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Historic Eating in Oxford

Posted on October 21, 2012 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Solo UK and France by Train

I had only one day in Oxford, and I made the most of my time and photo opportunities by "eating historically" wherever possible! Here are the two best examples (I also had pizza in an oldish building associated with the Oxford Castle).

The Eagle and Child

The Eagle and Child pub was built in the 16th century and is probably best known as the meeting place of "The Inklings," a literary club of Oxford professors and their friends that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They met regularly in the "Rabbit Room" of the pub from the 1930s through the 1950s to have a pint (or several) and discuss the writings they were working on. Early drafts of some of Tolkien's and Lewis' greatest works were read and critiqued here.

Exterior

David and I ate here regularly when we lived in Oxford (mainly for the atmosphere as the food was just OK), yet I never properly photographed the interior. And because it was usually full in front we typically sat in the back, which is a newer extension that post-dates the Inklings. So during this visit I was determined to rectify both - to go early enough to be able to sit in the Rabbit Room and soak up the atmosphere, and make more of an effort at interior photos. As a bonus, they were under new ownership so I was curious to see if the food had improved. I'm happy to report my mission was successful on all counts, and I had a very nice, relaxing time.

Bar

Bar and main room, with Rabbit Room on left

Rabbit Room

View from the bar into the Rabbit Room, with Inklings memorabilia on the walls. In their time, this was the back room of the pub. When the extension was added to the back in 1962 (lighted doorway partially visible on right), they lost their cozy and quiet atmosphere, and reluctantly moved to the Lamb and Flag across the street. I snagged that little table at back right.

Rabbit Room

View of Rabbit Room from my table

Lunch

Lunch: Shropshire chicken with gravy and veg. Sorry about the poor focus job. It was quite good.

Inklings Plaque in the Rabbit Room

One of several Inklings plaques, with a photo of Tolkien partially visible on the right.

Note from the Inklings

My favorite item on the wall - a light-hearted note from several Inklings to the pub's landlord, signed in mock formality with all of their credentials.

Note from the Inklings (Detail)

It seems to have been instigated by C.S. Lewis, as he wrote the message and signed it first. At the bottom of the photo is the signature of his brother Warnie, who was not a scholar but a military man.

Note from the Inklings (Detail)

Signature of J.R.R. Tolkien at the bottom, and his son's above.

The Turf Tavern

Turf Tavern

After visiting a whole lot of colleges and various other sights that afternoon, I had worked up enough appetite for a drink and a snack at the Turf Tavern. The Turf is even more historically impressive than the Eagle and Child, dating back to at least the 1300s (although the building was remodeled in the 1700s).

Turf Tavern

Turf Tavern

According to one of their many artistic chalkboard signs (like the one above), illustrious visitors have included Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Hawking, and Elizabeth Taylor. I believe Bill Clinton is also known to have frequented during his studies at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Turf Tavern

Turf Tavern

Turf Tavern

It is very small inside, and most modern people have to duck to enter the doorway.

Turf Tavern

I had a Scotch egg and a half-pint of cider, and both were outstanding. A German family sat at the table next to me, and they regarded my Scotch egg with great interest when it arrived. Finally the mother leaned over and said "What is that?"

Turf Tavern

So I gave them a full tour of a Scotch egg, slicing it open and pointing at the component parts with my knife, explaining that the outer layer is made of pork and breadcrumbs. She asked about the sauce and I told her it was basic British "brown sauce." She then translated all of that into German for her kids, which I enjoyed listening to - "Das ist ein Schottischer ei..."

Incidentally, just a couple of days later I found myself playing the role of UK culinary expert once again in Bath, when I introduced a bunch of Australians to the Sally Lunn bun! Yep, I ate quite historically in Bath as well, but I'll have to save that for another post.... It's after midnight following a long, rainy day out in London, and I'm declaring it bedtime.