Harry Potter and the Magical Kingdom
By Craig Lancto
Hogwarts, the fictional School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry that sprang full-blown from the brow of J.K. Rowling, is more
fantastic for the English traveler who can visit the less than fictional
castle, cloisters, and grounds that appear as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter
films, and embrace the historical significance of each.
Our pilgrimage to Hogwarts began in London’s King’s
Cross Station, the usual departure point for Hogwarts-bound students.
Inside, we see the pedestrian bridge that Harry and his
giant friend Hagrid cross in The Sorcerer’s Stone, stretching over the
tracks in the main station. Platform 9¾, however, is nowhere to be seen.
Potter fans will recall that access to the Hogwarts
Express at Platform 9¾ is through what appears to Muggles—non-magical
folk—as the solid pier of an archway. The magical entrance to Platform 9¾
was actually filmed at Platform 4, but clueless pilgrims might well be
disorientated by a sign attached to the exterior wall of the annex housing
tracks 9, 10, and 11, marking that spot as the entrance to Platform 9¾.
Not to worry, though. According to The Harry Potter
Lexicon ( www.hp-lexicon.org ), Rowling, who was living in Manchester when she
wrote the scene, said that she actually was picturing Euston Station when
she described Platform 9¾ , hence the bit of confusion.
Ineligible for the Hogwarts Express we chose to drive
from London to Hogwarts, parts of which are spread across England like an
enchanted jigsaw puzzle.
To illustrate: In one scene toward the end of The
Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Ron, and their pal Hermoine, run from the grounds
in front of Alnwick Castle’s twin towers to Hagrid’s hut (constructed for
the film), near the “Dark Forest,” Black Park in Buckinghamshire, about
three hundred miles away–—with the castle still in view behind the
youngsters as they talk to Hagrid. They then leave Hagrid to rush into the
office of Professor McGonagall, the head of Gryffindor house, to which
Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are assigned. Although the exterior of McGonagall’s
office is shot at Alnwick, her classroom is the Chapter House at Durham
Cathedral in the north of England, about 45 miles from Alnwick. In three
consecutive scenes, the youngsters cover about 600 miles among three
locations that represent much of the cinematic Hogwarts.
We began with the cloisters in which paralyzed victims
are discovered, along with a bloody warning scrawled on the walls, in a
Chamber of Horrors. For these we had to return to the Norman Conquest and
the elegant Gloucester Cathedral.
The cathedral cloisters frequently appear as Hogwarts
corridors, most notably when the girls’ lavatory flooded (for which a
protective flooring was laid over the original). The magnificent ceilings are the world’s first example of
fan-vaulting. A tiny entry off the southeast corner was transformed into the
entrance to Gryffindor’s common room.
In 1089, William the Conqueror ordered the cathedral
built on the site of the seventh century St. Peter’s Abbey established by
St. Osric, whose tomb in the cathedral is next to Edward II’s.
After his father’s death, Edward III ordered
construction of the alabaster effigy and Caen-stone Gothic canopy of his
tomb in the north ambulatory. The pillars were cut away so that pilgrims –
who provided a considerable source of revenue for the Cathedral’s
construction - could walk around the tomb.
A stained glass window commemorates the cathedral’s
1216 coronation of nine-year-old Henry III, the only monarch since William I
to be was crowned outside of Westminster Abbey.
Nearby, the painted wooden effigy of Robert II, Duke of
Normandy, eldest son of William I (Conqueror), is a colorful contrast to its
monochromatic surroundings. Robert, who had rebelled against his father in
1077, redeemed himself in 1080 by re-establishing order in the County of
Durham, imposing Norman authority over the King of Scotland.
According to legend, William I issued orders for the
Domesday Book, an accounting of all of the population and property in
England, in the charter house at Gloucester cathedral.
In 1087, William was mortally injured in Mantes while
fighting the French king over the Vexin, a territory between Normandy and
Paris. William died a few days later in Rouen. At his death he gave Normandy
to Robert and England to Robert’s younger brother, William II. After a
half-dozen years in which he warred with William II (Rufus), Robert put
Normandy up as collateral for a loan from William and went on the First
Crusade (1096 -1100), where he so distinguished himself in battle that he
was offered the command of Jerusalem, which he declined. When William II
died in hunting accident, Henry I, William I’s youngest son, (who was among
the hunting party) inherited the throne amid rumors that he was involved in
his brother’s mishap. It was time for Robert to invade England (1101) again.
