The Carpenters Arms on Victoria Road was nearly lost to development in 2011, when Punch Taverns sold what had become a run-down, rough-hewn boozer to a property developer, and plans were submitted to convert it into seven apartments. Fortunately those plans were refused, and a local resident and pub manager refurbished and reopened the much-improved pub after a two year closure. The development was refused partly on the grounds that it “would lead to the loss of a public house, which is a valued community facility helping to meet day-to-day needs”. Like the need for a drink, which is what brought me here, and appears to be what brought a group of lads in their 20s, several women, their kids playing in the courtyard, a young couple (the girl’s deep toned, resigned voice suggests she’s quite drunk but also quite familiar with that state), and a few single blokes, the most elderly of whom wisely chose to sit at the front in direct sun – I only notice this as I’m leaving. Nobody is fulfilling the day-to-day need of eating; I’ve eaten here before and had good pizza, although that was a couple of years ago, I’ve no idea what it’s like now.
The keg Ghost Ship wasn’t on at the time, instead I enjoyed a very good pint of the aptly named Carpenter’s Cask, from the Crafty Brewery at Great Wilbraham, which is on permanently, joined by guests Milton Minotaur, and Cottage Revolution. There’s an assortment of seating including some Chesterfield armchairs and bench seats, but I took a seat on a high stool near a window, quickly deciding it was a shame to be inside when the sun had its hat on (well, more a balaclava, the sun peaking out of holes in the clouds), so took my pint outside. The “delightful outdoor space for al fresco dining” hadn’t yet emerged from its winter hibernation and was understandably caught snoozing by the first sign of the sun in six months, much of the outdoor furniture still stacked up in a corner, a broken freezer standing like a sentry by the rear entrance.
A 19th century pub – in 1855 Peter Fulcher is listed as a beer retailer on Victoria Road, and by 1869 he’s listed as a carpenter and publican of the Carpenter’s Arms, so it’s possible he gave the pub its name – it stands on the corner of Frenchs Road, and over time has incorporated one of the adjoining terraced cottages on Victoria Road. In the late 19th century it was owned by the Albion Brewery, one of the largest of Cambridge’s former breweries, which was acquired by Lacons in 1897 – set into the wall above the front door is an old plaque showing the impressive Lacons falcon. In 1965 it was taken over by Whitbreads. A 1975 pub guide described the pub as “bright and cheerful”, but by 1979 it was apparently “dark and spooky”. It definitely leans more toward the former these days, but it’s four years since it was “extensively refurbished”, and still advertising itself as that reminds me of a conversation I overheard in a pub the other day – a man in his late thirties perhaps, met a slightly younger looking woman, obviously a blind date, and his opening line was “You’ll notice I’ve put on weight since that photo of me was taken”!