Eagle and Child, Oxford, UK

Eagle and Child, Oxford
Photo credit: ryanfb on VisualHunt / CC BY

Website: https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/southeast/theeagleandchildoxford

Physical address: 49 St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3LU

Phone number: +44 1865 302925

Business hours: 11am – 11pm Monday to Saturday; Noon – 10:30pm Sunday

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Established as a public house in 1650, The Eagle and Child in Oxford has a history as long as any, and even before that it played its part in the Civil War – as a playhouse for the Royalist soldiers who were stationed in the city between 1642 and 1649. This is not the pub’s only link to the literary world, however, as with close proximity to Oxford University, there have been many titans of literature pass through its doors.

In the 1930s, a group of literary figures, known as The Inklings, met regularly to discuss their latest works and other news of the day. Formally meeting on Thursdays, at Magdalen College, the meetings evolved to include more casual outings to the local drinking establishments, with The Eagle and Child (affectionately dubbed The Bird and Baby by the group) becoming a regular haunt on Mondays or Tuesdays. Prominent members of the group included C.S. Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) and J.R.R. Tolkien (author of all things Middle Earth) and the earliest drafts of those most eminent of works were reviewed by the Inklings during their development.

The Rabbit Room, a secluded private space at the back of the pub, played host to the Inklings, until renovations led to it being combined with the general public area, and the writers, begrudgingly, found a new watering hole.

A popular name for an English pub, The Eagle and Child derives from the crest of the Earl of Derby, which includes a hat with a swaddled baby lying on top of it, and an eagle, wings outstretched, standing on top of the baby. Legend has it that the crest reflects a family story of an ancestor who left his illegitimate son in an eagle’s nest. Depending on your version of the story, either the eagle fed and cared for the baby, instead of attacking him, causing the father to relent and name him his heir, or a third party was able to “rescue” the child and his real father could adopt him without a scandal.

Whatever the reason for the name, the pub has no current links to the Stanley family (the present Earl of Derby) and is instead owned by Nicholson’s Pubs. Little has changed in the architecture of the building, with narrow passages and low seating, but you’ll find a decent meal and glass of ale while you share the space where some of the 20th Century’s finest fantasy literature was born.

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