Babies delivered by birds of prey? Pull the other one
The origin of this pub name can be traced to the fourteenth century. Sir Thomas Latham, who lived near to Lytham St Annes in Lancashire, had one legitimate child, Isabel. His wife failed to fall pregnant with his desired son and heir and, as so often the case with the great families of England, the maid soon fell pregnant instead with the healthy son her master wanted.
Desperate for a son to succeed him, Sir Thomas devised a plan to persuade his wife to adopt the boy as her own, legitimizing him in the process. He arranged for the child to be left at the base of a tree where he had recently observed eagles nesting. His plan was to claim the baby had been abandoned by the birds, a story that his wife apparently accepted, adopting the boy soon afterwards. But after Sir Thomas died it was his daughter, Isabel, who inherited the estate.
Locals were said to have commemorated this story of man’s inability to really fool his wife by naming a local tavern the Eagle and Child, and several other establishments were similarly named in successive years across the country. The most famous inn by this name is in St Giles, Oxford, once the Royalist capital during the English Civil War (1641–51). It is claimed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer lodged there during the conflict and the building served as the paymaster’s quarters for the Royalist army, their horses being fed and watered in the courtyard.
The pub also has strong literary connections: C. S. Lewis (author of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia books) and J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both featuring child-sized hobbits being rescued by giant eagles) met at the Eagle and Child every Friday between 1939 and 1962 for drinks and conversation.
These days the pub is affectionately known by those wacky university students – destined to be running the nation’s judiciary, industry and even government, God help us all – as the Bird and Bastard, the Bustard and Bastard, the Fowl and Foetus and, most ridiculous of all, the Bird and Brat. (For more on the symbol of the eagle in pub names, see The Spread Eagle.)
Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2
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