Simeon Conquers York

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It has been some time since Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has had an adventure. After months of self-isolation, Simeon braved the outdoors, travelling 200 miles from London to York, the city of Romans, Vikings and Chocolate. Known for its city walls and magnificent Minster, York is situated on two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, and was founded in around 71 AD. With so much history, York was the perfect city for Simeon to explore and he would love to tell you all about it.

Day One

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Having left London at precisely 6:06 am, Simeon arrived at Ebor Cottage, York around 10:30 am (he stopped on the way for breakfast, naturally). The cottage gets its name from Eboracum, the name the Roman’s gave the city when they arrived in 71 AD, which possibly means “place of the yew trees”. Before the Roman conquest of Britain, the area was inhabited by a tribe called the Brigantes, a name which translates into contemporary English as “highlanders”. The Brigantes were unhappy about their land being taken by the Romans, who had built a wooden fortress and surrounded it with stone walls, however, it was not until AD 306 that they retaliated.

The Brigantes were temporarily subdued by Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus (c205-306) and his son Constantine (272-337), however, victory did not come without a price. Constantius Chlorus was fatally wounded in battle and passed away in his headquarters at Eboracum. His son immediately seized power, becoming Emperor on what is now the site of York Minster. Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, was the first Christian emperor of Rome and brought Christianity to Western Europe.

It did not take Simeon long to unpack his bags before he was racing off to the city centre. What better way to see the city than on a City Sightseeing bus? The open-topped bus took Simeon on a circular route around the city of York, telling him about all the sites and places to visit. Afterwards, Simeon decided to explore some of the city by himself, walking the remaining Roman walls, visiting the many gates and “bars”. The bars are actually gateways to the city that were built into the walls. The gates, on the other hand, are the streets. The term comes from the Old Norse word “gata”, which means “road” or “path”.

The bus tour began in Exhibition Square in front of York Art Gallery. Here, Simeon resisted the temptation to play in the fountains by the statue of William Etty (1787-1849), a member of the Royal Academy of Arts who was born in York. Next door is a grand building called the King’s Manor, where Charles I (1600-49) set up his headquarters during the English Civil War. On the other side of the road is Bootham Bar, one of the four main entrances to the medieval city and the oldest gateway in York dating back to the 11th century. The other bars are Monk, Walmgate and Micklegate.

Monk Bar was built in the 14th and 15th century and now houses the Richard III Experience. The second storey was added by Richard III (1452-85) in 1484. It features a portcullis, which is no longer used, and a series of holes in the walls from which guards could drop missiles onto attackers. Stone figures have been added to the top of the building to represent men throwing boulders onto their victims below. During its history, Monk Bar has been used as a prison and a police station and boasts two garderobes (medieval toilets).

Walmgate Bar is the most complete of the four bars and dates to around the 12th century, although it has had many additions over the centuries. The arch is the oldest part but the portcullis and gates are from the 15th century. The century before, a Barbican (extended wall) was built in front of the Bar. This meant attackers had to get through two gates before entering the city. Damages from cannonballs can still be seen on some parts of the Bar from the time the city was besieged by Parliamentarians in 1644.

“Off with his head and set it on York gates; so York may overlook the town of York.”
– Queen Mary in Shakespeare’s Henry VI

Micklegate Bar was once the most important of York’s gateways. At three storeys high, it was the place where severed heads of traitors were displayed on pikes and pecked at by crows. Sometimes, rotten heads were left up there for almost a decade. Despite its gruesome history, Micklegate Bar was the traditional entry for royalty, dignitaries and important visitors. They could not enter without permission and this rule is still in place today. If the current monarch wishes to enter the city through Micklegate Bar, they must first receive permission from the Lord Mayor of York.

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Clifford’s Tower

The bus took Simeon past lots of interesting places, some ancient, some old and some new-ish. After William the Conqueror (1028-87) invaded York, he built a wooden castle on a raised mound in 1068. Of course, a wooden structure would not last forever, so 200 years later Henry III (1207-72) replaced it with a stone castle, of which one tower remains today. Simeon got a good view of this structure, known as Clifford’s Tower, which was built between 1244 and 1270.

Clifford’s Tower is usually open to the public, however, due to lockdown restrictions, it was closed when Simeon visited. Luckily, the bus tour was able to tell Simeon a little about it. Known by the locals as the “Eye of York”, the 15-metre high building stands on a conical mound and provides stunning views across the city. It contains two floors, the top which once included a chapel and private apartments, however, it is now mostly roofless. At first glance, the tower may appear to be round, however, it was actually built in a quadrilobate design made up of four round bastions and two turrets.

The bus continued on past the War Memorial Gardens, which are relatively new in comparison to the majority of York. The garden was first opened in 1925 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Great War. In the centre stands a war memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and other memorials have been added since to commemorate the Second World War and the Korean War.

Another garden allegedly contains the grave of Dick Turpin (1705-39): “Richard Palmer alias Richard Turpin, notorious highwayman and horse stealer. Executed at Tyburn, April 7th 1739″. Dick Turpin was an infamous highwayman from Essex who fled to York under the pseudonym John Palmer. After a fight with a local man, his true identity was revealed and he was hung in the Knavesmire, a marshy area outside of the city walls. Many now believe Turpin’s body does not lie under the gravestone in York, however, others have recorded paranormal activity in the area. Simeon decided not to visit the gravestone and peered at it nervously from the bus in case he saw the rumoured ghostly figure on horseback.

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After Simeon’s bus journey came to an end, he was eager to explore some of the sights and immediately rushed up the steps at Botham Bar to walk along the Roman walls. Walking where the Romans once trod, Simeon came across some of the places he saw from the bus plus several other places.

The walls do not encircle the whole of York because the River Foss and the boggy land made some areas impenetrable. At the beginning of the 14th century, however, a bridge known as Layerthorpe Bridge was built across the river to increase trade. Those who crossed the bridge were required to pay a toll. It was eventually demolished and replaced in 1996 by two bridges that are used today.

The area surrounding the location of Layerthorpe Bridge has become known as Jewbury due to a Jewish cemetery that once stood there. In the 12th century, York had the largest Jewish community in England, however, in 1190 many of the Jews were forced to take their own lives at Clifford’s Tower. Later, in 1290, the remaining Jews were expelled from England by Edward I (1239-1307).

Later, Simeon came across Fishergate while walking along the wall. Whilst it was not one of the original bars, the gateway was added in medieval times. Inscribed above the central arch is the commemoration of the knighthood bestowed by Henry VII (1457-1509) in 1487 upon William Todd, the Lord Mayor of York. The tower above the gateway was used as a place to imprison Roman Catholics during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and James I (1566-1625). It was also briefly used as a place to incarcerate the mentally ill.

By this point in Simeon’s journey, he was feeling rather worn out and decided not to walk the remaining parts of the wall. This may also have been because he had spied The Postern Gate, a pub built next to the Fishergate Postern medieval tower!

Day Two

More exploring was on the cards for Simeon, this time with the help of a York Minster Area Trail put together by Treasure Trails. The trail contained 19 clues that led Simeon around York, solving hints to work out who murdered the (fictional) novice campanologist, Terry Bell. Along the way, Simeon learnt even more about the City of York.

