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The Eagle and Child

The Eagle and Child is a moderately common pub name. This article refers to The Eagle and Child in St Giles Street, Oxford, England, which is particularly popular with university students who call it the Bird and The Baby (or the Fowl and Foetus).

Sign outside the pub in Oxford

It has lately become the destination for literary pilgrimages because of its reputation as the haunt of The Inklings from 1939 to 1962. They met every Tuesday morning in an area at the back of the pub known as the Rabbit Room. More recently, the pub became known as the regular watering hole of Colin Dexter who created Inspector Morse.

The Inklings was the name of a writers' group which included C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit fame. Some others in the group were Lewis’ brother Warnie, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, Dr Robert Havard, Owen Barfield and Neville Coghill. Their meetings usually consisted of readings from their latest writings, followed by a substantial lunch. They changed allegiance in 1962 by moving across St Giles to The Lamb and Flag pub, but it is the Eagle and Child’s Rabbit Room that attracts visitors.

The Rabbit Room bears a plaque which is much photographed, and there are photos and other mementos of the writers on the walls. The pub’s sign shows an eagle carrying a small child in a fold of cloth suspended from a claw, which is the crest of the Earl of Derby.

A small, narrow building, the pub reputedly served as the lodgings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the English Civil War (1642 - 49), when Oxford was the Royalist capital. The landmark served as a play house for the Royalist army, and pony auctions were held in the rear courtyard. These claims are inconsistent with the earliest date usually given for construction of the pub, 1650, and the fact that the pub lies outside the city walls may also give some cause for doubt.

The pub is owned by St John's University College, the wealthiest college in England, which placed it on the market for £1.2 million in December 2003. It has been part of an endowment belonging to St John's since the 17th Century. The college said it was selling the Eagle and Child to rebalance its property portfolio, and it was expected the pub would continue to trade and usual.