Hope the Eagle and Child may re-open next year

Owner St John’s College says a scaled-down revamp may happen in short term

With historic Oxford pub the Lamb & Flag set to re-open in the next few weeks, attention is turning to another old pub also owned by St John’s College on the opposite side of St Giles, the Eagle and Child. The pub closed with all others on the first Covid lockdown in March 2020 but has never re-opened, and the poor state of the building at that time has led to fears that it may never re-open as a pub or as a pub/boutique hotel as St John’s has long planned.

These fears were laid to rest in a BBC Radio Oxford broadcast on September 22, when St John’s principal bursar Zoe Hancock told the Kat Orman programme that there was “definitely a possibility” that the Eagle and Child could re-open as a refurbished pub rather than the grander scheme of converting the rooms above it into a small hotel. Also taking part in the programme were Oxford Drinker editor Dave Richardson, who had accused the college of leaving the closed pub to rot, and Shaun Gunner, chair of the Tolkien Society that protects the legacy of a pub where the Inklings writers group, led by fantasy writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, met regularly in the 1950s and 1960s.

The former cafe next door would be part of plans for a pub/boutique hotel

The Eagle and Child had been let to the Young’s pub chain, which had agreed to the boutique hotel scheme before the onset of Covid but pulled out in 2021. Latterly it had been run by M&B as part of the Nicholson’s brand, but staff working there on closure in 2020 described it as being in very poor condition, with dry rot, antiquated cellar equipment and rodent infestation. Since then it has stood empty.

Ms Hancock revealed that in January this year St John’s had reached agreement with another company for the pub/hotel scheme, but that company had recently withdrawn leaving it “back to square one”.

“The college purchased it in 2004 from another Oxford college,” she explained. “It was running very successfully, but the idea of people being able to stay there was very attractive.  It hasn’t been left to rot but there are plans to do extensive renovations. A hotel is an excellent idea, but a new provider only withdrew last month and we are considering our options.”

Shaun Gunner, from the Tolkien Society, told the programme of the pub’s importance to followers of the author who flocked to Oxford every year to see places, including the Eagle and Child, associated with him. He backed the idea of a boutique hotel above the pub and hoped it would re-open in time for Oxonmoot 2023, the annual gathering in the city scheduled for August 31-September 3.

Re-opening soon: the Lamb & Flag

The pub’s original features, including the alcoves at the front, must be preserved as demanded by the building’s listed status. Dave Richardson said the pub had declined in recent years when it had not featured in the Good Beer Guide, and predicted a bright future if it became a real ale venue again as planned by the group about to re-open the Lamb & Flag, also called the Inklings.

Another historic Oxford pub owned by a college (Lincoln), the Mitre, is being revamped as an Italian restaurant and it remains to be seen if any of its character as a pub will remain. City council-owned the Grapes, on George Street, remains closed with no news about re-opening.

He told the programme that he expected the Lamb & Flag to do well as a real ale pub, which would hopefully encourage a new operator to take the same approach at the Eagle and Child.

  • The Kat Orman programme on Radio Oxford (September 22) will be available for 30 days after broadcast on the BBC iPlayer catch-up service. Listen here.