The York Minster Area Trail began beside a Roman column that once stood in the great hall of an ancient fortress. When the building was destroyed, the column was buried, which preserved it until 1969 when it was eventually found. The trail then led Simeon to Dean’s Park where he met Gerald the Minster Cat along the way. Gerald suggested Simeon look for clues in small places, so he did, including inside a post box! Gerald warned Simeon not to appear suspicious because York Minster has its own police force. Gerald also told Simeon the Minster’s full name is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York.

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As Simeon rapidly crossed off his list of suspects, he ventured down many interestingly named streets: Chapter House Street, St. Saviourgate, Swinegate and Coffee Yard to name a few. Simeon’s favourite street, however, was Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Ironically, this is the name of the shortest street in York and only contains three buildings: 1, 1a and 1 1/2. It was first recorded in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate, meaning “Neither whit nor what street” or “Neither one thing nor the other”. The locals, however, claim it means “What a street!”

Simeon’s second favourite street is actually the most famous in York. The Shambles, which has been taken over by Harry Potter shops, is a very narrow street that gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels, meaning “flesh-shelves”, due to the number of butchers that once traded there. Some of the shops still have the hooks or “shammels” upon which meat was displayed.

Despite being the best-preserved medieval street in England, literature and film fans have likened the street to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling (b.1965). Some claim the street was actually the inspiration for the fictional alley, however, the author denies this and states she has never visited The Shambles. Nonetheless, Harry Potter fans have moved in, opening shops such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named, World of Wizardry, The Boy Wizard and The Potions Cauldron. Fortunately, the street still contains a few of the more traditional shops selling clothes, sweets, fudge, accessories and gifts.

Partway down The Shambles is a shrine dedicated to Saint Margaret Clitherow. Also known as “the pearl of York”, Margaret Clitherow (1556-85) was a butcher’s wife who converted to Catholicism in 1574 at a time when it was banned in England. Despite being fined and imprisoned multiple times by the Church of England for not attending Sunday services, Clitherow maintained her Catholic faith, celebrating mass in a rented house. She allegedly helped to hide some of the priests who were being persecuted, for which she was arrested in 1585. Refusing to plead neither guilty nor innocent, Clitherow was tortured then executed on Good Friday by being crushed to death by a door. This was a form of peine forte et dure (hard and forceful punishment) given to those who refused to plead in which the defendant was slowly crushed by a gradual accumulation of heavy stones or weights upon their body.

Margaret Clitherow was one of a few notable names Simeon came across while searching for the murderer of (fictional) Terry Bell. While walking down Stonegate, Simeon came across the house in which the infamous Guido “Guy” Fawkes (1570-1606) was born. His date of birth is not known, however, records reveal Fawkes was baptised on 13th April 1570 at St Michael le Belfry church in York. He attended St Peter’s School but left the city when he was 21 to fight in the Catholic Spanish army. When he returned to England he went straight to London to help plot the murder of James I. As the majority know, Fawkes was caught with several barrels of gunpowder in the cellar under parliament, after which he was arrested and hung, drawn and quartered.

Other names that cropped up during Simeon’s search of the city included George Hudson (1800-71) the Lord Mayor of York known as the “Railway King” for bringing the railway to York, and Yorkshireman Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), later the Bishop of Exeter, who published the first complete printed English Bible in 1535. Simeon found the location of the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in York where John Wesley (1703-91) conducted the opening service on Sunday 15th July 1759.

After two hours of deciphering clues, Simeon had solved the murder mystery. As a reward, he treated himself to a Yorkshire pudding at newly opened restaurant Forest.

Day Three

Simeon was not overly impressed with the downpour he woke up to but at least the York Minster, which he intended to visit would have a roof. York Minster, however, had not always been the stable building that it is now. Foundations under the building, which can be seen in the undercroft, date from around AD71 and once belonged to a Roman Fortress, which was later destroyed. It was some time before Christianity arrived in York and the first known Church on or near the site was a wooden structure erected around AD627 and was the location of the baptism of King Edwin (586-633) when he converted to Christianity. The wooden building was soon replaced with a stone version, where King Edwin was buried in AD633, however, it was destroyed by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069.

Despite having destroyed the first stone church, William the Conqueror gave the Archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeux (d.1100), permission to build a new church on the Roman foundations. Over the following 250 years, the church was added to by various kings and archbishops, which explains the differences in architectural styles. The original tower collapsed in 1407 and a stronger one built, therefore, the Minster was not consecrated until 3rd July 1472. Future disasters destroyed parts of the Minster, such as fires in 1829 and 1840, and subsidence in 1967, however, rescue missions have saved the Minster, which still stands in all its beauty.

“The Minster is a symphony in stone.”
– John David, Master Mason

As Simeon entered the Minster, his breath was taken away by the enormity of the Gothic Nave. Staring up at the ceiling, Simeon spotted the seven key ceiling bosses that the Victorians recreated after the loss of the original ceiling. Each boss illustrates an event in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Simeon was a little disconcerted by the golden dragon head that peers down into the Nave. No one knows its true purpose but some suggest it may have been used to lift up a heavy font lid.

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The Nave can fit up to 1,500 people, however, on Simeon’s visit, only a few people were allowed to enter at a time. The lack of crowds made it easier for Simeon to study the building carefully, which is when he discovered a series of headless statues on either side of the west entrance. “What a strange sight,” thought Simeon. “Their heads have fallen off.” Their heads, however, had not fallen off, they had been purposefully made without them.

During the Reformation, the Minster was purged of any traces of Roman Catholicism, which resulted in the decapitation of several statues. To symbolise this event, twelve headless statues were created in 2005 by Terry Hammill (b.1941) and are known as the “Semaphore Saints”. Each statue signs a different letter and when placed together, they read “Christ is here”.

Due to repair works, Simeon could not enter the northern sections of the Minster, nor could he see the great organ and its 5,403 pipes, which were hidden by scaffolding. Social distancing prevented Simeon from climbing the tall tower, however, he did not mind too much because he was so busy marvelling at the many stained glass windows. In the Nave, Simeon enjoyed studying the Tree of Jesse Window, which shows the genealogy of Jesus. Simeon’s favourite window, however, was in the Lady Chapel.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Great East Window

The Great East Window was created between 1405-8 by John Thornton (c1385- after 1433) for a fee of £46 and tells the story of the world from its beginning as told in the Book of Genesis, to its end as told in Revelations. Simeon could not see from standing on the ground, but the top piece of glass depicts God with the words “Ego sum Alpha et Omega“, which means “I am Alpha and Omega of all things”. A guide showed a close up of the glass on a tablet and pointed out the amusing graffiti left by conservators that read “top, centre” as though they would forget where it goes! It took conservators 92,400 hours to clean and protect all 311 glass panels.

Descending underground, Simeon braved the crypt, which contained some of the original Norman architecture. A disconcerting doomstone showed a carving of Hell in which lost souls were being pushed into a cauldron and boiled alive by demons. Needless to say, Simeon did not stay down there for long.

Before leaving the Minster, Simeon spent some time in the South Transept, which is the oldest part of the present building. Ironically, it has the newest roof because its old roof was destroyed when it was struck by lightning in 1984. Four years later, the roof had been rebuilt and Blue Peter set up a competition for children to design six of the new bosses on the theme of important events of the 20th century. The winning designs include the moon landing and the raising of Henry VIII’s (1419-1547) ship the Mary Rose. Another of the bosses, although not one of the competition entries, represents the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill. Simeon was slightly disappointed that his favourite song, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, was not featured.

