On an unusually sunny, blue-skied November Saturday afternoon, I went looking for the Eagle.
Being the London nerd that I am, I was genuinely excited to be visiting THAT pub – you know the one from the song.
Up and down the City Road
In and out The Eagle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel
Its my favourite London song. Part nonsense, part truth. To “pop” meant to pawn in early 19th century slang and the song is a tale of squandering money on the London life of pubs and music halls and paying for it through popping the weasel which itself was slang for a tailor’s iron. So the tailor had to hock the tools of his trade to pay for his nights on the town. Such can be the London life of the poor even today.
If you don’t remember the song, the pub helpfully has it plastered on the outside wall as you approach it from the afore-mentioned City Road after arriving at Old Street tube station. So far so good.
Its address is actually on Shepherdess Walk next door to the Shoreditch Police Station. No doubt more than one person has started the day in one building and ended it in the other. If you were to follow the lady with the violin case in the bottom of the picture above, Shepherdess Walk will take you from Old Street area towards Islington.
From the outside, the pub is quite tatty. Painted a gaudy blue it looks a little over made-up and past its best, like Bet Lynch in her later years at the Rover’s Return in Coronation Street. Still good fun, but showing her age. Fair play, I thought, for a pub reaching back across a couple of centuries.
But, dear reader, I thought incorrectly! Despite the venerable Alan Reeve-Jones authenticating this building as the original Eagle of the song in his 1962 London Pubs it turns out he was wrong. Having looked the pub up on the internet and in The London Encyclopedia to check a couple of facts, it turns out this pub is an imposter. The building is a johnny-come-lately, having been built at the start of the twentieth century.
The original Eagle of the song fame did indeed stand on this site – and by my estimates extended futher along Shepherdess Walk to include the new Police Station. That pub incorporated a music hall on the ground floor in 1825 which may have been London’s very first (hence, perhaps, its famous inclusion in the song). It was featured in a Charles Dickens book – Jemima Evans and Samuel Wilkins go here in Sketches By Boz – and in the second half of the 19th century was turned into the Grecian Theatre where a teenage Marie Lloyd, perhaps the most famous of Music Hall stars, made her debut in 1884 aged 14 just weeks before the hall was sold to the Salvation Army and the music stopped.
For whatever reasons, this turn towards sobriety (the Salvation Army is a teetotal organisation) did not work out and the whole building was demolished in 1901 with this replacement pub being started the same year.
The original Eagle, above, was much bigger than the present venture. It was described in 1850 by Peter Cunningham in his guidebook of the time, Hand-book of London, as:
“EAGLE TAVERN, CITY ROAD. A place of public entertainment, frequented by the lower orders, and licensed for theatrical purposes pursuant to Act 25 Geo. II. It stands on the site of “The Shepherd and Shepherdess,” a tea-house and garden, seriously injured the minor theatres, as at houses like the Eagle, with both a music and a spirit licence, people can see, hear, and drink; at theatres they can only see and hear.”
I love that line that at music hall / taverns people could see, hear and drink whereas as the theatres of the day they could only see and hear.
So, whilst the site has the heritage claimed by the pub, the actual pub building sadly does not. Still, it appears to be prospering. There are excellent reviews of its food and drink on Tripadvisor and other online guides. And for those of you inclined who happen to be in the area, there is a Star Wars quiz on the evening of the 24th November! But sadly, this is not the Pop Goes The Weasel pub that it claims.