The Elephant House cafe, which is a cafe in Edinburgh situated on George IV Bridge, has long been claimed to be the birthplace of Harry Potter, as JK Rowling was known to visit the cafe in the early days of her writing career.
The cafe has a sign on the front of the building which states that is the “birthplace” of Harry Potter, as well as merchandise on its website that says the same.
Other writers the Elephant House claims to have frequented the cafe are Ian Rankin, author of the bestselling Rebus series, and Alexander McCall-Smith, the writer behind The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as well as other works.
What happened to the cafe?
On the evening of Tuesday 24 August, firefighters were alerted of reports of a building fire at George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.
Firefighters spent more than 24 hours tackling the blaze which affected several properties, including the Elephant House cafe.
At the time Elephant House owner David Taylor told the BBC: “We thought yesterday that we would just have to deal with smoke and water damage but having been allowed a quick look inside today I can see that is not the case and in fact there is a lot of fire damage too.
“To say I’m devastated is an understatement. I think it will take months to rebuild, but it’s hard to say.
“Everyone has suffered over the last two years and we had been having a half decent festival, even though we were running at 50%, so to have suffered this fire is terrible.”
What happened to the famous table?
A cafe table where Rowling wrote sections of her Harry Potter books has successfully been salvaged from fire.
Taylor said that he was “immensely relieved” to find Rowling’s table amongst the rubble. He said that while it had suffered from water and smoke damage, it would be restored.
Taylor said: “Thankfully I’ve found JK Rowling’s table among the rubble and although it is water and smoke damaged, it was in the back room so it can be saved.
“It is going to the restorers on Thursday and I’m just so relieved this bit of history has been retained.”
However, Taylor said that a valuable edition of a signed Harry Potter book was still missing.
He said: “There are piles of rubble everywhere so I’m hoping it is under one of them. I’ve started the search.”
What has JK Rowling said about the cafe?
Appearing on Simon Armitage’s podcast in July, Rowling talked about how she used to write in the Elephant House, and the now gone Nicolson’s, which was co-owned by her brother in law.
She said: “That was a lovely space with a really great view of the castle.
“I met the owner years later and he said, “You never come in any more”. In a dream world I would still go in there but it is just not humanly possible to go in there anymore and write.
“I had to stop writing in cafes. I really loved it but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Is the Elephant Cafe really the birthplace of Harry Potter?
While she did frequent the cafe while writing, Rowling has since dismissed the claim that the Elephant House is the birthplace of Harry Potter.
Regarding the sign on The Elephant House which read “birthplace of Harry Potter”, Rowling tweeted: “I’d been writing Potter for several years before I ever set foot in this cafe, so it’s not the birthplace, but I *did* write in there so we’ll let them off!”
Rowling then shared a picture of the flat in Clapham where she began writing.
She wrote: “This is the true birthplace of Harry Potter if you define ‘birthplace’ as the spot where I put pen to paper for the first time.
“I was renting a room in a flat over what was then a sports shop. The first bricks of Hogwarts were laid in a flat in Clapham Junction.”
Rowling added: “If you define the birthplace of Harry Potter as the moment when I had the initial idea, then it was a Manchester-London train.
“I’m perennially amused by the idea that Hogwarts was directly inspired by the beautiful places I saw or visited because it’s so far from the truth.”
She also shared the location where she invented the fictional wizarding sport of Quidditch.
Posting a picture of a red brick building in Manchester, Rowling wrote: “This building is in Manchester and used to be the Bourneville Hotel… I spent a single night there in 1991, and when I left in the morning, I’d invented Quidditch.”
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