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Essays

In Search of . . . Grimmauld Place

by Ravenclaw Rambler

Number twelve, Grimmauld Place is the location of much of the action in Chapters 4 to 10 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is Sirius Black's ancestral home, and the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. This essay discusses its possible location, and also that of the Ministry of Magic.

It has been suggested that Grimmauld Place is in the Tufnell Park area of north London, with which JKR was familiar. However, this is two-and-a-half miles from King's Cross railway station, and a passage at the beginning of OP10 makes it clear that King's Cross is only a twenty-minute walk away — for a large group encumbered by a lot of heavy luggage. This puts Grimmauld Place about a mile, or a bit less, from King's Cross. Grimmauld Place must therefore lie on a circle a little less than a mile in radius, with King's Cross at its centre.

What else do we know? Well, in OP7 we have a description of Harry and Mr. Weasley's journey by Underground to the Ministry of Magic. There are several very interesting points about this journey. Firstly, they walk along several streets to a “miserable little underground station.” WEB LINKKing's Cross is served by the Underground as well as the main line station: indeed, with eight platforms, it is one of the biggest on the Underground network. Clearly King's Cross does not answer the description of the station used by Harry and Mr. Weasley. It is presumably more convenient to use this small station, rather than King's Cross, for the journey to the Ministry of Magic. Any location identified for Grimmauld Place must be consistent with a plausible reason for not taking the Underground from this station to go to King's Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express on September 1st.

Secondly, it is stated several times that the journey on the Underground takes Harry and Mr. Weasley to the very heart of London — therefore the station they go to is significantly more central than the station they started at. Moreover, at one point Mr. Weasley tells Harry that there are “four more stops” — indicating that they travel at least four stops, and probably more.

Finally, they arrive at a station which they leave by escalator. This is significant because in general only the deep-level tube lines built after 1890 have escalators. The Circle Line and the three other lines it shares tracks with date from mid-Victorian times, and were originally worked by steam trains, which of course needed ventilation to allow the steam to escape. They are much closer to the surface and their platforms are reached by ordinary stairs.

So, we are looking for somewhere rather insalubrious, a little less than one mile from King's Cross, whose nearest tube station is on a deep level tube line, and from which a journey of four stops or more on the Underground will take you to a station in central London. Note that the tube station itself may be more or less than twenty minutes' walk from King's Cross.

There are no less than fifteen stations on the London Underground within a mile of King's Cross: in alphabetical order they are WEB LINKAngel, WEB LINKCaledonian Road, WEB LINKCamden Town, WEB LINKChancery Lane, WEB LINKEuston, WEB LINKEuston Square, WEB LINKFarringdon, WEB LINKGoodge Street, WEB LINKGreat Portland Street, WEB LINKHighbury & Islington, WEB LINKHolborn, WEB LINKMornington Crescent, WEB LINKRussell Square, WEB LINKTottenham Court Road, and WEB LINKWarren Street. Let us see if we can narrow it down a bit.

King's Cross is on the northern edge of central London — see map at WEB LINKhttp://maps.google.com/maps?ll=51.530640,-0.123596&spn=0.035355,0.070694&hl=en.

A diagrammatic map of the underground network can be found at WEB LINKhttp://www.tfl.gov.uk/tube/downloads/pdf/maps/large_print_map.pdf.

Harry and Mr. Weasley travel “towards central London,” so we can assume that they start from a station that is less central than their destination. Moreover, if they started too near the centre, a journey of four or more stops would take them out of the central area.

Let us perform an orbit of King's Cross, starting in the east, and working round clockwise.

Due east of King's Cross, a bit less than a mile away in Islington, is Angel Station, on the Northern Line. I think we can eliminate this one, as if you travel four stops north or south you will be heading away from the centre of London. Interestingly, on Pentonville Road, leading uphill from King's Cross to the Angel, there is a small park named after Joseph Grimaldi (1779 - 1837) the father of modern circus clowning, who was buried in this former churchyard WEB LINKhttp://www.its-behind-you.com/grimaldi.html. It would be nice to think of Grimaldi Park as being Grimmauld Place, but if it were, surely Harry and Mr Weasley would have used nearby King's Cross station in OP7, not a "miserable little" one further away (and uphill). [fn1]

South-east of King's Cross is Farringdon, on the Circle Line, and nearby is Chancery Lane, on the Central Line. These are both much too central: Chancery Lane in particular is in the centre of “Lawyers London” (Chancery is one of the divisions of the High Court). This seems to be an unlikely area to find Grimmauld Place. I have already explained why the Circle Line's absence of escalators at its stations makes that line unlikely, whilst if you travel four or more stops away from Chancery Lane you are heading away from the centre of London, and also rapidly run out of stations with escalators — many Central Line stations still use lifts.

To the south of King's Cross we have Holborn and Tottenham Court Road. Again, these are large stations, and are very central, so that travelling four or more stops from either of these would take you away from the centre of London.

Aldwych is an interesting possibility – definitely run down in the mid 1990s, and with a peak-hour-only service it could not have been used to go to King's Cross for 11am. Against it though, we find that it was extremely central, it was one end of a shuttle service to Holborn, so they would have to change there (people who count stops on the first leg of a tube journey on which they have to change trains, only count to the interchange station) and it closed in May 1994. This would put the dates in the canon out by at least two years since the date of Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday in CS8 gives the events in the early part of Order of the Phoenix as having taken place in August 1995.

