Eagle and Child sold but will continue as a pub

Surprise sale by St John’s College to an educational and healthcare organisation

The last closed pub in central Oxford, the historic Eagle and Child on St Giles, has been sold to the Ellison Institute of Technology which plans to use some of its space for meetings and research by students. But it has confirmed that the “Bird and Baby”, as it is often known, will be open to the public and will continue as a pub.

Oxford CAMRA has welcomed this and called for the historic front part of the pub, with its alcoves, to be retained. Older parts to be retained should also include the space near the bar where the Inklings group of writers, led by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, held their meetings for many years, and where information about them has been on display. Further back in the narrow pub are modern additions, including a conservatory slated for demolition, and this is where we hope meeting space will be created.

Uncared for, but not forgotten….. the Eagle and Child has been closed for more than three years

The sale by St John’s is a surprise, as previously it had been trying to find a company to lease it long-term, as with the Lamb & Flag on the opposite side of St Giles run by a Community-Owned group also called the Inklings. Few people outside its field have heard of the Ellison Institute of Technology (EIT), which was founded eight years ago in Los Angeles and is building a new campus on Oxford Science Park. It started as a research and development centre for cancer, healthcare and global public health; and has since expanded into food security and sustainable agriculture; clean energy and climate change; and government policy and economics.

Some may suspect that the character of the pub will change irrevocably, but at least it is continuing as a pub and if the historic parts are retained, that would satisfy CAMRA, the planners and probably the Tolkien Society, which has had significant input into past renovations. The pub was run by M&B brand Nicholson’s for many years up to closure on the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, but St John’s had lined up Young’s to take over. That fell through and the Grade II-listed pub remained closed. It requires significant investment and no re-opening target date has been announced.

Students of the past (scampi and chips £7.50) in the pub. Image: Oxford Mail

The new owner stated: “EIT will refurbish and re-open the historic pub to the public, while creating meeting spaces for Ellison scholars and EIT Oxford faculty and staff to collaborate and innovate. With design led by Foster + Partners, the rebirth of the Eagle and Child will modernise the space and secure its long-term economic viability.

“EIT is delighted – through the acquisition of this beloved space and the construction of our new Oxford Campus – to be able to put the city at the heart of our mission to help solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity. EIT will maintain the Eagle and Child’s use as a public house, honouring its historic and cultural legacy.”

Inklings memorabilia on display before closure

Zoe Hancock, Principal Bursar of St John’s College, said: “St John’s is delighted to announce that the future of the Eagle and Child as a pub and iconic landmark has been assured through the sale of the property to Ellison Oxford Limited. The College developed a scheme to refurbish the Eagle and Child and to convert the upper floors of the pub – and adjacent properties – to develop a boutique hotel. Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic challenges did not enable this scheme to proceed. The College has since then been working on a more modest scheme to enable the pub to reopen as soon as possible.”

With the Lamb & Flag and more recently the Grapes re-opening, there will soon be no closed pubs in the city centre. Another historic building – the Mitre – has re-opened on the High Steet, but with no acknowledgement at all of its role as a pub through many centuries. We are assured that the same won’t happen at the Eagle and Child.