York’s most historic street is being defiled by the dark arts. The Shambles, which is recorded in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086, is a street which has held it’s current layout since the fifteenth-century. Until the 1800s, the Shambles still had many of the butchers shops for which it was famous. In modern times, bereft of any meat-vendors, the Shambles now hosts a total of four Harry Potter shops. Four shops, York? Four!? That’s insane!
This takeover has taken place over a strikingly short period of time. It began in May 2017 with the opening of The Shop That Must Not Be Named. The public were clearly spellbound as the opening was accompanied by ample interest, with frequent queues out the door into the characteristically narrow cobbled streets. The invasion isn’t a case of dedicated Potterheads living out their fantasy, although I’m sure a lot of the actual staff enjoy their jobs for that reason. My quarrel is certainly not with them. Good luck to them if they want to wave sticks at eachother shouting made up words.
The creators of two of the later shops, The World of Wizardry and The Boy Wizard, are the business magnate Singh family. The same family also run tartan kitsch retail outlets in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, including in the city’s prestigious Royal Mile. It is a simple cash-grab.
Now, I understand the appeal of having just the one shop. It is claimed that J.K. Rowling was partly inspired by the Shambles when she created wizarding street Diagon Alley. It makes sense: the Shambles is a truly magical location. Within just a year and five months, however, the street has been transformed faster than you can say: “transfiguration”.
The Shambles has become the Harry Potter street and it has lost its original charm. The result is that one of York’s most iconic locations has been reduced to a cheap gimmick.
The Shambles has long been famous for its unique and quaint attractions, yet it is quickly becoming consumed with commercialised tat. Before you think that might be libellous and start calling the Singh’s up in anger, one of the family quite happily admitted: “Where the public want to buy tat we put tat”.
Once the wait had died down outside the original shop, I finally decided to take a gander and I was surprised that so many had Siriusly bothered to queue for so long in the wind and rain, so typical of your average day in York.
The shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow; the chocolatiers; the jewellers; shop facades that are centuries-old. All are becoming drowned out by the hordes of Hogwarts robes and mass-produced sticks. Of course, it will always be a tourist hotspot, but that tourism had originally been gene
rated by an organic appeal which has been cultivated over hundreds of years of history. This is a new Disneyfied form of tourism that has been fabricated based on a tenuous link with a little wizard with round glasses that just won’t die.
Perhaps I am wrong to question the wisdom of the market. If the demand is there then naturally the supply follows. I am a capitalist, after all. But I am also a conservationist, and the problem is that I fear that once the Shambles has established itself as a Harry Potter zone, the effect will be to drive many people away from an important historical landmark.
This will ultimately damage the overall economy of the street when muggles are driven away, as well as simply making it less accessible for locals. The local council have really butchered this internationally-reknowned butchers street’s meaty reputation for authenticity.
These sorts of hotspots are better kept out of the way, and certainly away from places of great historical and local significance like the Shambles. That way the Potterheads get their escape from reality and the general public get their escape from them.
The Harry Potter attraction at London King’s Cross station works perfectly. It attracts vast masses of fans queuing in the hopes of getting their picture taken with half a trolley in a wall. Yet, it’s never a nuisance because it’s, well, just a trolley against a random wall away from any actual platforms.
That being said, I know what the probable response is to saying that the heart of Yorkshire ought to take lessons from London. It’s likely to be a lot more strongly-worded than Avada Kedavra.