The round window in the South Transept dates back to 1250, however, the stained glass was installed in 1515. Made up of a pattern of red and white roses, the window commemorated the union of the House of Lancaster and the House of York through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Strangely, the window features the red roses of Lancaster and the red and white Tudor rose, however, there are no white York roses. Miraculously, the Rose Window survived the lightning strike of 1984, however, it suffered 40,000 cracks in 8,000 pieces of glass. It would have been impossible to replace every panel of 16th-century glass, therefore, a special resin was produced to seal each crack.

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The wet weather put a bit of a damper on the rest of Simeon’s day, so to avoid the raindrops, he took the opportunity to explore a few shops, including those in the Shambles. Being a little gibbon with short legs, however, meant Simeon soon tired and needed refreshments. Fortunately, a stone’s throw away from Lendal bridge where Simeon had found himself, was a French Bistro called Rustique, where Simeon enjoyed steak and chips.

Day Four

From the moment he arrived in York, Simeon was keen to meet the Vikings and he finally got a chance at the Jorvik Viking Centre near Coppergate Shopping Centre. Jorvik (YOR-vik) was the name the Vikings gave to the city, from which the name York developed. In fact, the Vikings are responsible for many place names in Britain. The suffix -ness, for example, means headland, and -by means village or farm, as in Whitby: “white farm”.

Upon arriving at Jorvik, Simeon was ushered down a set of stairs, 9 metres underground to where the Viking street level once was. Years of debris and rubbish has caused the ground level to rise, however, this has been beneficial as the waterlogged soil helped to preserve the Viking village, which otherwise would have rotted to dust. Under a glass floor are the remains of two houses, which were discovered when foundations were being built for the shopping centre. Whilst the houses seem quite small, even to Simeon, they would have been the homes of large, extended families.

Formerly the Anglo-Saxon capital of Northumbria, York/Jorvik was captured by the Vikings in AD866. Under Viking rule, the city expanded and became a populous trading centre where many came to work or settle. The Vikings remained the rulers of Jorvik until AD954 when the Norwegian leader Eric Bloodaxe (885-954) was exiled from the land and possibly assassinated. Back under Anglo-Saxon control, York continued to develop, eventually becoming one of the largest cities in the new kingdom, England.

After a brief talk from a Viking (the face mask made his costume seem less authentic but Simeon did not mind), Simeon boarded the Ride Experience for a journey through a recreated Viking village featuring realistic, moving models, sounds and smells. The audio guide explained to Simeon that the Vikings arrived by sea from Scandinavia bringing with them all sorts of goods to trade, including animal pelts, whalebone and amber.

Simeon was a little concerned to see a woman tied up and even more perturbed to learn this was a common scene in Viking areas. When Vikings raided a village, they often took people captive as slaves. This woman, called Brónach, was captured in Ireland and was being taken to market to be sold. The market also sold food, including meat and fruit, clothes, and animals. Most people worked from their houses and Simeon passed a blacksmith, a cobbler, a weaver and a fisherman on his journey around the village.

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© 2012-2020 York Archaeological Trust

Whilst travelling through the market, Simeon saw a disabled lady trying to cross the road. Initially mistaking her for an elderly woman with a crutch, Simeon learnt the lady was called Leoba and moved to Jorvik when she was young. Now aged 46, which was quite old at that time, her health was beginning to deteriorate. Modelled on a skeleton that was discovered under Coppergate, Leoba had defects in her hip, knee and spine, which caused her to walk with a limp. At 5 ft 2in tall, Leoba had a widespread degenerative joint disease and traces of lead and strontium have been found on her skeleton.

Leoba was not the only Viking suffering from a physical condition that Simeon met on his trip. The leatherworker, Mord, had painfully clawed hands due to suffering from “Viking Disease”. Now known as Dupuytren’s contracture, the hand deformity occurs when the tissue under the palm of the hand begins to knot, causing the fingers to become bent.

After passing a man trying to use a cesspit (toilet), Simeon came to the final two scenes of the ride. The first revealed some of the pagan Vikings converted to Christianity. In Scandinavia, the Vikings worshipped Norse gods, such as Odin, Thor, Frey and Freya, however, they chose to leave those beliefs behind and adopt the religion of their new land. Viking monuments have been found in churches across York and several Viking rulers, including Guthfrith (d.895) and Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014), were buried in York Minster. Evidence of Pre-Christian stories has also been discovered in York, including the story of Sigurðr the dragon-slayer.

After the ride came to an end, Simeon had the opportunity to view two rooms full of Viking artefacts that were discovered below the surface of Coppergate. These included bones, weapons, knives, coins, clothing and the largest fossilised human faeces. Fortunately, there were no smells in this part of the museum!

After a cup of tea at Lucky Days Cafe on Church Street, Simeon was keen to make the most of the good weather and headed to the Museum Gardens to explore the 10 acres of land that once belonged to St Mary’s Abbey. Throughout the grounds are the remains of the Benedictine abbey that was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf II of Norway (995-1030). After the Norman invasion, the abbey was granted to a group of monks from Whitby. The remaining ruins date from the 1260s when the abbey was expanded to create a defensive wall. The abbey was converted into a palace after Henry VIII banned all monasteries in the 1530s. The palace, however, was seldom used and soon fell into disrepair.

Some of the remains were once part of St Leonard’s Hospital, which shared the grounds with St Mary’s Abbey until the Reformation. The hospital was founded shortly after 1100 to replace a former hospital that had been damaged by fire. The hospital, which looked like a church, cared for the sick, poor and elderly, however, they could be denied treatment for refusing to confess their sins and partake in regular prayers and rituals.

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To one side of the abbey and hospital ruins is a medieval building that has stood the test of time. Known as a Hospitium, the 14th-century building would have once housed guests to the abbey who were not allowed to stay in the main abbey with the monks. Whereas the abbey and hospital were destroyed, the Hospitium has gone through several uses and, although fell to disrepair a few times, was saved by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1828. Today it can be hired for weddings, parties and special events.

On the opposite side of the park is the Yorkshire Museum, which was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country. Designed by William Wilkins (1778-1839) in the neo-classical Greek Revival style, the museum opened in 1830 and is home to several collections, including geology, archaeology, natural history and palaeontology. Unfortunately, the Yorkshire Museum was still in lockdown at the time of Simeon’s visit.

Simeon’s favourite part of the garden was the botanical section, which has won the Gold Award at the Yorkshire in Bloom competition three years running. There are several themes throughout the garden, such as the Prairie Border, which contains the native flora of the American prairie, the Fern Garden, and the Oriental Border, with plants from China and Japan. Simeon liked the Butterfly Border best, which contains several perennial plants that are full of nectar and other plants on which butterflies like to hibernate.

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After leaving the garden, Simeon found himself by the River Ouse and went for a long walk up one side and down the other (actually, he was lazy and was carried the entire time!). All the walking (?!) made Simeon very tired and he was glad to find a cocktail bar on Coney Street with views of the river. After enjoying a burger at Revolution, Simeon returned to his cottage where he promptly fell asleep, dreaming of fighting Vikings in a garden full of flowers.

Day Five

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Before travelling to York, Simeon was told the city was nicknamed the Chocolate City and today he was determined to find out why. In King’s Square, a building has been devoted to York’s Chocolate Story, so using his nose, Simeon followed the scent of chocolate through the city until he found the correct building. Inside, Simeon joined his tour guide outside a make-shift shop to begin his journey through the history of chocolate.

