Eagle and Child and The Inklings

As a city with such a rich literary history, it is inevitable that there are countless places dotted around Oxford which boast a bookish background, some of which may not be so obvious. One of the best examples of this is the Eagle and Child pub on St Giles, meeting place for the infamous Inklings from 1933 until 1949. One of the most successful literary groups of all time, The Inklings contained many academics of Oxford University and regulars included C.S. Lewis (whose house The Kilns is in Headington and now offers seminars and tours in remembrance of the legendary children’s author), J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams.

Although the group, typically for the time, was male, female friends and occasional visitors included Enid Blyton and Dorothy L. Sayers. Meetings were informal and generally involved the reading and critical analysis of one another’s work over a few pints, as well as the discussion of fellow authors of the time. The society also met at Magdalen College every week, perhaps as a more formal companion to their pub gatherings, and later meetings were also held at the Lamb and Flag opposite The Eagle and Child (known more colloquially as The Bird and Baby). If you haven’t been up St Giles, it’s well worth a wander as both pubs make pleasant drinking spots on a lovely summers day and the latter contains some interesting Inklings mementoes in its ‘Rabbit Room.’

The Lamb and Flag also contains a passage through to the fascinating Natural History Museum and its anthropological counterpart Pitt Rivers, whose exhibits I once had the pleasure of exploring at night-time to the ethereal thrum of live tribal music, underneath a ceiling which danced with shafts of colour in every colour of the rainbow – part of the city’s Christmas celebrations last year when a handful of its major museums stayed open til late. Beneath glaring totem poles, gruesome masks and a myriad of mummification, the experience was very magical, if a little creepy! Both museums though are equally interesting in daylight and the Natural History currently has an art installation which merits a visit in itself (see www.ghostforest.org for more information.)

Depressive author and playwright Graham Greene also spent much of his time at the Lamb and Flag, whilst a student at Balliol College, and a framed passage of his ‘Fragments of Autobiography’ in which he mentions the popular watering hole can be seen inside. St Giles is also home to a fantastic little Oxfam bookshop and parallels the gorgeous district of Jericho, home of Oxford University Press headquarters, where yet more book-related pubs can be found including Jude the Obscure and The Old Bookbinders – as well as some lovely independent bookstores with bags of character.

One Response to “Eagle and Child and The Inklings”
  1. Mike Heaney says:

    Did Enid Blyton really hobnob with the likes of Dorothy Sayers and CS Lewis, not to mention Tolkien? It makes everything clear at last: Noddy is an allegory for Bilbo, the little car is Aslan (think how it rescues Noddy in the dark forest). I have to admit I’m struggling with the realisation that Big Ears is really Lord Peter Wimsey but I’ll get there…

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