Discover good times at
It all began normally enough for the pub back in its early years during the 16th and 17th century as it established itself as a busy coaching inn for travellers coming to and from London. When the railway arrived in Cambridge in 1850, The Eagle transitioned from coaching inn to regular tavern. With the influx of coach travellers gone, the pub’s regular guests were quickly replaced by students, staff and researchers from the colleges of the esteemed Cambridge University. The Eagle proved particularly popular among the staff at the Cavendish Laboratory, which opened in 1874 on Free School Lane near the pub, and was devoted to experimental physics.
It was two researchers from this very laboratory that gave the pub its biggest claim to fame. On February 28,1953, pub regular Francis Crick came to The Eagle to announce to the pub’s guests, some of whom were fellow scientists and researchers, that he, together with James Watson, had discovered the double helix structure of DNA – one of, if not the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century. Guests of The Eagle today can find a blue plaque outside the door commemorating Crick’s 1953 announcement. Watson and Crick would later go on to win the 1962 Nobel Prize for their scientific advancements. Cavendish Laboratory has since moved to a new location though science boffins still make pilgrimages to see the storied spot where the discovery of DNA was announced and to strike up a conversation with other science enthusiasts over a pint.
Monumental as the discovery of DNA was, it is not the only interesting chapter from The Eagle’s history. The pub is also famous for its graffiti-covered ceiling, which is found at the back of the building in the so-called RAF bar. During World War II, The Eagle was frequented by RAF and American airmen who, during their downtime in between air strikes, drank and socialised here. At some point during the war, the military guests began using candles and petrol lighters to burn their names, squadron numbers and other miscellaneous doodles onto the ceiling. Tourists still come here to inspect the vast range of markings, which cover almost every inch of the now-crowded ceiling. After the war, the military graffiti gradually disappeared from view, the markings becoming quickly obscured by a build-up of smoke and dirt stains. Later, when the ceiling was cleaned, the graffiti was rediscovered and preserved for all guests to read and ponder while enjoying a pint and some pub fare.
Though the pub is managed by Greene King, the site of the Grade II-listed pub is still owned by Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College. The Eagle still attracts many academics and researchers from nearby colleges, as well as tourists who want to soak up the traditional, old-world atmosphere; to see the site of the Watson-Crick DNA discovery announcement; and to survey the graffiti-covered ceiling of the RAF bar. Visitors with an interest in military history may also want to visit the Imperial War Museum, located about a 20-minute drive away in Duxford. Examine a collection of almost 200 aircraft, artillery, military vehicles and small naval vessels and view various other war-related memorabilia and exhibits. Closer still to the pub is the free-to-enter Fitzwilliam Museum, whose astonishing collection features more than 500,000 works, including precious Egyptian sarcophagi, treasured da Vincis, Rembrandts, Piccassos and an impressive assortment of Turners.
Cambridge exudes history and The Eagle is just one in a sea of historic buildings in town. In fact, just across the road from the pub sits St. Bene't's Church, whose tower, which dates back to the 11th century, is said to be the oldest standing structure in Cambridge.
Directions to The Eagle:
Find The Eagle in central Cambridge on Bene’t Street, near King’s College, St. Catherine’s College and Corpus Christi College. The Eagle is about a 10-minute drive from Cambridge Railway Station. Buses also run from the station to near the pub.