Great Pubs of England: The Eagle and Child, Oxford
Keywords: eagle and child, public house, oxford, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, inklings, Green Dragon
The Eagle and Child is a world-famous public house in the historic town of Oxford, England. The pub was a favourite haunt of legendary authors J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who would meet there to discuss their literary works such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia. Oxford is one of the most beautiful, quaint and architecturally-significant towns in England, and after a day sampling Oxford's cultural highlights, there is no better respite than a pint in one of its greatest pubs.
Located in St Giles', the pub is currently owned by St. John's College, but had been part of an endowment belonging to University College since the 17th century. The pub is a small, narrow building, with a dark and cosy interior - 'dark for dark business', as Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit. There is a legend that the building served as lodgings for the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the English Civil War (1642–49), when Oxford was the Royalist capital. It reputedly served as a pay house for the Royalist army, and pony auctions were held in the rear courtyard. However, the earliest date given for the building’s construction is 1650 and in fact the pub lay outside the city walls. The first record of the pub's current name dates from 1684, the name itself deriving from the crest of the Earl of Derby: the image refers to a story of a noble-born baby having been found in an eagle's nest. The pub is affectionately known to locals as the Bird and Baby.
The Eagle and Child has associations with the group of writers known as the Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and Hugo Dyson. From late 1933, they met on Monday or Tuesday lunchtimes at the Eagle and Child, in a private lounge at the back of the pub known as the 'Rabbit Room'. Here they would read and discuss their working manuscripts. It was at one of those meetings in June 1950 that C.S. Lewis distributed the proofs for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first part of his Narnia series. Tolkien was a great lover of English pubs, and The Eagle and Child must have been an inspiration for the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, which features in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
In 1962, the Eagle and Child was modernised, with the pub being extended to the rear. The privacy of the Rabbit Room was destroyed and the Inklings reluctantly changed allegiance to the Lamb & Flag at the other side of St Giles.
The pub is still accessible and is now a popular haunt of Oxford students, tourists and literary fans. The interior is relatively unspoiled, with dark wood panelling and a traditional bar serving an impressive range of beers, many of them from rural Oxfordshire. I recommend Oxford Gold by the local brewery, Brakespear's.
The Rabbit Room contains mementos of The Inklings.
This article is part of an ongoing series. Please see my article on Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, reputed to be the oldest pub in England and one of only two I know of to be built in a cave:
One of the most ornate pubs in Britain is the Philharmonic in Liverpool. Members of the Beatles regularly frequented the pub before the group’s meteoric rise to prominence:
Please see my article on Keble College, Oxford: