When I looked outside the window at the hostel in London this morning, it looked like a gray, cloudy, wet, rainy day. That wouldn’t do for any backdrop set of any cheerful classic children’s book I knew. But I was prepared. Before leaving The Netherlands I had done some reseach in several of the authors, illustrators, landscape settings and main characters of those books and noticed that when visiting London it was possible to visit multiple locations in and around the town that were somehow connected to those stories. When arriving in London 2 weeks ago by now, I had at 1st planned to visit some Harry Potter related sites and one of those would have been the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, where the now famous movies were filmed. But to my complete surprise it was simply not possible to get in there. The studios were fully booked for several weeks. Then I tried to get on a studio tour at the very end of my England journey and although these dates were almost fully booked too, I succeeded in getting a guided tour ticket for today 🙂 That meant something like: “Unwrapping delicious WONKA Chocolate Bar and subsequently finding the GOLDEN ENTRANCE TICKET to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!!!”.
MAJOR TIP!!!: Book these tickets very early!!! It is possible to buy tickets at the box office but these are often sold out. To get one at the box office you need to be very very early and even then it gets extremely crowded. Another option is ordering a ticket through internet (several sites offer these with or without a guide). These tickets have to be ordered many weeks before visiting. I booked a ticket including a studio guide which included tranport, entrance and a fully guided tour through the studios BEFORE THE BIG CROWD WAS ALLOWED TO ENTER!
After booking this ticket, I got a location at Euston Railroad station, where to meet my guide and the rest of the group that had also booked today.
This was quite near to my hostel and I arranged with the owner that I could leave my luggage at the hostel and retrieve that after the Studio Tour, because I had booked my 2nd and last night in London in the hostel near King’s Cross station.
The Knight Bus I
In the bus an introductory video is shown about the Harry Potter & Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
Then we arrived at Leavesden’s Warner Bros. Studios.
Warner Bros. Studios – Leavesden
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden is an 80-hectare studio complex in Leavesden in Hertfordshire, in southeast England. Formerly known as Leavesden Film Studios and still colloquially known as Leavesden Studios or simply Leavesden, it is a film and media complex owned by Warner Bros. The studios were all converted from an aircraft factory and airfield called Leavesden Aerodrome, a centre of British aircraft production during World War II. It is situated in Abbots Langley, near Watford, in southwest Hertfordshire.
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden is one of only a few places in the UK where large-scale film productions can be made. The studios contain approximately 50,000 m2 (538,196 sq ft) of flexible space which includes stage space, one of the largest filtered and heated stage-based water tanks in Europe, production office space, workshops and support buildings, along with an extensive 32-hectare (79-acre) backlot which offers a 180 degree uninterrupted horizon, favourable for exterior sets. Following an over £110m refurbishment by Warner Bros. the studios are now one of the largest and most state-of-the-art secure filmmaking facilities in the world. Though the studios are owned by Warner Bros., all of the studio facilities are available to rent for any production. Since acquiring the site Warner Bros. has opened a public attraction called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, which receives over 6,000 visitors a day at peak times all whilst the site maintains a secure studio space within the same complex.
Leavesden Aerodrome was a British airfield created in 1940 by the de Havilland Aircraft Company & the Air Ministry in the village of Leavesden, between Watford and Abbots Langley, in Hertfordshire.
Construction began in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II. The de Havilland company, who were based in nearby Hatfield, entered into a contract with the Air Ministry to produce what would become known as the Mosquito fighter craft. Space for the large scale hangars needed to produce the huge number of aeroplanes required was not available at de Havilland’s Hatfield Aerodrome. So the Ministry of Supply requisitioned this new site in Leavesden, which was an empty plot of land at the time from the Watford Corporation, and it was developed into the complex that it is today. The construction was enormously expensive so parts of the site were leased to the London Aircraft Production Group & The Second Aircraft Group. Under Handley Page, another Hertfordshire-based aeroplane manufacturer contracted to the Air Ministry, these groups produced the Handley Page Halifaxheavy bomber. As a result, by the end of the war Leavesden Airfield was, by volume, the largest factory in the world. The two planes were both critical successes for Britain during the conflict. Due to the high priority placed on aircraft production, large numbers of workers were drafted with little experience or training in aircraft production, with over half the workforce eventually being female. As part of constructing the aircraft factory an airstrip was created, first so the planes could be tested and later to deliver the craft to their final destinations. The runway and control tower still remain to this day, even after two major renovations, in an effort to preserve the site’s history. The runway is now the main road through the complex and the tower is currently an observation lounge.
After the war, the aerodrome was purchased outright by de Havilland, who themselves had a succession of owners in the following decades, including Hawker Siddeley from 1959, but ultimately they and the site were acquired by Rolls-Royce who continued production and design of helicopter engines. Under Rolls-Royce ownership the RTM322 engine for the UK Apache, Merlin and NH90 helicopters was designed, developed and produced at Leavesden as a joint venture with Turbomeca of France. The airfield was also used by commercial small business aircraft as the field is close to both the M1 & M25 motorways. However, by the early 1990s, Britain’s manufacturing industry was in decline and Rolls-Royce had sold their interests in the site and transferred all work to their Bristol facility. Unable to find a new owner, by 1994 Leavesden Aerodrome was left disused and all but abandoned.
