John McLellan: The magic of Rowling’s real Diagon Alley

A crowd outside Andrew McRae's Harry Potter shop. Picture: Jon Savage
A crowd outside Andrew McRae's Harry Potter shop. Picture: Jon Savage
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The Royal Mile takeover by Scottish kitsch is seemingly inexorable, with the lease of a unit apparently going for over half a million recently. That’s the lease, not ownership, so there is clearly gold in them thar See You Jimmy hats.

In the midst of it all is the phenomenal success of another business aimed at tourists, the Museum Context shop which started on Cockburn Street and then acquired the much-loved but little patronised Cresser’s brush shop on Victoria Street. Owner Andrew McRae transformed Cresser’s into a Harry Potter emporium, drawing on JK Rowling’s revelation that her Diagon Alley of wizard shops was inspired by Victoria Street, and it was such a hit in summer he had to employ security staff to control the queues. In late October, it’s still overflowing.

Architect McRae has just taken over The Old Town Bookshop and intends to maintain the tradition of selling books and prints. He also plans to extend the Diagon Alley theme and make Victoria Street an international Potter attraction with the advantage over Orlando’s Wizarding World theme park that JK Rowling actually wrote the books here. And Florida doesn’t have the Bow Bar. Some might say it’s tat of a different nature, but if it helps stop the spread of tinny pipe music I’m all for it.