When he failed, he returned to Normandy, where he was unable to control his
barons. In 1105, his brother, Henry I, took advantage of the instability,
invading Normandy, taking his older brother captive, and imprisoning him at
Castle Cardiff, where he died in 1134.
John Stafford-Smith, the organist who composed the
music for what would become the Star-Spangled Banner, is also interred in
the cathedral, which explains the American flag flying near his burial site.
Not noticeable in the movie, but well worth a look, is
the beautiful and graceful lierne vaulting, also believed to be the first of
its kind, in the south transept and choir vault. And, at 72’ by 34’, the
cathedral’s Crecy window (1360), is believed to be the largest stained glass
window in Europe.
Regretfully leaving Gloucester, we drive the relatively
short distance to Oxford University.
When Professor McGonagall greets first-year students on
the front steps before leading them into the dining hall at Hogwarts, she is
standing atop the sixteenth-century staircase that leads to the Great Hall
at Christ Church, Oxford. Hogwarts’
hall replicates that at Christ Church in which Charles I held parliament
during the English Civil War. Literary and political connections to this
college are abundant, but we should note that this is the Hall in which
librarian and mathematics teacher Charles Dodson took his meals after
punting on the Isis with Alice Liddell and her sisters, for whom he wrote
the Alice books in which he recorded the tales he told on their excursions,
under the pen name Lewis Carroll, which he had adopted as a reporter for his
Among the Great Hall portraits are those of John Locke,
W.H. Auden, John Wesley, William Gladstone and the dozen other prime
ministers educated at the college, and Henry VIII, who established the
college as University College when the original founder, Cardinal Wolsey,
fell from grace. There is also a portrait of pacifist William Penn in armor.
A visitor might wonder whether these ghosts inspired those who flit through
the Great Hall at Hogwarts.
The Great Hall, indeed all of Christ Church—also known
as The House—reveals many of the surroundings that Carroll worked into the
stories he invented for Dean Liddell’s children. Should you visit, be sure
to talk with the porters, those wonderful men in the funny hats, who can
enrich your visit with the knowledge they have garnered during their
service. Christ Church is unique among colleges in having a Cathedral on the
Other school interiors were filmed in Oxford’s Bodleian
Among those who have studied at Christ Church are the
current Duke of Northumberland and his father, the eleventh Duke, whose home
is Alnwick Castle.
Alnwick Castle is about 250 miles northeast of Oxford,
roughly twenty miles south of Scotland and forty miles north of Newcastle.
The Hogwarts we see in long shots is Alnwick enhanced with towers and
additions by graphic artists, but while some close-up shots have added
ornate towers, others show the castle as it looks today.
Unlike Hogwarts, Alnwick spreads across elevated
ground, not craggy cliffs, and there is no lake at Alnwick, although the
fourth Duke had the river Aln smoothed out better to reflect the image of
his castle at about the same time he had homes cleared away to make the
meadows beyond more aesthetically pleasing.
In such scenes as when Professor Hootch introduces her
students to fundamentals of flying brooms and the rudiments of quidditch,
the high-flying, competitive, and dangerous school sport, the castle
background is unretouched. When he inadvertently takes flight, class klutz
Neville Longbottom is snagged from his runaway broom by one of the many
martial figures atop the castle’s barbican. The actual figures are of
varying ages, most from the nineteenth century, with some erected
specifically for the Potter movies.
Alnwick, the second largest inhabited castle in
England, has been home to the Percy family for the past 700 years. The
oldest part of the castle dates to the eleventh century. One of the twin
towers into which Hagrid drags a Christmas tree was the birthplace of
Shakespeare’s Harry “Hotspur” Percy (Henry IV), in 1366.
The Percy family has been deeply immersed in English
politics from the time that William de Percy arrived with William Conqueror
Through its long history, Alnwick Castle has often been
either the staging area for battles against Scotland–or part of Scotland.
