Lamb & Flag: “Once we open, we’ll never close”

Further delay to re-opening may now mean “the wrong side of Easter”

The Lamb & Flag has started hosting private parties for shareholders in its Community Interest Company the Inklings, who signed a lease agreement with owner St John’s College last autumn. But although renovation work to the cellar, kitchen and a total revamp of the toilets are nearing completion, there is still a lot of work to do before it can reopen.

It has also yet to appoint a new manager as Steve Jones, who joined the venture last September, left his post in January after some disagreements. Steve is a well-known figure on the local pubs scene and was previously manager of the Plough at 38.

Work in the cellar as visitors are shown around by former manager Steve Jones

Working in the confines of a historical listed building has proved a major challenge, with city council inspectors calling a halt to work on more than one occasion. XT Brewing is helping with installation of the cellar equipment and is already supplying beer by gravity at the private events, but the hand pumps will soon be available ready to dispense up to six real ales mainly from local suppliers.

The most visible change – apart from the bright new toilets – is that the bar has been removed in the room at the front of the pub, which looks out over St Giles. This creates space for more tables in the Georgian surroundings of the pub without compromising its historical features, as this bar was only installed in the 1990s, and the front room will also be used for events. The nooks and crannies of other parts of the pub remain, preserving its essential character, the oldest part of the building being at the rear.

Relief in the new Gents toilets

Kate O’Brien, chair of the Inklings, told a gathering: “We have been working on this project for over a year but sadly, we are not yet done with the renovations. The cellar is looking amazing, and the pub will be a centre for supplying local produce.”

Inklings board member Dave Norwood added: “The only thing we will guarantee is that when we are open, we will never close – that is the Inklings’ pledge. But opening could be the wrong side of Easter.”

About 300 people have invested in the Inklings (minimum stake is £1,000; maximum £10,000) but they will get no return on their investment. According to the Inklings’ prospectus, “We intend to maximise the communal value of the company, and excess profits will be re-invested into projects that benefit the Lamb & Flag and the wider Oxford community. The Inklings board are volunteers. The only people to be remunerated will be the bar manager and bar staff. 

“Shareholders of the Inklings Ltd therefore should not consider their ownership in a conventional investment sense. So other than saving one of the world’s most iconic pubs, what do shareholders get out of this? We hope that shareholders will play an important role in shaping and creating a cultural and community movement in Oxford that will thrive for many years to come. Whilst dividends and discounted drinks are out, the shareholders’ AGM party should be a lively and interesting affair!

“Our broader events and content platform will be critical to our offering and we look forward to working with shareholders to define and build this; the Oxford community is our primary focus, but we also intend to hold special events exclusively for shareholders. But really…the appeal is being a shareholder in the most special pub in the world’s most magical city.”

The Eagle and Child, also owned by St John’s, remains closed while a new partner is sought

Many of the Inklings are former students with fond memories of the pub during their student lives, and some of them have gone on to set up major institutions such as Oxford Nanopore (with a market value of £4.4 billion) and Oxford Sciences Innovation. But it is literary rather than scientific influences for which it is better known, being associated with the original Inklings group led by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who are better known for meeting at the Eagle and Child on the opposite side of St Giles. This pub remains closed and will probably remain so for some time. It is also owned by St John’s, and had announced plans to create up to eight boutique hotel rooms on the upper floors, but a great deal of work is needed on the whole property. The upper floors at the Lamb & Flag, in contrast, are let as student accommodation.

The Inklings Group can be contacted at