J.K. Rowling spent 3 years as a student at Exeter University in Devon. Whilst a number of places throughout her life influenced the writing of Harry Potter, it is clear that the rolling hills, chocolate box villages, and historical streets of Devon and Exeter were a healthy source of inspiration.
2. 1. Gandy Street - Diagon Alley
Gandy street is a rather charming and interesting street. If you ever visit Gandy Street, you will notice its querky narrow passages, cobbled pavement, and the signs hanging outside the shop-fronts. The street is even home to its own Gringotts Bank, in the form of “The Vaults” bar. The resemblance is uncanny.
5. 2. Mardon Hall, Exeter University - Gryffindor Common Room
Mardon Hall, opened in 1933, was the University of Exeter’s first student accommodation. It was the common room which supposedly influenced JK Rowling when writing about the common room of house Gryffindor. In Mardon Hall you can find a wood-panelled library, a large and grand staircase, several large fireplaces, comfy red sofas, detailed red wallpaper adorned with the heraldic crests of Exeter and Plymouth. The colour scheme of the Mardon Hall crest is even red and yellow! You certainly won’t be finding any Holland Hall Slytherins here!
6. 3. The Old Firehouse - The Leaky Cauldron
As an Exeter student, I have frequented The Old Firehouse on many an occasion. Its got great cider, great music and great pizza. The Old Firehouse has a certain character you can’t help but notice, and I’m not surprised that this influenced JK when writing about “The Leaky Cauldron”. Take a look at the hanging chandeliers, melting candles, musty portraits, wooden panels, and twinkling fairy lights. A pub fit for any wizard I’d say.
9. 4. T.P. Wiseman, Exeter University - Albus Dumbledore
Professor Peter Wiseman was a lecturer of JK Rowling when she was at Exeter, between 1983 and 1986. Media, including daily newspapers and blogs, have speculated that Wiseman inspired the creation of the character Albus Dumbledore. The Scotsman paper published a protracted comparison of the real-life professor and the fictional wizard, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:
-Imposing, tall and thin figures with twinkling eyes and white whiskers.
-Academic leaders who are renowned for their serenity and gentle wisdom as well as their formidable intellects.
-Possessed of whimsical wit and paternal demeanour, commanding reverence and respect from generations of students.
It also goes without saying, the knowledge that JK learnt from her degree in classics was fundamental to the creation of Harry Potter. The magical universe of Harry Potter draws from a heavy base of classical mythology.
As Dumbledore was a respected wizard, Wiseman is also a respected academic. He is a fellow of the British Academy, having published many successful books, including “Catullus and his world” and “Remus”.
11. 6. The Washington Singer Building, Exeter University - Moaning Myrtle’s Bathroom
The toilets in the psychology building bear a striking resemblance to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. According to one student: “It had strange transparent pipes with what appeared to be green slime in them running from floor to ceiling and across the room, for no apparent reason; and this really cool multi-sink unit in the middle.” Unfortunately it has since been renovated, so if you’re a big green slime fan, you might be disappointed. however the original sink units remain - without a basilisk or a moaning myrtle.
12. 7. The Old Haunted House, Exeter University - The Shrieking Shack
This building has been long gone, it was knocked down and new student accommodation was built over it. (according to http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1765688&page=2)
14. 9. A blustery football game in 1986 at St James’ Park - Quidditch
“What appears to be less well known is that JK attended a match at St James Park. This was the game against Cambridge United on 21st February 1986. Apparently, according to the local newspaper, it was quite a dour game. The manager at the time was Colin Appleton and we were not a great side that season, finishing in 21st place, in front of ever dwindling crowds.
The local newspaper reported that the evening of Friday 21st February was a cold and blustery one. Not conducive to good football. Not that this mattered too much for the Grecians, as the paper reported that the ball spent so much time in the air that they could have dispensed with the pitch! The only moment of excitement, notes the match report, came early in the first half when a passing gull got caught by a hoofed clearance from Exeter City’s Keith Viney.
Was this then the inspiration for Quidditch? The ball, up in the floodlights, suggesting the Quaffle? The hit gull the basis of the snitch? The fact that the ball spent so little time near the ground, could have led to the brainwave that it would have been better if the players had been on broomsticks? To us, having looked at the evidence, the answer is clearly yes.” (via http://www.exeweb.com/2012/04/01/jk-rowling-harry-potter-quiditch-and-exeter-city-fc/)
15. 10. The Great Hall, Exeter University - The Great Hall
The location of many a gowned Exeter student’s graduation. It is likely that the “idea” of the great hall is where Rowling took her inspiration rather than the looks of the Exeter great hall itself. Personally I think the interior of the Cathedral looks rather more like “The Great Hall” in Hogwarts.
20. 14. Dawlish - John Dawlish
The character of John Dawlish - an auror at the Ministry of Magic - probably takes his name from the town of Dawlish on the South Devon coast.
21. 15. Chudleigh - Chudley Cannons
Ron Weasley’s favourite quidditch team finds its home in the village of Chudleigh, 20 minutes drive from Exeter.
22. 16. Dartmoor - Godric’s Hollow
In the Goblet of Fire, the sorting hat says “Bold Gryffindor, from wild moor”. Perhaps Godric Gryffindor’s birthplace, Godric’s Hollow, is one of the villages situated in and around Dartmoor. Dartmoor itself is an historic place deep in folklore. Widecombe-in-the-moor is pictured above.
If you do ever decide to visit Devon, make sure you keep your inner eye open for traces of wizards and magic.
P.S. A true Harry Potter fan in Exeter should probably join the university’s own Harry Potter Society!
More information can be found by clicking on the following link: www.exeterguild.org/societies/harrypottersociety/
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