York’s Chocolate Story has been told in the city since 2012 and begins by travelling back to around 1900 BC when the earliest evidence of humans consuming the cacao bean has been recorded. Simeon felt right at home in a room decorated to look like the Amazon rainforest and had to resist swinging from the trees but was soon captivated by the film about the origins of chocolate.

Simeon learnt that drinking chocolate has a much longer history than coffee, almost equalling the enduring history of tea. It is believed the cacao bean was discovered by the Mokaya people in the north of the Amazon rainforest who took it to other places in South and Central America. In Aztec societies, only the upper class were allowed to drink chocolate and in Mayan myths, chocolate was believed to be a gift from the gods.

Unfortunately, the way chocolate made its way to Europe paints the 16th-century explorers in a bad light. The Spanish were the first to discover the cacao-based drinks of the South American natives and were keen to trade with them. Girolamo Benzoni (1519-70) described the chocolate drink as “somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body without intoxicating”. Whilst the natives agreed to trade with the Spanish, it was in part due to the Spanish colonisation of Central and South America. In other words, the natives may not have had a choice.

It was the Europeans that first added sugar to cocoa to make the chocolate drinks sweeter. Due to the cost of both the beans and sugar, chocolate was initially a drink for the rich. In 17th-century Britain, chocolate houses began to appear in the cities where the elite would congregate to drink the precious liquid. To make more money, however, dealers began to sell compressed “cakes” of cocoa powder, which people could buy to make chocolate drinks in their own homes.

Mary Tuke (1695-1752), a Quaker, was one of the key sellers of cocoa in York. In a grocery store on Walmgate, Tuke sold the “cakes” by weight, which people would take home and add to hot milk or water. This was the precursor to the chocolate bar, which was eventually created by J. S. Fry & Sons of Bristol in 1847. When Mary Tuke died, the family business was handed down to her nephew William (1732-1822) who, in turn, passed it down the family line until it was sold to Henry Isaac Rowntree (1837-83) in 1862.

Simeon had heard of Rowntrees and is particularly fond of their fruit pastilles, so was keen to learn more. The Rowntrees company was founded by Joseph Rowntree (1801-59) who moved from Scarborough to York where he established his grocer’s shop at 28 Pavement. As a Quaker, Rowntree knew the Tuke family as well as other Quakers, such as his apprentice George Cadbury (1839-1922) who eventually set up his own chocolate factory in Birmingham. Joseph’s youngest son, Henry, worked for the Tuke’s cocoa production, and it was to him the Tukes sold their business.

Henry Rowntree died shortly after Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles launched, which saved the company from bankruptcy, and Henry’s brother Joseph (1836-1925) took over the business. Rowntrees, however, was not the only chocolate company in York. Terry’s, most associated with the Terry’s Chocolate Orange, was established in York by Robert Berry and William Bayldon in 1767. Initially known as Berry’s, they sold rock cocoa and lozenges, claiming they had many health benefits. Joseph Terry (1793-1850), a relative of Berry, joined the company at its Saint Helen’s Square (named after Constantine the Great’s mother) premises in 1824 and eventually took over the business, renaming it Joseph Terry and Company. Since 1993, Terry’s has been owned by Kraft Foods.

Craven’s, initially a sugar confectionery company famed for humbugs and other boiled sweets, is another chocolate company from York. The business had been set up by Thomas Craven and was run by his wife Mary Ann Hick (1829-1900) after his death in 1862. Craven’s main factory was at Coppergate and was known as the “French Almond Works” as this was their key product. It is on this site that the Viking remains were found and where the Jorvik Viking Centre has been situated since 1984.

Simeon was overjoyed to receive some chocolate samples to try. He was feeling rather hungry after learning about different chocolate bars. Yorkie, for example, was made by Rowntrees in the 1970s to compete with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Several names were considered, such as “Trek”, “O’Hara” and “Jones”, before they decided to name it “Yorkie” after the city of its birth. When it was first launched, Yorkie was targetted at men, hence the sexist slogan “It’s not for girls.”

Terry’s Chocolate Orange is Terry’s best-known product, however, they also developed the Chocolate Apple and the Chocolate Lemon, although neither were successful. Rowntrees, on the other hand, have had several successes, such as Polos, Smarties and the Chocolate Crisp, now known as KitKat. Now owned by Nestlé, who purchased Rowntrees in 1988, KitKats are the most sold chocolate bar around the world. In Japan, they are particularly loved due to the similarity in name to the phrase “Kitto Katsu” (you will surely win) and gifted as good luck presents. Different countries have developed alternative flavours of KitKat, such as honeycomb in Australia and a twelve-finger KitKat in New Zealand. Japan, however, has produced hundreds of flavours, including, strawberry, green tea, melon, and cheese. (“Yuck!” says Simeon.)

Simeon’s favourite part of the Chocolate Story was making his own chocolate lolly. Naturally, it did not last long. He was hungry after learning all about chocolate!

“No city in England is better furnished with provisions of every kind, not any so cheap, the river being so navigable, and so near the sea, the merchants here trade directly to what part of the world they will.”
– Daniel Defoe, 1724

With an entire afternoon at his leisure, Simeon decided to head to the River Ouse where he walked (was carried) yesterday. This time, however, Simeon was hoping to go on the river.

Near Lendel Bridge, Simeon boarded the York Sightseeing Cruise and set off on a 45-minute trip up and down the River Ouse. Simeon was not too sure whether he would enjoy the trip because it was quite breezy but, after adapting his facemask into a headscarf, he sat back and enjoyed the ride. The captain of the boat told the passengers about the history of York, pointing out famous landmarks that Simeon could see from the upper deck. The captain was full of fascinating facts about the history of flooding and trade on the river. Simeon enjoyed seeing all the views but fell about laughing when he saw a converted ice cream van-boat floating on the river!

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Back on land, Simeon was momentarily startled by a cat on the balcony of a nearby building. After being reassured the cat was a statue, Simeon learned there were several cats all over the city. The originals had been placed there to ward of rats and mice. Using a map supplied by the York Lucky Cats glass shop, Simeon set off on the York Lucky Cat Trail, determined to find them all. Craning his neck to look up at the tall buildings, Simeon found the majority of the hidden cats. His favourite was the ghost cat coming out of the wall of the Golden Fleece Pub. The pub is allegedly haunted and has reported the sightings of several ghosts. Lady Alice Peckett has been seen wandering the corridors, Geoff Monroe haunts the third floor, and a small child hides behind the entrance to the pub. Two ghosts have been reported by the bar: One-Eyed Jack and a Grumpy Old Man, who crouches in an alcove.

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Simeon decided The Golden Fleece was not the place for him, however, he was rather hungry after chasing cats all over York. Thankfully, he had spotted a restaurant called D’Vine in Swinegate and ordered himself a large pizza!

Day Six

Simeon, the little explorer, decided to step outside of York and travel through the North York Moors to the seaside town of Whitby. The journey, which took just over an hour, led Simeon up and down some steep hills and he was pleased when he caught sight of the River Esk, which headed out to the North Sea.

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The little gibbon was keen to see the ruins of Whitby Abbey on top of the East Cliff and was grateful someone was willing to carry him up the 199 steps. The abbey was founded in AD657 by the Northumbrian King Oswiu (612-670) in commemoration of his victory over the pagan king of Mercia. It was a double monastery, meaning it housed both men and women, and it soon became a place of learning. It is said a cowherd called Cædmon (657-684) was miraculously transformed into a poet while staying there. Simeon returned to sea level following the more gentle path known as “Cædmon’s Trod”.

