The 1970s Carpenter’s Arms: an Anglo-Canadian Partnership

The lore and mystique of the British – although I think more properly English – pub are famously of world-wide scope. I’ve examined aspects in the United States and Canada, as well as in Britain in regard to the wartime pub and evolution of the pub image in British society.

I mentioned on Twitter today that a replica of an English pub was built for the 10-day British Week in Toronto festival held in October 1967. A trade and cultural showcase, it was of sufficient importance that Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson travelled from Ottawa to open the fair with British and other dignitaries, not to mention two Guards regiments piping music. Double-deck Leyland Titans, some marked Bristol City Line, were shipped in their vermilion glory to complete the picture (with much else).

Stories report Lester B. arrived at what is now, appropriately, Pearson Airport at 11:00 a.m. He was ferried by car on the Queen Elizabeth Way for the start of opening ceremonies at 12:00 p.m. on Toronto City Hall plaza. It tells you something about the era that under one hour was allowed for the car trip. That would be doable today if you landed, say, at 2:00 a.m.

The British and Irish pub phenomenon commenced in the city a few years later, surely influenced by this signal attraction that offered Bass ale, Whitbread Brewmaster, Mackeson Stout, McEwan’s Strong Ale and I.P.A., and three English ciders (Globe and Mail, October 14, 1967).

The pub, named The Lion and the Unicorn, sold 50,000 bottles of British beer during the fest (Globe and Mail, October 21, 1967). Pretty good eh? We know how to drink beer in Canada. The British didn’t need to teach us about that – well maybe long ago.

I am not sure if Estelle Silverman ever read about The Lion and the Unicorn at Exhibition Place during that year, or perhaps even visited it. But one way or another, this Kingston, Ontario native, who by 1969 had worked for 10 years in a Canadian law office, got a hankering to run a pub in London. An immediate inspiration was a visit she made to London in that same year of 1967.

And she achieved her dream, in partnership with a Briton called Jean Corbett, a descendant of the famous boxing clan.

The pub was notorious in the mid-1960s for being a fief of the Kray Twins. According to a December 5, 1967 report in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Irvin Lutsky, in 1969 Silverman and Corbett acquired rights to the pub from Truman, the venerable east London brewer.

They ran an exemplary business by all accounts. Silverman’s father had owned a delicatessen in Kingston, the family was part of the small Jewish community in Kingston then. Running a pub perhaps came more easily to Silverman due to this background. Jean’s prize-fighter father Harry had run a pub in London, so she knew the business that way.

Lutsky reports the juke box was well stocked and fairly priced. A later story in the Toronto Star (July 8, 1978), also by Lutsky, reported that Anne Murray’s Snowbird echoed through the pub, a nod by Ms. Silverman to her native land.

The landladies took no guff from untoward patrons, while any real bother was avoided by their diplomacy, “a bit of the verbal” as Lutsky reported. It was hard work to be sure – running any good pub is – but the ladies obtained commensurate rewards from their dedication and first-rate hospitality.

They ran the pub for at least nine years, but the trail ran cold for me after Lutsky’s second article. I offer the story as an inspiring example of Anglo-Canadian cooperation in the service of the great institution, the English pub. Certainly if either woman is still living her memories would be of great interest.

The Carpenter’s Arms is now far removed from the raffish Kray years, and goes from strength to strength at the same location on Cheshire Street, see the website, here. A stylish food and drinks menu is offered in a setting both contemporary and traditional. No doubt the Silverman-Corbett tenure helped it along to the present status as a prestige pub of East London. Lutsky, for example, recounts how champagne would be opened on special occasions, so the path to gentrification seemed set by the 1970s.

The proprietors explained that a special occasion was a client’s willingness to pay a “fiver” – before the cork was pulled mind. Wise policy, then and perhaps still.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the pub’s website linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable, and is used here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.