bank Poly open-day whilst in sixth form, sneaking off to the Goose with a couple of friends for a liquid lunch, and then spending the rest of the day asleep at the back of the lecture hall… perfect preparation for Uni years to come!

    Does anyone know of Frog & Parrot in Sheffield? Similar concept, similar times, different owners.

  19. France Preston says:

    What a great read… I used to work and live at the Frog in 1990 with plenty of Steves. Steve the brewer, Steve the assistant manager, Twelve-string Steve, Pop quiz Steve King.
    Bar staff would give the Monday night yanks a hard time about their manners, they’d tell their friends back home and then when they came over, would come in and try us out…
    Loved the sayings that went with the pubs. Would love to be able to remember them all.
    Frog’ods sake, buy me a firkin pint!
    Phoenix me pint, I’ll firkin thump him.
    Flamingo and buy me a firkin pint.
    I spectre a firkin good pint when I goes to the Phantom n firkin.
    Ferret? Fox? Fuzzock? Goose? Frigate? Pheasant? ??
    Anybody know them all?

  20. Tony Cozzi says:

    Does anyone remember Sid and his lovely wife, well I think it was his wife. Sid was the Governor of the Pheasant and then the Ferret in the Balloon when it opened. He claimed to be a cousin of David Bruce and an investor of the chain. The last time I saw him was in the early 90’s at the Turks Head in Knightsbridge where I spent a bizarre night with John Binden (previously met in the Ferret who was a judge of their lovely legs competition) and the diminutive cast of The Time Bandits-surreal! Or had I been drinking too much Dog Bolter?

  21. Cherie says:

    For Fox sake buy me a firkin pint

  22. Bernard Skan says:

    Lived next door to the Robin Hood 1969 to 1980. The landlady was Cherie Comens. Is that you. I live in Jamaica now.

  23. Cherie says:

    No, Bernard, I was an Aussie backpacker who worked at quite a few of the Firkin Pubs in London, during the 80s.

  24. Gary Pinnock says:

    Ahh the Frog. Spent almost three non-stop years in there between 91-94. Loved the nights with 12-string Steve and Paul the Aussie Legend. Scott was the landlord then he went to Camden – the Fusilier & Firkin so big Charlie took over the Frog. Always on the lash in there with Ged Devoy and loved kicking Dominic’s arse in Steve’s pop quiz on a Sunday. Did the Firkin crawl a few times but it got harder each time as more pubs kept opening. In my top three of pubs. Very happy days.

  25. Cris Page says:

    Happy memories of my early 20’s going to the Fox in Lewisham which meant 3 bus rides to reach (well worth the trip) and the happy day the Fielder appeared at Sutton Green during the late 80’s.

    Sorry to see them gone – and it explains the reason that now in my 50’s I no longer go to a pub, I have some beers in the flat, nothing like the Bruces brews, but Fursty Ferret seems to work for me out of the poor bunch available in local supermarkets now I live out in the sticks

  26. raina sharples says:

    Me and my husband trained at the Phoenix then managed the pheasant, names I remember, 12 string Steve, Jon Williams guitarist also manager’s Dave and Kay, dot and Steve, brewers, Jerry the only one I can remember, much of drank far too much!!

  27. Rob Walker says:

    When at teacher training college in Eltham I used to regularly visit the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham – often for the singalongs and a few pints of Dog Bolter. I remember being in there on the night David sold the original chain of pubs and they were serving a 14% beer – only in half pints ! Can’t remember its name though!

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