Whitby Abbey was destroyed by Vikings in a series of raids, however, after 1066, it was rebuilt as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair when Henry VIII ordered its closure in 1539. The ruins of the abbey inspired the setting of Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) Dracula and there is a museum based on the story on the quayside.

Having conquered the East Cliff, Simeon was determined to climb the West (with help) to see the whalebone replica and the statue of Captain James Cook (1728-79) whose ship, HMS Endeavour, was built in Whitby and known by the locals as the Whitby Cat. Simeon saw a scaled-down replica of the ship in the harbour called the Bark Endeavour Whitby. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum can be found on Grape Lane, however, Simeon was eager to walk on the grade II listed West Pier, which ran parallel to the East Pier. Both piers have a lighthouse and a beacon to help guide ships in the dark. On the West Pier, a horn is sounded every 30 seconds if the piers become hidden by thick fog.

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Before returning to York, Simeon had time for some local scampi at the award-winning fish and chip shop Quayside.

Day Seven

Simeon’s trip to York has come to an end and, whilst it was sad to leave, he has lots of great memories that will last him a lifetime. As he settled into his car seat for the long journey home (via Stamford for refreshments), Simeon tried to pick out his favourite part of York. Was it making a chocolate lolly or was it visiting Jorvik? What about the Minster or the Treasure Trail? Do not forget the boat trip and the bus tour! “It is impossible to choose a favourite,” thought Simeon. “I’ll have to tell everyone about ALL of it.” And so, he did.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Buy a map. There is so much to see and so many streets, so be careful you do not get lost.
  3. Wear a mask. Obey all social distancing measures.
  4. Do not eat too much chocolate. You will get a tummy ache.
  5. Do not fall into the river. It is deep and you will get wet.
  6. Do not try to fight the Vikings. They are actors and wax models.
  7. Visit The Shambles in the evening if you want to take photographs. It is too crowded during the day.
  8. Do not fall off the Roman Walls. Not all sections have railings.
  9. Be respectful in the Minster. It is a place of worship.
  10. Pace yourself. There is so much to see. It is impossible to do it all in a day.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure

The Making of Harry Potter

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the first book in the Harry Potter series written by J. K. Rowling. Since then, what began as a bottom-of-the-shelf novel has become an international sensation that is unlikely to fade from society any time soon. Three years after Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, a film production team discovered the story of the young boy who discovers he is a wizard and developed an idea for a film. Filming began in 2000 at a studio in Leavesden on the outskirts of London, a town that has become a significant location on the map.

Warner Bros. Studio is situated on the old land belonging to Leavesden Aerodrome, an airfield that produced fighter planes during World War II and, later, Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. After closing in 1994, the hangars were converted to create suitable soundstages and recording rooms, which would eventually become home to the Harry Potter film cast and crew for over ten years. Now that all eight Harry Potter films have been produced, the studio has converted the place into a shrine-like museum for Potter fans to visit. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter reveals the secrets and unbelievable talents of the various departments involved with the biggest film series in history.

Arriving at the studios near Watford is an exciting experience for all Harry Potter fans. Before entering the building, there are photo opportunities with statues of giant chess pieces that featured in the first film and enlarged posters and newspapers containing articles from the fictional publications in the wizarding world. After getting through security checks, visitors can spend some time (potentially hours) in the huge, unfortunately overpriced, gift shop whilst they await their timed entry to the studio. As the ticket holders queue up to enter the magical world of Harry Potter, the smallest set in the films, the cupboard under the stairs, provides a teaser of the delights to come.

After a brief introductory film, visitors assemble in front of a large set of doors, which are eventually pushed open (either by a member of staff or a lucky visitor who is celebrating a birthday) in a way that is comparable with Harry’s first experience of the room on the other side. This is the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where students have their meals or magnificent feasts and balls. With huge, arched windows, real flagstones, brick walls and enormous torch holders, the hall resembles the inside of an ancient church or Westminster Hall in London.

The Great Hall is set up with two of the four lengthy tables, which the students sit at, and the staff table at the top. Models of eight of the adults stand in front of the latter as though welcoming visitors to Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, is positioned behind his golden owl podium, poised to give one of his memorable speeches.

Missing from the hall, however, is the enchanted ceiling that enthrals first years on their arrival at Hogwarts. Instead, scaffolding and lighting fixtures fill the space, which, in the films, were replaced with computer-generated visual effects to give the sense of a neverending night sky or fill the hall with floating candles.

 

Once visitors have left the Great Hall, they can view the rest of the studio at their own pace. Staff encourage everyone to take their time because, being a one-way tour, it is not possible to return to sections. In order to see everything, visitors are advised to be prepared to stay for three hours, although most people spend many more hours there.

A great number of film settings are on show, fully intact as they would have been during filming. These are surprisingly smaller than the films suggest and it is the clever skills of the cameramen that make the rooms or locations look bigger. The Gryffindor Boys’ Dormitory looks particularly tiny with child-size beds that were originally built for the 11-year old actors, forgetting that they would grow up to be gangly adolescents.

Gryffindor was one of the four houses students were sorted into on their first day at Hogwarts. Throughout Harry’s education, he shared a dormitory with his best friend Ron Weasley and three other boys, Neville Longbottom and Dean Thomas, whose initials can be seen on the trunks underneath their respective beds, and Seamus Finnigan. In the set next door, the Gryffindor Common Room shows the cosy area where Harry, Ron and their friend Hermione Granger would sit to relax or do their homework at the end of the school day. Decorated mostly in red (the house colour), the set decorators sourced medieval-looking tapestries to adorn the walls, old carpets and worn armchairs. Since none of the other house dormitories or common rooms appear in the films, there are no sets to reveal how the rest of the students lived.

The film sets of a couple of other rooms from Hogwarts are included in the tour, Dumbledore’s Office and the Potions Classroom. Dumbledore had a private office at the top of one of Hogwarts’ highest towers. It was only accessible through a secret stairwell, which was protected by a stone Griffin. Phenomenally, designers created this sculpted staircase, which, after the correct password was given, would rise out of a 12ft-hole in the ground.

Dumbledore’s office contains a huge collection of items that reflect the professor’s personality. Fascinated with the night sky, many references to astronomy can be seen around the room. There are also many mythical and fictional artefacts that are a key part of the Harry Potter stories. These include the Sword of Gryffindor and the memory cabinet.

The hundreds of books that line the shelves around Dumbledore’s desk are actually old British phonebooks covered in leather-like materials to give the impression of ancient tomes. Also in abundance are portraits of former headmasters. During production, these portraits numbered 48 and were often paintings of crew members dressed up to look like wizards.

The Potions Classroom set is also jampacked with props, particularly jars, of which there are hundreds. In the story, potions lessons were held in a dark classroom within the school’s dungeon, therefore, designers needed to make the set look as gloomy and dusty as possible.

 

Hagrid’s Hut is also an impressive set, as is the kitchen of Ron Weasley’s house. Rubeus Hagrid was the groundskeeper at Hogwarts and lived in a hut separate from the main castle. Since he was a half-giant, the contents of his hut needed to reflect his size, therefore, large furniture and props were produced. It was also rather crowded and full of cages containing real and fictional animals. On the other hand, The Burrow, belonging to the Weasleys, was a far more cosy set. Although much of the set contains typical items from the homes of “normal” people (or Muggles) many of them have been enchanted (or mechanised). Visitors can make the pans wash themselves, the iron move independently and knitting needles weave wool together by waving their hands over touch-sensitive pads.