A little closer to King's Cross lies Bloomsbury, served by Russell Square station, with Goodge Street a little further west. These are both quite small stations, near the edge of the central area, and travelling four stops south would take you to Piccadilly Circus or Embankment respectively, which are both very central. Goodge Street is of particular interest because the journey from Goodge Street to King's Cross would involve a change of trains, so it may be easier to walk rather than take the underground.

We now come to a collection of stations, on various lines, strung out close together along the Euston Road to the south west of King's Cross. Great Portland Street and Euston Square are on the Circle Line, and the same considerations as at Farringdon would seem to rule them out. Euston is a big Underground station — it serves a main line station bigger than King's Cross. Warren Street is a possibility — it is four stops from Charing Cross, the official centre of London, from which distances are measured, and at the end of Whitehall, where most Government Ministries are located — perhaps including the Ministry of Magic. However, Warren Street is on a direct line to King's Cross — if Grimmauld Place was near Warren Street, why did the party not use it to travel to King's Cross on September 1st?

West of King's Cross lies Mornington Crescent, famous from the BBC radio comedy show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue — the game Mornington Crescent has only one rule, which is that the players take turns to name a Tube station, and the first one to say “Mornington Crescent” is the winner! The station is small, not on a direct line to King's Cross, and four stops would take you to Tottenham Court Road, five to Leicester Square and six to Charing Cross, all of which are very central. This would be a most promising candidate except for the unfortunate circumstance that it was mothballed from 1992 to 1998, neatly bracketing the events in the early part of Order of the Phoenix, for which the canonical date is 1995, as I have already discussed.

About twenty minutes walk north of King's Cross lies York Way station. This is definitely very run down, and would fit the bill almost perfectly except for the fact that it closed in 1932. If Harry and Mr Weasley used this station, we have to resolve a very large number of anomalies: Harry would have had to be born no later than 1917.  Frank Bryce could have been injured in the Crimean War (or maybe the American Civil War), but the Ford Anglia appearing in Chamber of Secrets would have had to be fitted with a “flux capacitor” like the DeLorean in Back to the Future (or perhaps a Time-Turner) as no Ford was badged as an Anglia until 1940! I think we'd better carry on looking!

There remain Camden Town, to the north west of King's Cross, Caledonian Road, to the north (just off the attached map), and Highbury & Islington to the northeast. As these are all rather further than a mile from King's Cross, Grimmauld Place would have to be some distance to the south of them to be only a twenty-minute walk from King's Cross. This actually supports them as possibilities, as it would explain why they were not used for the journey to King's Cross. (Another possible explanation is that Camden Town is “exit only” on Sunday mornings to reduce the crowds visiting Camden Market, so it could not have been used to travel to King's Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express at 11am on the day before term started — Hogwarts terms always seem to start on Mondays.[fn2]) At the canonical date of 1995 the area had some seedy parts, although it has been largely “gentrified” in the subsequent ten years, and a large area was swept away for the construction of the new railway line connecting St. Pancras station to the Channel Tunnel. To see what it used to be like, watch the 1950s Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, much of which was filmed on location in this area.

Five stops from Highbury & Islington takes you to Green Park station: on the other side of the eponymous park lies Whitehall, the Muggle seat of government. Could this also be where the Ministry of Magic is to be found? It's possible, although the walk to the Ministry of Magic is said to be through the streets rather than a park.

More promisingly, five stops from either Caledonian Road (on the Piccadilly Line) or Camden Town (on the Northern Line), takes you to the intersection of those two lines at Leicester Square station, which is on the Charing Cross Road, where the Leaky Cauldron is to be found (see Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). Although distance is no object to wizards who can Apparate, it would make some kind of sense for the wizards' pub to be near the Ministry of Magic. One more stop down the Northern Line takes you to Charing Cross itself, at the northern end of Whitehall.

Grimmauld Place was therefore probably about three quarters of a mile from King's Cross, somewhere to the north of it, and closer to either Camden Town or Caledonian Road station than it is to King's Cross. Consequently, the Ministry of Magic is probably near Leicester Square or Charing Cross stations, close to both the Leaky Cauldron and to the Muggle government ministries.


FN1. The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of George Scerbakov to the discussion of Angel Station and Grimaldi Park.

FN2. An alternative explanation as to why the day after the arrival at Hogwarts (2nd September) always seems to be a Monday is that Hogwarts may choose to operate a normal Monday timetable on the first day of term, regardless of what day of the week it actually is — just as my local railway company operates a Sunday service on Good Friday, and a church may have its usual Sunday services on festivals like Christmas and Ascension Day. Similar tinkering with the school calendar would help to explain a lot of date anomalies in the books, such as why there were lessons on Valentines Day 1993 (which was a Sunday), or even how there could be two Mondays in a row.

[Editor's note: The "two Mondays in a row" reference is to an error in GF that was corrected in later editions, and hence is not canon.]

© 2006 by Ravenclaw Rambler
edited by Paula Hall and MLW

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