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What’s On London: Harry Potter A History of Magic at British Library Preview

Harry Potter fans: get down to the British Library this autumn for this long-awaited exhibition...

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We’re deadly Sirius – an exhibition celebrating all things Harry Potter and the history of magic is about to open in London. Read all about it here…

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at The British Library

Harry Potter fans: start getting excited. The British Library’s much-anticipated exhibition is finally opening, just in time for the festive period, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Located just a few muggle steps from Platform 9¾, the new exhibition promises to be absolutely spellbinding, exploring the fascinating history behind the magic and myth that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.

Harry Potter Exhibition

c. Tony Antoniou


Thought that J.K. Rowling conjured it all up out of thin air? While she is undoubtedly a genius, she had a little help from history… A Classicist by training, she was heavily influenced by the vast history of myth and magic when she came to writing the Harry Potter saga, from using Latin spells to discovering mythical creatures in old, dusty tomes.

This exciting exhibition will display rare books, manuscripts and fascinating objects from the British Library’s collection, all rooted in the mystical and magical. There will also be never-before-seen pieces from J.K. Rowling’s private collection, including sketches, notes and even original drafts of the Harry Potter stories. You’ll also be able to see drawings by Harry Potter illustrator Jim Kay for the first time.

The exhibition will be structured according to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry curriculum, with different sections for Potions, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy.

Harry Potter Exhibition

Detail: A phoenix rising from the ashes in a 13th century bestiary (c. British Library)

Keep an eye out for the gigantic 16th-century Ripley Scroll that explains how to create a Philosopher’s Stone – and learn all about the ancient art of alchemy that dates back at least to the time of the ancient Egyptians. There’ll be hand-coloured ancient pictures of dragons, unicorns, a beautiful phoenix rising from the flames and other mythical creatures which wouldn’t be out of place in the Forbidden Forest, and don’t miss the Chinese oracle bones that were used for divination over 3,000 years ago.

What else?

You needn’t leave the magical world of Harry Potter at the end of the exhibition – the British Library is hosting a huge number of activities, talks, workshops and events that you can get involved in. See the full list here.

Some highlights include:

Hogwarts, Poudlard, Rokfort: Translating Harry Potter‘ on 9 November. Ever wondered how you say ‘Snitch’ in Icelandic?

21st-Century Magic panel discussion on 27 February. Find out how witches, druids and pagans practice today

Picturing Magic a six-week course beginning 21 October. Be inspired by ancient books, manuscripts and objects, and create your own fantastical illustrations

Harry Potter Exhibition

Jacob Meydenbach Ortus Sanitatis, Strasbourg 1491 (c. British Library)

And, of course, the Hogwarts Curriculum Lectures – for those of you who just can’t get enough…

Astronomy with Maggie Aderin-Pocock, on Sunday 29 October

Herbology with Anna Pavord, on Sunday 12 November

Potions with Jane Pettigrew, on Sunday 26 November

Care of Magical Creatures with Patrick Aryee, on Sunday 3 December

Alchemy with the Science Museum, on Tuesday 12 December

History of Magic with Irving Finkel, on Saturday 13 January

Defence Against the Dark Arts with Christopher Frayling, on Monday 22 January

Charms with David Halpern, on Thursday 25 January

Divination with Marc Salem, on Thursday 15 February


The exhibition opens to the public on October 20, and will run until February 28 – advance booking online is highly recommended, as some dates have already sold out. You can book tickets here.

Held at The British Library, 96 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London NW1 2DB

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