What we made of the Harry Potter exhibition at the Harris

Posted on - 9th November, 2017 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - City Centre, Preston City Centre, Reviews, Things to Do in and around Preston, What's On in Preston
There's a few of Dobby's socks hanging around in the Harris
There’s a few of Dobby’s socks hanging around in the Harris

The ‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’ exhibition has opened to the public at Preston’s Harris Museum and Art Gallery.


In parallel with a major display on the same subject at the British Library in London, the exhibition marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, by J.K. Rowling.

The Harris Museum is one of 22 other libraries across the country to be loaned some of the artefacts and information as part of the Living Knowledge Network – an innovative partnership with the British Library.

With news spreading far and wide about the exhibition, and with excitement having been stirred up within local communities, we went along to see what all the fuss was about.

Which way to Hogwarts?
Which way to Hogwarts?

On entering the Harris, we made our way up to the first floor where the exhibition was being displayed and spotted a wooden sign with some directional arrows on it; one saying ‘Hogwarts’, and pointing into the Community History Library.

Behind the desk, the staff had created mock-up ‘Room of Requirement’ and had strategically placed some books and quills along the counter.

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The Community History Library is quite a large room split into two sections, and the exhibition took over most of the left hand side of the room.

There were several pyramid-shaped boards dotted across the floor with written blurbs providing visitors with snippets of information on some of the subjects the characters in Harry Potter covered while studying at Hogwarts.

From the History of Divination to Potions and Alchemy; from Astronomy to Charms; Herbology to the Care of Magical Creatures, and even a section on Defence against the Dark Arts; the boards gave brief insight into their deliverance at Hogwarts and also referred to how the subjects had been studied and explored in real life.

There were glass cabinets positioned in between the boards containing rare-artefacts from the British Library collection, including a sexton and a telescope.

Some of the Potter collection on display
Some of the Potter collection on display

The exhibition also included some items from local connections to folklore, with a display of two Lancashire charms: The first had been found hidden in a house wall in Sabden Fold and had been written to ward off evil spirits. It was believed to have been placed there around 1800 and contains a prayer in Latin. The second was a charm dating from 1773 called “Directions for Curing Cows”.

Despite this though, there wasn’t a lot else to see and it took all of fifteen minutes to walk round and read what was on display. The majority of the exhibition, quite disappointingly, seemed to cater for a much older audience than those young fans who would’ve been excited to see something they’d read about in the books or watched in the films.

The items and artefacts provided by the British Library were sparse, and in all honesty, there wasn’t enough to keep even an avid fan of the Harry Potter series entertained. There was no ‘magical atmosphere’ and it was very limited in terms of entertainment for younger children.

To give the Harris Museum some credit though, a section of the exhibition been given over to children, with the inclusion of a drawing station where youngsters could colour in pictures of Harry Potter and his friends.

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There were also two rows of string hanging from a wall on which children could peg paper socks for Dobby the House Elf; and a desk had been placed towards the back of the room where kids could sit and stamp some ‘Hogwarts Library’ slips and read about the Polyjuice Potion while dressing-up in a Harry Potter tie and school cloak and donning a replica pair of the famous Harry Potter glasses.

A mirror had been placed against the wall that distorted the reflection (a possible attempt at the Mirror of Erised?), and a chimney created in order to replicate the one from which Harry receives his letters.

Obviously the exhibition was never going to be able to emulate the one from the British Library; and the Harris had clearly been limited in terms of items and artefacts it had been loaned; but with so much excitement surrounding the exhibition we couldn’t help feel a little underwhelmed by it.

One of the parts of the Harris exhibition
One of the parts of the Harris exhibition

As good as it was to see something as big as this hit Lancashire, with the exhibition cementing the Harris as a pioneering museum, and the Living Knowledge Network providing the ‘ability to inspire audiences, share knowledge and celebrate the transformative and enduring power of libraries,’ it wasn’t exactly what we had been expecting.

According to a Harris spokesperson, the exhibition had attracted a fair number of visitors since it began, which is fantastic for the museum as a whole as it means that families and people from the Lancashire community are making efforts to engage and take part in local events; but if visitors with young children were expecting something spectacular, with an array of cardboard cut-outs, or artefacts from the films, and impressive interactive imagery then they’d be left disappointed.

Despite this though, it was informative and interesting, but the exhibition as a whole is probably more suited to those who prefer the written word and who are keen to learn about the history of the books, as opposed to those who are looking for something more visual.

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Mention the words ‘Harry Potter’ and most kids (and some adults too) would automatically think of the films, so while not being entirely what was expected, the Harry Potter Exhibition at the Harris Museum cannot be faulted for effort; it’s a great coup for Preston and for die-hard Harry Potter fans, it’s really nothing to be sneered at.

Have you been to the Harry Potter exhibition? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below

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