Any time a fan goes in search of more information about the Harry Potter series, it turns out there’s more than they ever hoped for. It’s a rich world with layers upon layers of histories, theories, and conjecture. JK Rowling herself has written a lot of it for her fans, who are always demanding more and more information about the world she created.
One of the places of particular interest has always been the house where a young Harry Potter slept under the stairs. There are a lot of fascinating facts out there about the house and the family that lived there—here are 10 you didn’t know.
10 The Real Location
When the movies began, long-time fans of the books immediately recognized the brown brick facade of the Dursley’s home in Surrey. However, the iconic house at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, is actually located at 12 Picket Post Close, Bracknell, Berkshire - around 40 miles west of London.
There actually is a “4 Privet Drive” in Bristol, UK, as well as one in Warren, Rhode Island, USA. Neither looks anything like the famous house that’s described in the books, however, so it’s hardly a surprise that Warner Bros. had to go searching for another house when they were scouting locations for the films.
9 You Could “Accio!” The Famous House for Yourself
Well, you can if you have over half a million dollars. The house at 12 Picket Post Close in Bracknell recently sold for $540,000. The inside of the house has been redone since it was initially filmed, but the front and backyard still look the same as they did in the early movies.
That said - the house has reportedly been bought and sold five times in the last six years. Given the house’s proximity to London and the wide publishing of its address, it probably often gets visited by fans who want to take photos out front. It may be unbearable for people to actually live there.
8 Filming at Privet Drive/Picket Post Close
Despite finding a perfect house that looks almost identical to the one JK Rowling described, not a lot of filming happened at the house on Picket Post Close. Reportedly, Warner Brothers only filmed on location for about two weeks during Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After that, the production company built a Privet Drive set which included all of the interiors of the house that they needed.
Building a set probably made filming interior shots easier when they had dozens of people and huge cameras around. But, while we didn’t find proof, it’s easy to speculate that as the movies got more popular, fans might have tried to swarm any on-location set, the way they did whenever Sherlock filmed on location.
7 Little Whinging Was Made Up
That’s right—the famous city the Dursleys lived in isn’t a real place you can visit. JK Rowling made the address up as part of the characterization of the home and family. Privet is a type of shrub; a group of hedges you could only have in the suburbs or countryside. It’s also a play on ‘private,’ which is a good description of the Dursleys—they don’t want people prying into their family life, no matter how much Petunia pries into her neighbors’ lives.
Little Whinging is a bit of a joke too—whinging is a British word for whining. The Dursleys, especially the child Dudley, are a family of whiners.
6 4 Privet Drive Was Based on JK Rowling’s Own Home
That is, it was sort of based on JK Rowling’s second childhood home, which was in Winterbourne, Bristol. In her planning, Privet Drive was meant to befit Vernon Dursley’s status as a company director—big and square and smugly upper-middle class.
But when Rowling visited the set at Leavesden Studios (where much of the filming was done), she felt like she was in a replica of her old childhood home. She had never described that home to a set designer or producer, but there it was—the same down to the exact position of the famous cupboard under the stairs.
5 JK Rowling Doesn’t Like the Number Four
JK Rowling wrote that she picked 4 to be the address of the Dursley’s house for “no very good reason,” except that she dislikes the number. She considers it “hard and unyielding,” which is why she designated that as the famous house’s address.
Perhaps Rowling was—unconsciously again—using the number to characterize the house and the Dursleys. All three of the main Dursley family members could be described as “hard and unyielding,” especially Petunia. Even in Deathly Hallows, when Petunia knows she may never see her nephew again, she does not yield to sentiment but remains cold and hard as they say goodbye.
4 Privet Drive Had Four Bedrooms All Along
Famously, the books start out with young Harry Potter living in a cupboard under the stairs. (He is often locked into it, a disturbing fact a lot of people gloss over.) After one of the Hogwarts letters mysteriously arrives addressed to ‘Harry Potter - The Cupboard Under the Stairs’ the Dursleys panic, realizing that the Wizarding World just might know how they are abusing Harry. They move Harry into Dudley’s second, smaller bedroom.
Then, when Aunt Marge comes to visit in Prisoner of Azkaban, she stays in a bedroom too. This means that 4 Privet Drive had four bedrooms all along—1 for Vernon and Petunia, 1 for guests, and 2 for Dudley! And Harry had to sleep in a cupboard anyway. This shows how vile the Dursleys really were.
3 The Greenhouse in the Back
When Harry moves into the smallest bedroom, he lives amongst Dudley’s broken and discarded toys, some of which he’d destroyed in a fit of temper, others through carelessness. Seeing this does a lot to characterize Dudley.
During that move, Harry remembers Dudley once had a tortoise. Apparently, he threw it through the roof of the greenhouse in the back, probably killing the animal. Clearly, Dudley learned his lack of respect for life by watching his parents abuse Harry for years. The greenhouse is never mentioned again, but it stands to reason that it continues to exist.
2 Petunia’s ‘Distinctly Un-Magical’ Decorating
When Petunia married Vernon, part of what attracted her to him was how thoroughly ordinary he was. After a childhood and adolescence being jealous of Lily’s magic (and coping by calling Lily a ‘freak’), Petunia was craving normal.
One of Petunia’s deepest secrets, however, was how desperately she wanted to join Lily at Hogwarts and had even written to Dumbledore requesting entrance. When the Wizarding World denied her, she completely rejected it, and fans can see that in her house. On Pottermore, Rowling says, “colours like peach and salmon pink are distinctly un-magical, and therefore much favored by the likes of Aunt Petunia.”
1 Boarding Up The Fireplace
The increasingly comical attempts that someone (or something?) at Hogwarts had to make to get Harry Potter his Hogwarts letter cannot be forgotten. The avalanche of letters coming in through the fireplace and Harry jumping around trying to catch one is especially memorable.
After that, Vernon boarded up the fireplace, along with every other entrance and exit to the house. Sometime after Harry left for Hogwarts, Petunia must have convinced Vernon they needed working doors and windows, but the fireplace stayed boarded up. Perhaps they found it ‘too magical’ after that and preferred the thoroughly Muggle electric fire? That association probably only increased after Goblet of Fire, when the Weasleys arrived to pick up Harry by Floo, destroying the fireplace.