Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Harry's Birthplace Marked: Commenorative plaque installed outside the former cafe where JK Rowling famously wrote part of the first Harry Potter book

Plaque spells out Harry's birthplace

The granite plaque outside the old Nicholson's cafe means the Merchiston-based writer has joined Robert Louis Stevenson in being celebrated outside an old Southside haunt.

Stories of the then penniless author writing in Nicholson's to save on the cost of heating her Leith flat have become the stuff of literary legend, although the plaque on the corner of Nicholson Street and Drummond Street makes no mention of those humble beginnings.

Alongside a picture of the 41-year-old writer, it simply states: "JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on the first floor of this building."

The plaque sits outside the Black Medicine Coffee Company shop. However, it was in the rooms above the present day coffee shop, currently the premises of a Chinese buffet restaurant, that Nicholson's operated.

The plaque was unveiled by former teacher and literary enthusiast Robert Watt and Alison Bowden, manager of the Unesco City of Literature Trust, who believe the move will help create a new writers' corner. There are already two plaques, commemorating Robert Louis Stevenson and William McGonagall, in the area.

The first is on South College Street and commemorates McGonagall, the celebrated "bad poet", who died in a flat on the street. On Drummond Street, there is a memorial in honour of Stevenson, outside Rutherford's Bar, where Stevenson was a regular customer.

Mr Watt explained: "I would like to establish a writers' corner in the city."

He said the idea first came about around 15 years ago, when he visited Samoa with the Robert Louis Stevenson Club. He said: "We were visiting the newly refurbished museum in Samoa and I thought: 'We must do something to commemorate Stevenson back home'. In a letter to his cousin, Stevenson tells him that, when in the South Seas, he had a dream about Drummond Street and the surrounding area. So we raised money for that plaque and, later, for the McGonagall one."

Mr Watt hopes to complete the writers' corner by putting a fourth plaque outside the South College university building.

He explained: "This fourth one would commemorate various writers who have passed through the university. Because there are so many, it would obviously be a bigger project and take more time. Many writers could be named, such as Conan Doyle, Darwin, Ian Rankin. And there would be room for future writers too."

Ms Bowden said: "Because Edinburgh is the City of Literature it makes sense we should be celebrating the city's writers, and of course JK Rowling is one of the most popular.

"People like to see the visual recognition, and when we were unveiling the plaque a lot of people passing by were interested in it. Credit must go to Bob Watt, who masterminded the whole thing. I think his idea of a writers' corner is a really nice idea, and now he is more than halfway there."

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