The Percy’s were loyal to Scottish monarchs about as often as English ones.
Within England, Percy loyalties also fluctuated depending on which monarch
and which Percy was involved.
The second Earl, for example, a close friend of Henry
V, was killed in the War of the Roses, but Richard II accused the fourth
Earl, Hotspur’s father, of treason when he refused to respond to the King’s
summons. Richard’s accusation was realized when the Earl and his fellow
barons deposed Richard in favor of Henry IV. Henry VI sent the sixth Earl to
arrest Cardinal Wolsey, which Shakespeare portrays in Henry VI.
Saint Thomas Percy, the seventh Earl, was beatified
after Elizabeth I had him beheaded for refusing to disavow his Catholic
faith. His brother, the eighth Earl, was imprisoned in the Tower of London
on three occasions, the third of which ended with his being found shot
through the heart.
In 1605, Thomas Percy, constable for his cousin the
ninth Earl, was killed for his part in the notorious Gunpowder Plot. His
innocent cousin, loyal to James I whose ascension he had supported, was
imprisoned in the Tower for seventeen years.
In the early eighteenth century, Hugh Smithson, first
Duke of Northumberland, married into the family and changed his name to
Percy, although the original surname survives in the Washington institution
founded by James Smithson, his illegitimate son, for the "increase and
diffusion of knowledge.” The Duke undertook extensive renovation of the
castle and added to the number of medieval figures on the rooftops.
Alnwick’s medieval exterior has made it a popular film
setting. It has been used in filming parts of Becket with Peter O'Toole and
Richard Burton, Ivanhoe starring Anthony Andrews and Sam Neill, Mary Queen
of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave, and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin
Costner. It was also used in filming the popular “Black Adder” television
series starring Rowan Atkinson.
When the Percys bought Alnwick, it had been in de Vescy
hands for two centuries. Under Edward II (whom we met at Gloucester), the
first Prince of Wales and a weak and largely unpopular king, the last of the
line, John de Vescy, died at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), which defeat
resulted in four hundred years of Scottish independence. Henry, the first
Lord Percy of Alnwick, was among the barons who killed Edward’s hated
favorite, Piers Gaveston.
When Edward was murdered at Berkeley Castle where his
wife, Isabella (whom he called a She-Wolf) and her intimate friend, Robert
Mortimer, had imprisoned him after invading England, he was buried in
Gloucester Cathedral (as later was Isabella’s heart).
Gloucester does not have exclusive claim to Hogwarts’
cloisters, though. Many of the hallway scenes are from the Benedictine
monastery at Durham Cathedral in the north, near Alnwick. While the
Gloucester cloisters are remarkable for their vaulted ceilings and glass
windows, the Gothic windows in Durham’s cloisters are open to the elements. The garth
at the center of the monastery’s cloisters is seen as a snowy setting where quidditch
players meet in the Chamber of Horrors, and, as noted earlier, the
monastery’s chapter house serves as Professor McGonagall’s classroom.
A word of caution to visitors, though: We were
chagrined to learn that vehicles require a special permit to drive to the
vicinity of Durham Cathedral, and photographing the interior is permitted
only with costly licenses that must be obtained well in advance. We would
likely have skipped the visit if we had been aware of the restrictions.
However, one marvelous surprise in this least hospitable of the Hogwarts
venues is the tomb of the Venerable Bede (c. 673-735), the Benedictine monk
whose Ecclesiastical History of England has provided detailed information
for generations of scholars. St. Bede also wrote a biography of St.
Cuthbert, a monk from Lindesfarne Island, and Durham’s patron saint, whose
remains were reported to be uncorrupted when his casket was opened in 1104,
before being reburied behind the high altar at the south end of the
cathedral –with the head of the martyred King, St. Oswald.
Harry Potter’s Hogwarts is magical site, but the actual
sites used in filming are filled with England’s past and a curious linkage
of one to the next. Like so much in England, they offer old-world beauty, a
rich past, and now, the aura of the magic of film.
On the Internet:
The Percy family and Alnwick Castle:
The Harry Potter Lexicon:
Christ Church, Oxford:
: Craig Lancto