Other sets include the green and red-bricked Ministry of Magic, the evil Professor Umbridge’s office, and the sinister Malfoy Manor. Although these were only small, many dedicated hours were taken to make them perfect for the various films. The fireplaces within the Ministry of Magic reached almost 30-feet high and were based on buildings that existed in Victorian London.

Up until this point in the tour, the sets had been rather small, however, three rather large and extremely impressive scenes soon follow. The first is the Forbidden Forest, which, as the name suggests, is a dangerous wooded area on the border of the school grounds. During the first film, scenes were shot on location at Black Park in Buckinghamshire, however, this often caused problems, for instance, unreliable weather, so the production team built their own in Leavesden instead. The tree trunks were built on a monumental scale, sometimes reaching 14-feet wide.

Parents of young children need to be aware that the Forbidden Forest set is particularly dark and involves smoke machines, scary noises and enormous spiders that dangle from the trees. Fortunately, the spiders are not real and are only physical animatronics, but that does not make them look any less terrifying, particularly the 18-foot spider hiding under the tree roots.

 

The next major set was only used during the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. This was Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, where students board the train, the Hogwarts Express, on 1st September to take them to school. For the first seven films, any scenes involving the platform were filmed at King’s Cross Station, but for ease of filming, a platform complete with track and train was produced for the very last parts of the series.

On this set, visitors can photograph each other pretending to run through the wall like the characters do in the films in order to access the platform, although, the most exciting part is climbing inside the carriage of the Hogwarts Express. The bright red train has become one of the most iconic vehicles within the film industry, however, it already had a long history prior to Harry Potter. This Great Western Railway 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall locomotive was once a passenger carriage, the very first to traverse all the different lines in England. The steam engine began work in 1937 and retired in 1963 until it found fame on screen.

Inside one of the carriages, different compartments are set up to show how they appeared in each film. Although the decoration remained the same, the contents differed as the characters got older, beginning with sweet wrappers and ending with more grown-up-looking luggage. At the back of the train, the popular sweets trolley can be seen packed full of magical looking confectionary.

 

 

Eventually, the tour leads to the most impressive of all the Harry Potter sets, Diagon Alley.  In the books and films, Diagon Alley is a magic town hidden within the City of London. Only witches and wizards can access the alley and students go there every summer to buy their books and equipment for the new school year. The set is built to look and feel like an actual street with buildings on either side. Fans will be thrilled to see shops such as Gringotts Bank, Olivander’s, Flourish and Blotts and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Set designers were inspired by scenes described in the works of Charles Dickens, therefore, walking along Diagon Alley also feels a little like going back in time.

 

Due to their nature, not all the film sets are inside. Within the backlot of the studio, where the animal actors once lived, are a few more important locations featured in the films. Although Harry’s home, or rather the home of his horrible Uncle, Aunt and cousin, was usually shot on location, a replica of his house on Privet Drive was also built. Visitors can enter the building and peak into the lounge, which shows the state of the room when thousands of letters inviting Harry to attend Hogwarts flew down the chimney.

Parked outside the house is another famous vehicle from the series, which appeared in the third film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Unlike the Hogwarts Express, which was a preexisting train, the Knight Bus was created specifically for the film. In the story, Harry takes the Knight Bus to London when he runs away from home. Being a magical bus, only wizards and witches can see it; it can also change shape and travel at illegal speeds in order to navigate the busy streets.

Designers built the bright purple bus from pieces of vintage London double-deckers. Due to having three floors, the Knight Bus reaches 22-feet and is significantly thinner than average buses. Although visitors cannot board the bus, they can peer into the rear end to see the peculiar interior.

One thing that can be physically experienced is walking across a section of the Hogwarts Bridge. J. K. Rowling never wrote about this bridge, however, it was added to the script for the third film and appeared in several thereafter. Only one section was ever built, the rest being computer-generated, but there is enough for visitors to get a sense of the rickety wooden structure. Made from old-looking wood complete with roofing (a blessing if it is raining), the Hogwarts Bridge is an impressive feat of architecture.

 

It is not only film sets that make up the Harry Potter studio tour. As already mentioned, models of the characters feature within some of the settings, for instance, the Death Eaters seated around the table in Malfoy Manor. There are also other displays of models dotted around dressed up in various costumes. Within the Great Hall at the beginning of the tour, models of the majority of Hogwarts staff stand together dressed in the typical costume they wore throughout the eight films. Around the sides of the hall are figures dressed in Hogwarts uniforms and robes. Each house has bands of different colours running through the material: Gryffindor red, Ravenclaw blue, Hufflepuff yellow, and Slytherin green.

After leaving the hall, the elaborate costumes that featured during the Yule Ball scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are on display. Visitors are particularly drawn to Hermione Granger’s impressive pink gown, which fans can buy replicas of in the gift shop although, these are really expensive. The casual clothes that Harry and his friends wore are also exhibited, showing how their appearance changed as they got older.

Some may wonder why there are two models of the headmaster Albus Dumbledore wearing vastly different robes. The reason for this is the original actor, Richard Harris (1930-2002), died between films two and three. When Michael Gambon (b1940) took over the role, instead of trying to force him into the medieval-style clothing that Harris wore, the costume department gave Dumbledore a quirky make-over.

Only devoted fans would have noticed Imelda Staunton’s (b1956) wardrobe change during her role as the notorious Dolores Umbridge. With an inclination for the colour pink, her wardrobe got pinker and pinker as her power grew. Three outfits can be seen in her equally pink office during the tour.

 

By the time the final film had concluded in 2011, the prop department had either made or purchased over 5,000 pieces of furniture, 12,000 books, and 40,000 packaging designs. Tens of thousands more props were also used in the films that do not fall into those three categories and a great number of them are on show around the tour. For some props, Victorian style objects were purchased with the intention of adapting them to look like a wizard’s device, whereas, others were built entirely from scratch.

The amount of work the prop department, graphics department and artists did for the Harry Potter series is absolutely phenomenal. They were all extremely dedicated members of the crew and spent hours making objects that barely had any screen time. Some of the most impressive are the Goblet of Fire carved from the trunk of an English Elm; doors, such as the Gringotts Vault Door, which was full of motorised moving parts; and the Magic is Might statue carved from foam and painted to look like stone.

 

Other props that were vital to the making of Harry Potter include wands and broomsticks. Each character had a unique wand meaning the prop department produced over 3,000 throughout the filming process. These were made from various materials, such as wood, plastic, and rubber, and were intricately carved so that each one had its own distinct look.

The broomsticks, on the other hand, were less prevalent in the films, most frequently appearing during a game of Quidditch – a wizarding sport. As a result, the prop department did not need as many brooms as they did wands, however, they needed to be carefully designed. Not only did the brooms need to be sturdy enough to take the weight of the actors, they needed to be light enough for an owl to carry; most of the animal scenes were not computer generated, they involved many, well-trained creatures. Three of the brooms are in a display cabinet to show the range of designs. These are named Nimbus 2000, Nimbus 2001, and Firebolt. 

After visitors have perused the Quidditch equipment, there is the option of “riding” a broom themselves. Dressed in Hogwarts robes, individuals can sit on a stationary broom in front of a green screen to have their photograph taken. During the printing process, the screen is replaced with a Harry Potter scene background, which makes a lovely memento of the day.

