Historic Oxford pub the Lamb & Flag is to reopen in time for the festive season, after an agreement between owner St John’s College and a group of fans and drinkers who want to take it on.

The pub in St Giles, popular with students and real ale drinkers, has been serving since 1566, and switched to its current site in 1613.

St John’s announced its closure in January, citing tough conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the hospitality sector.

But following an outcry, the Inklings Group – named in honour of the pub’s former literary patrons JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis – has signed a long-term lease to relaunch the pub.

The modern Inklings is a group of fans of the pub from ‘town and gown’. It is described by St John’s as a ‘diverse and eclectic mix of Oxford people, past and present’ which includes scientists and entrepreneurs, writers and artists, as well as local businesses and suppliers.

Kate O’Brien, chairman of the Inklings Group, said: “Several hundred people, brought together by a love of Oxford and the Lamb & Flag pub, have established the Inklings Group to secure the future of this well-loved pub.

“We are determined to ensure that the next 408 years of this beloved pub will be as fun, interesting and impactful as the last 408 years. Our hope and belief is that the pub will remain as a community asset at the centre of the magical Oxford scene.

“The funds to ensure a sustainable future for the pub have already been committed. This community project is not exclusive in any way and all are welcome to become an Inkling.”

Oxford Campaign for Real Ale spokesman Dave Richardson, said: “Oxford CAMRA is very pleased. The Inklings Group really have the pub’s best interests at heart and we are pleased that St John’s has partnered with a community group.

“This is the best possible outcome as far as we can see.”

Writing on the Oxford Drinker website, he said: “The best news for CAMRA members is that the pub, as a free house, will continue to serve a range of real ales, mainly by local breweries.

“There had been fears that a pub chain might take over, changing its character forever, but instead St John’s will be warmly congratulated for supporting the community-owned group that is leasing it.”

The new partnership between St John’s and the Inklings Group will see the Lamb & Flag’s historic character preserved, with the pub undergoing light redecoration and refurbishment prior to reopening.

Zoe Hancock, principal bursar of St John’s College, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Inklings Group to reopen the Lamb & Flag pub.

“The Lamb & Flag is much loved by our students, staff, Fellows and the wider community, and we believe the vision of the Inkling Group will bring great benefit to all.”