I was in Cambridge and reading a history of Christianity in England that was part of a display in The Round Church (more on that place at a future date). The panel on the 18th and 19th centuries mentioned William Wilberforce and his accomplishments.
When he was a student at Cambridge, in 1777, Wilberforce it seems was less than a diligent student, or so the tale was told in the display. When he should have been in class he was frequently to be found in a local pub called The Eagle.
I remembered passing The Eagle about half an hour previously, so when my travel partner suggested we go for tea, I said I knew just the place. I made the bold assumption that a pub in a tourist/student town would indeed have tea. (It did.)
I gather many historical figures have had a pint or two at The Eagle, but I didn’t take the time to investigate. The sign out front says Watson and Crick announced the discovery of DNA there. I’m not sure of a pub is where I would have revealed a scientific breakthrough, but I’m not British so I might not understand these things. The fact that Wilberforce frequented the place was enough for me.
I doubt though that there is anything left inside from his days. Or that was my assumption. In almost 200 years there must have been the occasional bout of redecoration.
Still, it was a pleasant enough place, quiet on a Wednesday afternoon. I should have ordered food and then I could give you a restaurant review, but I wasn’t thinking of that. Besides, we already had dinner plans.
As I sat there, I was thinking of the impact one person can have if they are determined. The young man who was wasting his time in that pub grew up. He found a cause and a Saviour – at about the same time. He went on to change the world, to lead the fight against slavery in Britain. His success in the UK was one of the factors that led eventually to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
The Eagle wasn’t on my list of places to visit in Cambridge. I’d never heard of it before we walked by it. And I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if not for reading that historical display.
I’m glad to have been able to see it though, to have a connection however slim, with someone who was a giant of history. Wilberforce’s story is a reminder that we can’t always see the end at the beginning. No-one watching him sit and drink his schooldays away would have picked him to be a world changer.
His story is also a reminder that sometimes we have to take the long view. That is difficult in this world of instant gratification. Wilberforce worked for more than 50 years to see slavery abolished in all of the British Empire, with the final abolition act passing Parliament just three days before his death. His refusal to give up, his crusade for what is right, is an inspiration.