 

Towards the end of the tour, after everyone has had a chance to try a glass of Butterbeer or some Butterbeer flavoured ice cream, the secrets of the magical creatures in the Harry Potter films are revealed. From actors wearing prosthetic make-up to robots built from steel and foam, the Creature Effects team used every technique imaginable. A lot of computer-generated technology was needed to produce the final, moving shots of the creature, which, in itself, is like a type of magic.

The curators of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour saved the best part to the very end. Described as the “crown jewel of the Art Department” a huge model of the Hogwarts castle fills an entire room. Viewed from a balcony as well as at ground level, the hyperrealistic model is absolutely breathtaking. The construction of the model took almost 100 pairs of hands to complete and was fitted with over 300 fibre optic lights. Everything is built to scale and includes bits of gravel and real plants to make it look as authentic as possible.

For footage involving the exterior of the castle, the filming department combined shots of the model with digital effects to make it look like a real, fully functioning castle. This alone sums up the extent the studio workers were willing to go to make Harry Potter the perfect fantasy film series.

 

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour has won many awards including Best UK Attraction 2017 and Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2017. It cost £41 (adults; children are £33) to enter, which may seem like an enormous fee, however, it is worth every penny. Families can spend the entire day at the studio, either having lunch in the cafe two-thirds of the way through or at the restaurant at the beginning/end of the tour. All the staff are extremely helpful and jump at the chance to reveal further information about objects on display. Whether you are an avid fan or fairly new to the Harry Potter world, you are guaranteed to have a magical day.

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic

“There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

On 26th June 1997, J. K. Rowling published her first book in what turned out to be a highly successful, worldwide phenomenon. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was only the beginning of an extraordinary journey that has affected the hearts of millions of people and changed children’s literature forever. With seven books in the original series, it has become a multimedia marvel.

In honour of the 20th anniversary, a magical exhibition has been put together, combining a vast amount of detail from the Harry Potter series, with examples of “magic” from the real world.

What better place to host the exhibition than the British Library with its enormous collection of rare and ancient books. Being located a stone’s throw away from King’s Cross Station, which fans will know is where the famous Hogwarts Express sets off from, is an added bonus.

Centred around the Hogwarts curriculum, the exhibition takes a look at the various forms of magic that have been experimented with throughout history, evidenced with examples of literature and ancient objects.

Expertly designed to look like settings from the Harry Potter world, references to scenes from the books are interspersed with the collection, creating a magical and exciting atmosphere. Even before entering, the dangling winged keys above the heads of those queuing for their timed entry, hint of the adventure inside.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic also contains a history of the franchise with details provided by J. K. Rowling to explain the development of her ideas. From a shaky beginning to the most popular fantasy fiction, Harry Potter has been on a remarkable journey.

It is hard to imagine a world without Harry Potter, particularly for people, like myself, who were only six years old in 1997, however, J. K. Rowling initially struggled to find a publisher. Several had already rejected the manuscript before Rowling sent it to Bloomsbury, yet, even at this stage, it was not certain whether the staff would agree to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It took the strong opinion of one young person to convince the team to approve the proposal.

The founder of Bloomsbury, Nigel Newton, took the manuscript home and gave it to his daughter Alice. Who better to judge the merits of a children’s book than an eight-year-old reader? Her response set the publication in progress:

“The excitement in this book made me feel warm inside. I think it is possibly one of the best books an 8/9 year old could read!” – Alice Newton, aged eight.

The original print run was small – 500 copies – suggesting the publishers had little hope that Harry Potter would be a success. However, the interest of a film director helped to seal its fate. Steve Kloves came across the title within a dozen synopses for potential films. Intrigued by the logline, “A young boy goes to wizard’s school,” he sought out the book and was hooked immediately.

The film introduced many more people to the Harry Potter books and they were soon flying off the shelves. Today, over 450 million copies have been sold and the story has been translated into 80 different languages. It has been the most successful venture in children’s publishing.

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The two parts are designed to be watched in one day or on two consecutive nights

Success continued with the publication of companion books, such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2008, and Fantastic Beasts in 2001. The latter inspired the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), and there has also been a stage production titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016).

 

Displayed throughout the exhibition are examples of J. K. Rowling’s preliminary thoughts and work. These include typewritten first drafts, handwritten notes, sketches of Hogwarts and characters, and detailed plans.

More recently, the first three books in the Harry Potter series have been republished in a large, hardback, illustrated format. Jim Kay, the illustrator, has produced amazing drawings of the characters and settings. These are not influenced by the films starring Daniel Radcliffe, making them unique and original. Many of these are also featured in the exhibition.

Potions

The first subject in the Hogwarts curriculum to appear on the journey around the exhibition is Potions, taught for the majority of Harry’s time at the school by the nefarious Professor Snape. People have been making potions for hundreds of years, believing they can cure illnesses and other impossible things. This is evidenced by Jacob Meydenbach’s book Ortus Sanitatis, owned by the British Library, which contains information and recipes for hundreds of potions.

Visitors have the opportunity to try their hand at creating a couple of the potions that feature in the Harry Potter books. An interactive screen instructs the player to insert various ingredients into a digital cauldron. Get it right and a bottled potion appears, however, making a mistake may result in an explosion!

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Ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn’s head

In the 18th century, apothecaries sold potions or medicines made from natural ingredients for a variety of ailments. These establishments were recognised by wooden and ivory signs in the shape of a unicorn. The horn, however, was the tusk of a narwhal rather than a real unicorn horn, which was, obviously, harder to come by!

Although the Harry Potter series is a fictional creation, J. K. Rowling based a lot on truth and history. It is impressive to note the extent to which she researched, even some of the things she invented are based on existing ideas. The philosopher’s stone referenced in the title of the first book was believed to make its owner immortal. In the 15th century, George Ripley (1415-90), an alchemist, produced an illustrated scroll with instructions about how to make a philosopher’s stone. The manuscript, which has rarely been unrolled due to its size, sits in an extremely long display case for everyone to see.

The characters in Harry Potter are invented by the author, however, one name that features on a required book for the potions class is Nicolas Flamel, who did exist. A replica of his 15th-century tombstone sits to one side of the Ripley Scroll.

Herbology

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Culpeper’s English physician and complete herbal…1789

A double archway leads from the Potions section to the Herbology area. This was a core subject at Hogwarts but was also taught in the real world. Herbology is essentially the study of plants and their uses. For years, people relied on this knowledge to create ointments and medicines, even potions. The British Library has a copy of a book called Culpeper’s English Physician; and Complete Herbal which was first published in 1652. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54) was an unlicensed apothecary who wanted herbal knowledge available to everyone, hence why it was written in English rather than the traditional Latin. J.K. Rowling often consulted this book when researching for Harry Potter.

Jim Kay’s illustrations demonstrate the fictional plants that feature in the novels, but, as always, these are also based on real life. One plant is the mandrake, which does exist in real life, however, the Harry Potter ones have magical qualities; for example, they scream. There are also illustrations to compare the traditional idea of gnomes (red hat, rosy cheeks) with J. K. Rowling’s version (ugly and looks like a potato).

Charms

The curators of the Harry Potter exhibition have gone to great lengths to bring the magic of Hogwarts to life, utilising lighting effects and digital technology. To exemplify the power of charms, a flying snitch (a golden ball with wings) is seen flying across the walls. A disembodied voice chants magic spells such as “Wingardium Leviosa” and “Alohomora” which young wizards are taught at school.

