Thursday 30th April 2015
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that some of the most interesting pub histories are discovered almost by accident. Myself and fellow imbiber Russell were in Staveley for the primary reason of visiting the Hawkshead Brewery’s tap room. However the Eagle & Child is an entry in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide and so we thought that it was worth a visit, which proved to be the case.
The original pub was first recorded in 1742, although it is most likely to have existed earlier than that due to its location next to the river bridge. The next mention of the pub was in 1771 when a tender went out for the construction a link to the Kendal to Ambleside turnpike toll gate from the pub’s “home stone”. This is believed to be a reference to the horse mounting stone outside the pub. Until then there would have been nothing more than a very rough track passing the pub.
The turnpike was just an improvement of the existing road, yet it is difficult now to appreciate how dire the road system in this area actually was. As soon as the railways became the major carriers throughout the country most of the turnpikes just became part of the nation’s road system, although a few historic examples still exist and there have been some new ones. This one lasted as a toll road from 1761 to 1876.
In the very early part of the 19th Century the pub received some very famous visitors. Arguably our most famous poet is William Wordsworth who gained most of his inspiration from the Lake District. It would appear that he visited the inn on his way to and from Dove Cottage at Grasmere. His wife Dorothy wrote the following in her journal of October 1802.
“I am always glad to see Stavely (sic); it is a place I dearly love to think of – the first mountain village that I came to with William when we first began our pilgrimage together. Here we drank a Bason (sic) of milk at a Publick (sic) house, and I washed my feet in the Brook and put on a pair of silk stockings by William’s advice.” The stone steps to the river are there over 200 years later and are appropriately known as “Dorothy’s Steps”. Although she doesn’t mention the Eagle and Child by name, it must be the pub as no other fits the description.
A new inn was constructed and opened in 1842. It was located to the east of the old pub. Like before, it went through a succession of locally-born landlords. Interestingly the old inn remained and was housing three families. This finished in 1881 when its demolition began. A terrace of cottages was built in its place yet these were not finished until after 1883 as the old inn was still not completely knocked down.
In 1881 the pub passed into the hands of the Hartley family and it was they that replaced the old inn. In 1928 they sold the pub to George Cannon Senior, although they retained ownership of the cottages until 1958. The ownership by the Cannon family continued to 1990, although it is still in family hands, being leased out since then.
The interior of the pub continued to change over the years with a function room being added at the rear. In recent years the biggest change was in 1999 when the pub was basically rebuilt internally, the bar counter that had previously extended across the main room in front of the entrance door was abolished and the bar counter retreated to its previous position on the left of the pub. The main rooms were combined into one and all of the letting rooms were rebuilt with en-suite facilities.
Yet, why the somewhat unusual name? It is a story that is retold on a board outside of the pub. I quote from the “official” history of the pub and the tale is as follows:
“An Eagle and Child became part of the Lathom family after a miraculous ‘delivery’. The story goes like this; the Sir Thomas Lathom, who lived in the time of Edward the Third, longed for a son and heir, but his wife had only given birth to girls. Perhaps, to console himself, the knight made love to a village girl, who eventually gave birth to a baby boy. Sir Thomas was overjoyed, but still had the delicate problem of introducing the child into his family with his wife’s approval. He succeeded by having it left under a tree at Lathom Park, and allowing his wife to discover it on her daily walk. When he explained that the infant must have been dropped by the eagle that nested in the tree, as a gift from heaven. Lady Lathom accepted the story, and adopted the child. So the story goes.”
Sounds pretty credible to me, but I still believe in storks delivering infants, as no doubt Lady Lathom did!
So, fast forward to 2015 and myself and Russell entered the pub. It was early evening and there were a lot of diners. I think that is what you would expect in a pub in this predominately tourist area. Nevertheless we were able to find a seat and table. The beer selection was very good. We were offered the following: Keswick Brewery (Keswick, Cumbria) Waimea Pale Ale (4.2%); Yates (Wigton, Cumbria) Golden Ale (3.9%); Hawkshead (Staveley, Cumbria) Windermere Pale Ale (3.5%); Kirby Lonsdale Brewery (Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria) Single Track (4.0%); Old School Brewery (Warton, Lancs) Textbook (3.9%).
The present day décor is quite eclectic. The walls are covered with paintings, old photographs, posters, advertisements and many other curios. In the corridor at the back of the pub leading to the toilets there is a piano. The furniture is wooden of many shapes and sizes yet this is a very comfortable pub.
I am greatly indebted to the Staveley & District Historical Society as it is No 24 of their Occasional Papers series on the pub by John Berry that gives the very interesting story of the pub. I have never seen such an excellent public house history as this. It has made my research so much easier; I wish they were all as good as this.
The Eagle & Child Inn, Kendal Road, Staveley, Cumbria LA8 8LP. Tel: 01539 8211320
Open: Monday-Sunday 11.00-23.00
Staveley railway station is on the Oxenholme to Windermere line.
It is served by an irregular interval timetable that is not necessarily hourly, so you need to check times before travel. At Oxenholme there are connections to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
From Staveley station cross over Station Road to The Banks. This changes to Gowan Terrace and at its junction with Main Street you will find the Eagle & Child by the bridge over the River Gowan.
Bus 555 starts in Lancaster (hourly, every 2 hours on Sunday) via Kendal, from where there are more (half-hourly, every hour Sundays). The 555 continues through Windermere and on to Ambleside through Grasmere to Keswick. It is a very useful route, serving many good pubs and passing through beautiful scenery. In Staveley it stops outside the pub.