Up and down the City-road, In and out the Eagle,

M@londonist.com wrote on 18.1.19:

“Have you ever dined inside a nursery rhyme? If you’ve eaten at the Eagle on City Road, then count yourself included.

The pub is mentioned in the well-known tune Pop Goes the Weasel. Specifically:

“Up and down the City Road, in and out The Eagle; that’s the way the money goes, Pop! goes the weasel.”

We’ve been in and out of the Eagle on many occasions. It has a cosy, friendly atmosphere, a handsome interior and one of the few beer gardens near Old Street tube.

Unlike in the rhyme, there’s no tuppenny rice or treacle by the half-pound on the menu. That said, we did spot a jasmine rice dish for £9, and a tempting sticky-toffee pudding. The range of beers is average, but there’s plenty of pop.

Surprisingly, the earliest mention of Pop Goes the Weasel ties it to Queen Victoria. A series of adverts from 1852 and 1853 promote lessons in the ‘highly fashionable’ dance, as ‘introduced at her Majesty’s private soiree’. The British Library holds a copy of the music sheet from 1853. It has a similar tune to today, though nobody knows who composed it.

It soon filtered down the social classes. Race horses were named after the song. Street musicians sang it on every corner. In 1854, the line ‘Pop Goes the Weasel!’ was described as an ‘idiotic exclamation so humiliating to the intelligence of our age and race’. Manufactured outrage is, it seems, nothing new.

By 1856, anger had turned to ennui, when a correspondent to the Morning Post wrote: ‘Sir, For many months, everybody has been bored to death with the eternal grinding of this ditty on street’. It has since lodged deep in the psyche, and has continued down to our own time as one of the classic English nursery rhymes.

The nonsense lyrics were debated even when fresh, in the 1850s. They have found many interpretations. ‘Pop goes the weasel’ might relate to a spinner’s tool, rhyming slang for throat (weasel and stoat), the act of pawning silver plate, or the sudden movement of an actual weasel. Again, nobody knows.

The part relevant to our drinking den seems more clear: ‘Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle’. This is almost certainly a reference to the pub that still stands today.

A version of 1855 clearly makes reference:

In the Bird of Conquest, made

first by Romans famous,

Though “Grecian” my saloon was called

By some ignoramus.

Up and down the City-road,

In and out the Eagle,

That’s the way the money comes,

Pop goes the weasel.

The rhyme makes sense when we know that Eagle was nicknamed the Grecian Saloon in the 1850s, and was ran by a Mr Benjamin Conquest. Pop Goes the Weasel might not have started on the City Road, but it was quickly associated with our venue.

So next time you’re passing down City Road, or looking for a place to drink near Old Street, consider a trip to The Eagle. Just watch out for exploding mustelids.

From the Phrase Finder website:

“…Some of the US versions of the rhyme are significantly different and may have an entirely different source, but using the same tune. It could be that ‘money’, ‘monkey’ and ‘donkey’ that appear in many of the versions are mishearings of the same word. The important words are obviously ‘pop’ and ‘weasel’.

The phrase soon gained hold, in the US especially, although it didn’t have a specific or fixed meaning; it appears to have been used just to indicate a sense of occasion – something like ‘just like that’. There’s an example of that in a newspaper advertisement for groceries from The Hudson North Star newspaper, April 1856 (including 2000 lbs of Extra Family Butter, whatever that is):

“All Selling Cheap. To Close Out Within Sixty Days Or Pop Goes The Weasel”

Of the different meanings of the word weasel, the most commonly used today is as the name of the small carnivorous mammal. Weasels do pop their heads up when disturbed and it is quite plausible that this was the source of the name of the dance…”

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