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Everyone onÂ Islington Faces BlogÂ has a story. Â Godfreyâ€™s at Highbury Barn was originally the smallest of a chain of north London family butchers established by Frank Godfrey in 1905. Today itâ€™s the jewel in the family business â€“ run by Chris Godfrey, great grandson of founder Frank, while down the hill at Finsbury Park, Chrisâ€™ brother Philip makes handmade sausages with his team. Chris Godfrey talks meat, drink and business.Â Â InterviewÂ byÂ Nicola Baird
Chris Godfrey â€“ runs Godfreyâ€™s today (son)
Peter Godfrey â€“ father
Leicester Godfrey â€“ grandfather (died after WW2)
Frank Godfrey â€“ great grandfather set up approx. 1905 (His sons Dan and Leicester looked after the shop during WW2 while Stanley was a tank commander in the desert and Peter eventually a POW in Greece).
Islington used to be Londonâ€™s meat capital. Smithfield – on its southern boundary – is the oldest meat market in the world. Then the 1850s the market was deemed too small for Londonâ€™s rapidly expanding population, so it split. Live animals went instead to the Metropolitan Cattle Market just off Caledonian Road (opened in 1855) while carcasses and cuts of meat were sold at Smithfield, as they still are.
â€śFor years Upper Street was the main droving route for livestock, thatâ€™s why the pavements are so high, to stop the mess and the dirt,â€ť explains Chris Godfrey, the fourth generation butcher in his family to run the award-winning Godfreyâ€™s.
â€śFrank, my dadâ€™s dadâ€™s dad, came to seek his fortunes in London in the 1870s. Our family were Lincolnshire farmers â€“ theyâ€™d lived there for as long as anyone can remember. Â He started with a shop on Green Lanes around 1890 though we didnâ€™t become a limited company until 1905.â€ť
Frank was hungry for success â€“ soon he had a chain of four butcher shops with new stores at Stoke Newington High Street, Highbury Barn (where Chris now runs Godfreyâ€™s) and another in the West End at Marble Arch. â€śHe also had a few market stalls,â€ť says Chris.
Back then Frank would buy livestock from the Royal Agricultural Halls on Upper Street and the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Heâ€™d then graze them in nearby Clissold Park until they were slaughtered (all his shops had a slaughter facility attached, except at Highbury Barn).
The family may revere Frank still â€“ the model outside Godfreyâ€™s in stripey red butcher’s apron is fondly named after him â€“ but he was quite a character. Chris says â€śFrank used to go to Smithfield where the pubs were open for 24 hours. Heâ€™d buy his meat, then drink. To get home heâ€™d be strapped on to the cart and his favourite horse would drive itself back to Highbury Park, where the secretary would undo his belt and let him sleep it off.â€ť
The business was left to Frankâ€™s four sons Peter, Stanley, Dan and Leicester (the two girls were given the freehold).Â With Peter a Prisoner of War (POW) in Greece and Stanley commanding tanks in the desert, the shop was run by the younger brothers. â€śWhen Leicester died my dad, also Peter, came to work for his uncles.â€ť
Peter went on to be the President of the Royal Smithfield Club.
Chris, now 51, has followed that tradition too, and still lunches once a month at Butchersâ€™ Hall â€“ home of the Livery Company of Butchers, which has been around for more than 1,000 years.
Although he lives in Hatfield, he has been commuting to Highbury most days for years. â€śAs soon as I could walk I came to work,â€ť says Chris who has a lovely sense of humour and is very quick to get me laughing. Heâ€™s kitted out in white hat and green apron and taking time out during the very busy Christmas rush to talk to me in his staffâ€™s tiny rest room. Compared to Chrisâ€™s office (more like a cupboard with a computer) itâ€™s cavernous Â – all the space goes to the shop and the area where carcasses are cut into cookable-sized portions.
Just five supermarkets are todayâ€™s big meat buyers, and this concentration of purchasing power has utterly changed the way we all shop. Itâ€™s had a strange effect on Islington tooâ€¦ Â many butchers shops have shut, the Royal Agricultural Halls where the livestock were paraded has been turned into Islington Design Centre and though many pubs in the south of the borough reflect the meat trade (eg, The Pig and Butcher, 80 Liverpool Road) not a lot of people are aware of these strong links.
As for specialist butchers like Godfreyâ€™s, they have moved with the times too. â€śWe buy direct from small family farms where the famers love their animals and have great respect for them. We took a philosophy from my great grandfather wanting quality in a traditional way. I feel itâ€™s a privilege to eat animals and be at the top of the food chain. So when we despatch an animal we do it with humanity and care. But that quality comes at a priceâ€¦ Having said that Iâ€™m not a rich man!â€ť says Chris, â€śbut I feel I belong here, Highbury Barn is home and I feel comfortable in life.â€ť
At Christmas when the shop develops a massive queue of turkey, goose and cocktail sausage collectors everyone is treated to a Christmas drink.
Chris makes friends with his customers too, five years ago a man whoâ€™d been a regular shopper for 30-40 years, â€śretired and started helping us â€“ heâ€™s the reason we got this website, set up the butchery school and changed our image a bit.Â As a top businessman he could see what needed to be preserved and what to be taken forward for the next generation. It can be difficult when you work with family as you can be stuck in your ways, so heâ€™s really helped. I like doing the butchery school because everyone finds it fun,â€ť he adds.
Chrisâ€™ three children help out at busy times – Christmas and some Saturdays too. At this stage it looks as if son James, 17, will be coming into the business. It can be a huge pressure to follow in your parentsâ€™ shoes, but hereâ€™s hoping James gets as much fun out of the business â€“ and as many good meals – as his dad.
Out & about with Chris Godfrey
- Love the pizza at Stringray. http://www.stringraycafe.co.uk/
- I eat a lot at the Highbury BarnÂ pubÂ http://www.thehighburybarnpub.co.uk/ because weâ€™re providing menus and itâ€™s just been bought by my friend, Neil, who was best man at my wedding. I like gastro pubs, The Canonbury is good too. http://www.thecanonbury.com/
- Ottolenghiâ€™s is good; Upper Street is amazing.
- I enjoy going to Clissold Park.
Godfreyâ€™s, 7 Highbury Park, London N5 1QJ, tel: 020 7226 2425, www.godfreys.co. OpenÂ Mon/Sat 8am â€“ 6pm Tues-Fri 9am-6pm.Â Use the website to order exactly what you want, find menu ideas, book a Butchery School lesson or get your knives sharpened.
Jack Strawâ€™s Castle was the nickname for Highbury Manor. This was burnt down by the leader of the Peasantâ€™s Revolt, Jack Straw and his followers, in June 1381 in protest against a poll tax ordered by Richard II. Thereâ€™s a sign commemorating this event on the Highbury Barn Tavern, opposite Godfreyâ€™s, though the house was actually on the Godfreyâ€™s side of the road, approximately where the Post Office depot is. See the councilâ€™s website for more info here
Royal Smithfield Club still runs agricultural shows. It was based at the Royal Agricultural Halls in Islington (now the Islington Design Centre) from 1862 until 1938. See http://www.royalsmithfieldclub.co.uk/ Find out more in the Club History Book (1798 to 1980) by R. Trow-Smith or the Club History Book (1980 to 1998) by R.W. Waltham
Maximâ€™s of Paris is a legendary French restaurant, famous for its food, celebrity guests and Art Nouveau interior. See www.maxims-de-paris.com/
Over to you
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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