Pictured below is The Eagle, a popular pub located on Shepherdess Walk in Hoxton, North London.
The Eagle has a long history.
Over the years, several buildings going by the bird of prey’s name have stood on the site, all of which have served differing purposes.
Originally, the Eagle served a far more civilised purpose… it opened as a tea garden with not a drop of booze in sight!
In 1825, the premise was turned into a music hall in order to provide a varied programme of entertainment for the ever increasing population of London.
The Eagle Music Hall quickly became a popular haunt- so much so that Charles Dickens saw fit to include it in one of his earliest works, Sketches by Boz; a series of vignettes about London life first published between 1833-1836.
The sketch in which the famous haunt appeared was entitled, Miss Evans and the Eagle, and it described the music hall in considerable detail:
“There was an orchestra for the singers, all paint, gilding and plate-glass; and such an organ!
Miss J’mima Ivins’s friend’s young man whispered it had cost ‘four hundred pound,’ which Mr Samuel Wilkins said was ‘not dear neither’, an opinion which the ladies perfectly coincided.
The audience were seated on elevated benches round the room, and crowded into every part of it; and everybody was eating and drinking as comfortably as possible… “
The Eagle also provided a platform for a young Marie Lloyd; a famous Londoner from the music hall era.
Born locally in 1870, Marie Lloyd first performed at the Eagle in 1884 when she was just 14 years old.
By the time Marie was born, Hoxton had become one of London’s toughest districts, characterized by violence and poverty, making the Eagle a rough destination.
Marie’s songs were inspired by the harsh surroundings in which she’d grown up, often reflecting the pathos and tribulations of working-class life.
She was also notorious for being rather lewd; a reputation which led to her being refused entry to the United States in 1913 on the basis of ‘moral turpitude’!
In 1922, Marie collapsed on stage whilst performing at Edmonton (an area just north of Tottenham). She died shortly afterwards, her funeral drawing 100,000 mourners.
She is buried in Hampstead Cemetery.
By the time Marie Lloyd was preforming, the Eagle (also referred to during this period as the Grecian Theatre) had gained a rather dubious reputation. As well as the booze and general raucousness, the gardens outside had become a well-known red-light area.
The grip which the Eagle held over the local population was summed up in the jaunty tune… Pop Goes the Weasel.
There have been numerous variations on the lyrics involving everything from treacle and rice to monkeys and chicken coops, but the original words (first recorded in 1855) ran thus:
“Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel”
These lyrics allude to pawning items in order to gain money for alcohol and loose living.
As mentioned earlier, The Eagle is on Shepherdess Walk, which sits just off of the City Road mentioned in the ditty.
A ‘weasel’ when used here is slang for a tailor’s iron and ‘pop’ means to ‘pawn’.
One can only guess how this bawdy number morphed into a popular children’s nursery rhyme!
Today, the catchy rhyme is proudly displayed on a board outside the present day building:
Thanks to The Eagle’s seedy nature, the Salvation Army thought it would be a good idea to move in and cleanse the place of its sin.
Knowing that premises was being offered for lease, the organisation’s newly installed general, William Booth stepped in to purchase and ‘occupy’ the Eagle.
The Eagle’s new role as a centre for the Salvation Army proved most unpopular; the locals being pretty miffed that their favourite place for a wild night out had been swapped for more spiritual purposes.
When attempting to sing, the Salvation Army choir would often be drowned out by the jeers of a surly mob. Drunks and pimps refused to move on; many of whom issued violent threats towards General Booth himself. The situation was so bad, that the police were required to intervene and restore order.
In line with their ethos of military-esque organisation, the Salvation Army created a medal to commemorate their taking over of The Eagle; the words stamped upon the broach stating that they “occupied” and “captured” the former den of iniquity.
The Eagle’s more pious role did not last for very long… in 1901, the Salvation Army centre and former music hall was demolished and a pub was built- the boozer which still stands today.
I used to live just around the corner from this place not so long ago. It is good to know that it is a pub with a History.
In the early 80’s I worked in an office just around the corner. In those days luch time drinking was positively encouraged and we spent many a boozy lunch in the Eagle. Then to return after work and often get a “lock in”, safe in the knowledge that the Police would not interfere as they were also drinking late !!!! Happy days
Thanks for sharing that, Richard. Sounds like happy days indeed.
Thanks, Harriet… did you have many boozy nights in there? 🙂
A more recent inscription of the famous rhyme is that which surrounds the base of the famous Smith & Sons clock tower at the meeting point of the City Road and Goswell Road.
The meaning of the word “weasel” seems uncertain and many interpretations have been advanced to explain it. One is that is comes from the Cockney rhyming slang “weasel and stoat”, meaning a coat; another is that it is a corruption of “whistle [and flute]”, meaning a suit; and yet another is that it refers to the fur stole (often made of rabbit skin) that dressed-up ladies wore over their coats.
I’m pretty sure the answer is out there and we just haven’t happened upon it yet.
Never knew that about the clock! I drive past that almost everyday but have never noticed… will have to pay more attention when I next do 🙂
My family records show we owned a pub in London called the Eagle Pub in the 20’s or 30’s. I wonder if it is the same one? Last names would have been Levy or Wayne. Do you have any records of them?
Hi! Do you know who owned the Pub in the 1920s or 30s?
I’m afraid not, sorry.
[…] (or Tilley as she was called) father worked as a waiter at the Eagle Tavern, and that’s how she ended up singing there as her spare time. It’s quite interesting to see […]