The latest addition to Edinburgh’s vibrant retail sector is proving a star attraction for tourists and locals alike. “Diagon House”, 40 Victoria Street, is a unique and immersive shopping experience that Harry Potter fans can’t get enough of. The cobbled Victorian street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, with its colourful shop fronts and variety of independent traders selling everything from old books and antiques, to jokes and jewellery, is believed to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
JK Rowling was living and writing in Edinburgh when she conjured up the vision of the now-famous hidden shopping street for wizards that first appears in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Although the fictional Diagon Alley is situated behind the Leaky Cauldron, just off London’s Charing Cross Road, the similarities with Victoria Street are striking.
Apart from the architecture and the curious mixture of shops, Victoria Street is believed to house the secrets of Major Weir’s house, a man notorious as ‘the Wizard of the West Bow’, who was executed for witchcraft in 1670. It was thought that his house was completely demolished when Victoria Street was built, but some parts may still exist, hidden in the Quaker Meeting House on the upper terrace.
The curated collection of official quality Harry Potter merchandise and other curios and collectables crammed into “Diagon House” is the brainchild of conservation architect and prominent independent retailer Andrew McRae.
He said: “The shop holds a special place in the hearts of Edinburgh people as the home of Robert Cresser’s Brush Shop which traded from these premises for over 130 years. The family would have originally lived on the top floor, making brushes and broomsticks in the middle-floor workshop and selling them from the ground floor shop.
“I wanted to create an authentic shopping experience that arouses visitor’s curiosity and reflects my own passion for period property and quality craftsmanship. The effect is a higgledy piggledy display of carefully curated gift and home interior items that visitors love to explore and can enjoy the feeling of discovery. Official Harry Potter merchandise can be found amongst work by local artists and a whole range of weird and wonderful curiosities to suit all pockets. It’s definitely the immersive experience that people are queuing up for.”
Mr McRae has been overwhelmed by the attention his shopping experience has attracted, with customers beginning to queue before he opens the doors open each morning.
“Because the shop is the real-deal and not a themed concept store, the limited floor space and narrow staircase restricts the number of customers we can let in in at a time to ensure they have a chance to enjoy their visit. We have been opening for longer hours to cope with the huge demand. We are a small local business, which is part of the appeal I think, and we work tirelessly to source items from multiple suppliers and artists around the world that won’t be found anywhere else.”
“Diagon House” opened in 2013 and began stocking quality official Harry Potter merchandise in July 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.