Oxford is probably most famous for its ancient university, its royal associations and its modern car production factories but this historic city is also full of ghostly accounts of apparitions, manifestations, and related supernatural phenomena. This should perhaps come as no great surprise: if any place in Britain is going to be haunted then it is Oxford, cruel to kings, malignant to monks and redolent with scandal. There are many stories of hauntings in Oxford, from tales of spirits that haunt the libraries of the colleges and shades that sup at the pubs and watering holes around the city, to stories of spectral monks and even royal ghosts. In particular, pubs and inns are a rich source of ghost stories and Oxford has its fair share of hostelries – at one time there were well over 400 in the city and perhaps the most famous of these still stands today in the form of the Eagle and Child.
The Eagle and Child public house lies on the western side of St Giles, one of Oxford’s widest streets and the main exit from the city to the north. This street is the location of the Martyr’s Memorial, a memorial to the three Anglican bishops burned at the stake in the cruel reign of Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary. The Eagle and Child’s greatest claim to fame is that the Inklings, a loose grouping of authors including C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien, Charles Williams and Neville Coghill, met there for many years. The Inklings got together twice a week to discuss their work: on Tuesday mornings at the pub, and on Thursday evenings in C S Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. In the pub they met in the Rabbit Room, a long thin bar which is still there to this day, one of a few delightfully small snug bars which make up this tiny pub. The Eagle and Child has a long history and there is a persistent rumour that there was a tunnel between the pub and St John’s college over on the other side of the road, though there is now no evidence of an entrance in the cellar today. Although it was not a pub at the time, the building was around during the English Civil War and was used as a pay house for the King’s Cavaliers as they took shelter here from Oliver Cromwell and his advancing Roundheads. The most famous haunting at the Eagle and Child is of a more modern origin, however, and first came to light just a few years ago.
It all started when the landlord and his family started to hear strange sounds when the pub was closed. The sounds were unclear, sometimes described as people talking in low indecipherable voices, sometimes footsteps, occasional organ music and so on, and occurred at quite random times. Everyone was mystified until one day the landlord noticed that the odd and ghostly sounds seemed to be coming from the loudspeakers which were sometimes used when live bands played there. He placed his ear quite close to the loudspeaker and could discern church music, followed by a speech (perhaps a sermon), then the mumbled sounds of people praying. Immediately an explanation for the ghostly sounds appeared in the form of the church across the road, which used a wireless microphone for its services, just as the bands in the pub used a wireless microphone during their performances. There was some radio pick up between the church electronics and those of the Eagle and Child and simply switching off the sound system in the pub during the hours of closing exorcised the haunting entirely! Suffice to say, however, that not every paranormal occurrence in the city of Oxford is so easily explained away…