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Essays

Echoes of the Past
Street Names in Little Whinging

by Nik the Hermit, our "man in the street"

J. K. Rowling has stated many times that memories and "echoes" from her own childhood became part of the Harry Potter Books. Two well-known examples are:

  • The use of the surname of her two friends from her early childhood, Ian and Vikki Potter
  • Using a "School Four-House System" for Hogwarts, as there was in her own secondary school, Wyedean Comprehensive
Now, I find JKR a pleasingly precise author, who very rarely makes mistakes or allows factual clashes between the books. Whilst "mapping London" I was worred about the use of the street name "Vauxhall Road". As stated elsewhere, there is no such street in London and, as far as I can find out, there never has been. JKR spent several years working in London, so it is likely she would have known this. So why did she use this name? Just a mistake? Or an effort to provide more "fog" to mask "actual" locations?

I searched through atlases to find real "Vauxhall Roads", and in the UK I only managed to find about twelve. But one rang a strange bell: "Vauxhall road, Cas-Gwent, NP6 5". The Welsh name, I remembered, was referring to the town of Chepstow... which is where JKR spent much of her childhood.

A street-plan of Chepstow showed a "Vauxhall Road", sure enough, and something else, even more intriguing...many streets grouped together (termed "Drive", "Walk", "Crescent" and "Road") with botanical names! There is no "Magnolia Road" or "Privet Drive", but there is a "Magnolia Close" and a "Rowan Drive"! And here are some others, all of which would have been within the "exploring zone" of a young teenaged Jo Rowling:

  • Maple Avenue

  • Laburnham Way

  • Hawthorn Close

  • Wirewoods Crescent

  • Sycamore Avenue

  • Bluebell Drive

  • ...and very close (perhaps the next street) to JKR's childhood home was "Elm Road".

None of the other "Vauxhall Roads" in the UK have these sorts of street names near them. It is entirely possible that the neighborhood of Privet Drive recalls the neighborhood of Rowling's childhood.

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