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Liber Medicinalis

Magic words have also been used in real life, although not in quite the same way. Magicians and children’s entertainers still shout “Open Sesame” or “Abracadabra” when reaching the pinnacle of their act, however, “Abracadabra” dates back to the 13th century. The word was believed to have healing powers and patients were instructed to write out the word on eleven lines, leaving out one character each time, to create a triangular shape, which would then be cut out and worn around the neck like an amulet.

In the Harry Potter books, charms are more than waving a magic wand and saying a strange word. Objects can be charmed to move (e.g. the golden snitch and broomsticks), disappear, turn into something else, and so forth. In an empty glass cabinet supposedly hangs Harry’s invisibility cloak, a cloak that has been charmed to make the wearer disappear from sight. However, being an invisibility cloak, no one can see it!

Astronomy

Entering the Astronomy section is like stepping into a pretend observatory. Tiny white lights decorate the dark ceiling making it look like the night sky. Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences in existence, and although it does not involve magic, it is still an important subject in the wizarding world. Scientists have studied the night sky, determining the position of planets and stars, and discovering the secrets of the universe.

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A section of the Dunhuang Star Chart

Evidence of astronomy dates back thousands of years, however, the oldest tangible evidence to be discovered so far is a manuscript produced in China around 700AD. The Dunhuang star chart is two metres long and contains a record of the movements of the stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Civilisations used to base important decisions on the position of stars, however, this crosses over into astrology.

When writing Harry Potter, Rowling looked to the starry skies for names for many of her characters. An interactive screen allows visitors to locate certain stars in the sky that have been utilised in the series. Examples are Andromeda Tonks, Bellatrix Lestrange and Remus Lupin.

Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, is another character named after the night sky. Sirius is the brightest star that can be seen from Earth and lies within the constellation Canis Major. The star is also known as the Dog Star, which makes it an apt name for the Animagus; Sirius Black can turn himself into a large black dog.

Divination

Divination is the art of predicting the future and is often ridiculed by those who do not believe in this elusive craft; it is no different with the staff and students at Hogwarts. The teacher, Professor Sybill Trelawney, is often mocked and believed to be a fake, however, some of her prophecies prove to not only be true but are vital to the storyline.

Similarly to the methods taught at Hogwarts, predicting the future can be attempted in many different ways. The books and items displayed by the British Library give examples of techniques used across the world. Usually, when picturing a fortune teller, they are seated at a round table with a crystal ball on top. A couple of these are exhibited, along with a fake, digitally powered version that everyone is welcome to play with.

Another common technique of fortune tellers is tarot card reading or cartomancy. The exhibition contains the oldest version of the pack of 52 cards that were produced by a so-called specialist, John Lenthall (1683-1762), in the 18th century. Each card has a different meaning and can predict events in an individual’s future. An interactive table allows people to place their hands in position and receive their own fortune telling.

english-cards-from-1690-may-be-the-oldest-cards-made-for-divination

John Lenthall’s Fortune-Telling Cards, English

Defence Against the Dark Arts

A compulsory subject at Hogwarts, Defence Against the Dark Arts teaches students how to defend themselves against dark creatures and curses. This plays a vital role in Harry’s story as he fights the Dark Lord as well as other evil characters. However, there is a rumour that the position as teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts is cursed, especially as they never last longer than a year.

Throughout history, societies have believed in and attempted to protect themselves from evil beings. Sometimes talismans or amulets are worn to protect individuals from harm. Interestingly, the symbol of a snake has also been used for defence purposes, but, on the other hand, some cultures view them as evil.

In the Harry Potter series, snakes are mostly associated with evil. Voldemort, the Dark Lord, has a pet snake who measures at least twelve foot long. For Voldemort, his pet is a form of protection, but for Harry, it represents evil.

Care of Magical Creatures

The final subject is Care of Magical Creatures that is initially taught by the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid. Students are taught about a whole range of creatures: what they eat, their natural habitats, which are safe and which are dangerous, and so on. Rowling has used pre-existing creatures from mythology and folklore but adapted them to fit in with the storyline. Some of these include unicorns, dragons, phoenixes and hippogriffs.

Although, nowadays, magical creatures are believed to be a myth, plenty of books have been published on the topic. These books are known as bestiaries and contain detailed information about each curious beast.

Other magical creatures that heavily feature in Harry Potter are ghosts. The Hogwarts castle is full of them and they often interact with the students. Another are owls, which may not register as magical creatures in the real world. In J. K. Rowling’s fictional world, the witches and wizards do not use postmen, instead, they entrust their letters and parcels to an owl to deliver them straight to the recipient.

Jim Kay has produced some wonderful illustrations of the many creatures in the books, some of which can be seen in this section of the exhibition.

Here the exhibition comes to an end. Not only does everyone know more about the famous Wizarding World, they have a greater knowledge about magic in general. Combining Harry Potter and real-life examples of witchcraft and wizardry make the journey through the exhibition extra interesting and inciteful. It is truly eye-opening to discover the connections between the fictional books and “real” world.

J. K. Rowling is a truly admirable author who deserves all the recognition she has received. Harry Potter will never be forgotten and has a promising future with spin-offs, illustrated versions of books, and new forms of merchandise constantly in production.

It is hard to fault Harry Potter: A History of Magic, the British Library has done an exceptional job at sourcing and curating the exhibition. It is set out in a logical format and is easy to navigate. The only downside, if it can be called one, is that it is so popular! Tickets sell out in advance every day, meaning the exhibition gets very crowded. In an attempt to control the crowds, the Library issues timed tickets with a half hour window in which to enter. However, the eager Harry Potter fans turn up at the beginning of their slot resulting in a multitude of people entering at once. The first few sections are particularly difficult to manoeuvre around as everyone fights to see the artworks, books and information.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is open until 28th February, so there is still time to go and see the sensational exhibition – if there are any tickets left! Tickets can only be purchased online and cost £16 (£8 for under 17s). There is also an exhibition shop full of Harry Potter merchandise. Unfortunately, this is a bit pricey, but serious fans will be willing to pay the price.

Displays inspired by the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition are open in 20 public libraries across the UK as part of the Living Knowledge Network.

Art Group. February 2016

This month I tried a few different drawing subjects at Art Group: people, animals and still life. As I am only using these sessions to practice my drawing skills, I am still copying from other images I have found online. Having said that, these are not exact replicas – my own developing style comes into play and I omit or add certain details.

The animals – an elephant and a bear – were only quick sketches and I am not sure that I have got the proportions correct. Someone at the art group offered to photocopy the elephant so that I could experiment with colouring it in. I rejected this at the time, but this is an idea I could take up in the future. Maybe with a drawing I am happier with.

The drawing I am most pleased with is the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter franchise. I copied this from an image I found on Pinterest. Whilst I was drawing I could tell that my version was not accurate in comparison to the original. The eyes and mouth are a lot higher on the picture I was copying from. I thought I had ruined the whole drawing, but once I looked at it separately from the printout, I saw that it still looked like hat from the films. I got a lot of comments from some of the other group attendees, including one I was probably not meant to hear: “she’s so good isn’t she?”

After looking at examples of my art work, someone told me my drawings deserve to be in a museum. She then proceeded to show me examples of Rembrandt’s paintings saying that I should attempt something like that. A bit too ambitious, maybe!