Wartime graffiti that tugs at the heart

Most pubs have colourful stories.

But, few tales could be as touching as the story of The Eagle, a public house in the charming British city of Cambridge.

A former coaching inn during the 17th century, The Eagle has a back room known as the ‘RAF Bar’.

And the ceiling of that bar contains some of the world’s most revered graffiti.

It all started in the dark days of World War II when the Eagle was a popular haunt for British and American pilots, fighting a deadly air war with Germany.

Facing death almost every day, these pilots enjoyed unwinding at the pub.

In 1940, a young British pilot apparently stacked a chair on a table and reached up to burn the name of his unit into the ceiling with a candle.

IMG_0048The idea quickly caught on among airmen in Cambridge and the numbers and names continued to be added throughout the war and beyond.

Later, the ceiling at the RAF Bar was preserved during refurbishment of The Eagle and the site is now treated almost as a memorial.  Although off the usual tourist trail, the ceiling is well worth seeing on a visit to Cambridge.

The numbers and names on the ceiling at The Eagle are not the only examples of famous graffiti in the city.

Not far away, in the world famous Kings College Chapel – with its incredible medieval fan vaulted ceiling and magnificent stained glass windows – there are much older markings on the stone walls.

During the English Civil War – between 1642 and 1651 – Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops occupied the chapel – and scribbled on the walls.

P1010089The red paint marks left by the troops are faint, but still visible and are a fascinating and unexpected aspect of one of the UK’s best known attractions.

Cambridge is full of such surprises.

Harking back to The Eagle pub, it is also well known as the place where, on February 23 1953, two Cambridge-based scientists, Francis Crick and James Watson first announced their discovery of how DNA carries genetic information.

A blue plaque now marks the site.

Visitors can also check the site of the White Horse Inn, where scholars debated the works of Martin Luther in the early 16th century.

The inn earned the title of ‘Little Germany’ because of these debates and is, therefore, described  as “a birthplace of the Reformation in England”.776px-TheEaglePub-Cambridge-BluePlaque

Like much of England, Cambridge also contains silent reminders of an infamous attempt to tax daylight.

Sharp-eyed visitors will see windows in many old buildings permanently ‘bricked in’.

These windows were sealed about three centuries ago in a public backlash against a Daylight Tax introduced by King William III.

The expression “daylight robbery” may also have been coined as a reaction to the tax.

These Cambridge sights are less well known but are absolutely fascinating in a city that certainly qualifies as a  truly memorable destination.image29

To discover how to get to The Eagle pub and other attractions in Cambridge, check the ‘Visit Cambridge’ website.

Located about 50 miles or one hour by car from London, the city of Cambridge is ideal for day trips from the UK capital.

At off-peak times, about six trains run between the two cities each hour.

Features UK UK hotels