In 1994, Eon Productions’ James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series. Pinewood Studios, their traditional home studio, was fully booked with other productions, not being prepared for the series’ unexpected return. Facing little time to find a space in which they could build the number of large scale sets required, the production discovered the unoccupied Leavesden. The wide, tall and open aircraft hangars were uniquely well suited to conversion into film stages. Eon leased the site for the duration of their shoot and went about gutting the factories, turning them into stages, workshops and offices – in short a working film studio. This process is shown on the 2006 DVD’s special features. Members of the production crew, impressed by the enormous size of the filmmaking complex they suddenly had to themselves, jokingly called Leavesden “Cubbywood” after Eon’s long serving producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.
Leavesden Studios, as the site was rebranded by its owners, quickly became popular after filming of GoldenEyewrapped. A succession of major feature films made use of the site, in 1997, the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace and later Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
By the year 2000, Heyday Films had acquired use of the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for what would be the first in a series of films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Every one of the Harry Potter films was based at Leavesden Studios over the following ten years.
While other productions—almost exclusively other Warner Bros. productions—made partial use of the studios, the site was mostly occupied by Harry Potter‘s permanent standing sets. Indeed, some films, such as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sherlock Holmes actually made use of some of the Harry Potter sets since they were sufficiently appropriate for their Victoriansetting and tone. During this time, however, it was noted that there were some ways in which the site’s facilities might be improved. None of the stages were adequately soundproofed and the WW2 era ceilings had a tendency to leak during rainy weather.
One of the more noticeable exterior sets constructed on the Leavesden backlot (outdoors) was a row of ten houses (five per side) along a street, which was created for the Harry Potter series to represent Privet Drive.
On 21 March 2010, there was a fire on one of the Hogwarts sets during filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 at Leavesden Studios. Not much of the set was badly damaged.
In 2010, as the final Harry Potter film was nearing completion, Warner Bros. announced their intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s.
By November 2010, Warner Bros. completed its purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100m into the site they had occupied for over ten years, rebranding it Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden. The studios make Warner Bros. the only Hollywood film studio with a permanent base in the United Kingdom.
As part of this redevelopment Warner Bros. also created two entirely new soundstages, J & K, to house a permanent public exhibition called the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, creating 300 new jobs in the local area. Currently the whole attraction is dedicated to the making of Harry Potter and is now home to many of the series’ most iconic sets, props and costumes. It was opened to the public in early 2012.
The first film to start shooting at the newly refurbished studios was Edge of Tomorrow. Though the studios are privately owned, the shooting spaces are available to rent for any production.
On 30 June 2014, Warner Bros. announced the expansion of the studio, building three new state-of-the-art stages and adding a further 100,000 square feet of office space. The announcements were made after a reception celebrating the Creative Industries, hosted by PM David Cameron, and attended by WB’s CEO Kevin Tsujihara and WB UK’s MD Josh Berger. Leavesden’s trio of new sound-stages consist of one 35,000 square foot building and two 17,000 square foot buildings, along with 20,000 square feet of adjacent office space which were completed by the end of 2014. On the same day the filming of live-action The Legend of Tarzan got underway at the studio. Following the refurbishments, the studios are now one of the largest and most state-of-the-art secure filmmaking facilities in the world.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a public attraction in Leavesden in southeastern England. Not to be confused with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter of Universal Studios theme parks, it is a permanent exhibit offering an authentic behind the scenes glimpse of the Harry Potterfilms. It is situated inside Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in Leavesden, near Watford, in southwest Hertfordshire. Though the studios are still active, the tour is actually contained in two soundstages, J and K, and is kept separate from the rest of the complex.
Warner Bros. Studios Tour London is quite possibly the only permanent filmmaking exhibit of its size in the world. It opened to the public in 2012 and since then has welcomed up to 6,000 visitors a day during peak times. TripAdvisor reported that The Making of Harry Potter has been the highest rated attraction worldwide every year since the tour opened.
Leavesden Aerodrome was a British airfield created in 1940 by the de Havilland Aircraft Company & the Air Ministry in the tiny village of Leavesden, between Watford and Abbots Langley, in Hertfordshire. It was an important centre for aircraft production during World War II. By the end of the war Leavesden Airfield was, by volume, the largest factory in the world. After the war, the aerodrome was purchased outright by de Havilland, who themselves had a succession of owners in the following decades but ultimately they and the site were acquired by Rolls-Royce. However, by the early 1990s, Britain’s manufacturing industry was in decline and Rolls-Royce had sold their interests in the site. Unable to find a new owner, Leavesden Aerodrome was left disused and all but abandoned. Then in 1994, the production team for the James Bond film GoldenEye discovered the unoccupied Leavesden. The wide, tall and open aircraft hangars were uniquely well suited to conversion into film stages. Eon leased the site for the duration of their shoot and went about gutting the factories, turning them into stages, workshops and offices – in short a working film studio. Leavesden Studios, as the site was rebranded by its owners, quickly became popular after GoldenEye wrapped. A succession of major feature films made use of the site, including the first of the Star Warsprequels, The Phantom Menace, and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
In the year 2000, Heyday Films leased the site for the Harry Potter films. Over the next ten years all of the Harry Potter films were made there, along with some other notable Warner Bros. productions, with the series eventually becoming the most successful film series in history.
As the eighth and final Harry Potter film was nearing completion, in 2010, Warner Bros. announced their intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base.
By November, Warner Bros. completed its purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100m into the site they had occupied for over ten years, rebranding it again – this time to Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden.
As part of this redevelopment Warner Bros. also created two entirely new soundstages, J and K, to house a permanent public exhibition called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, creating 300 new jobs in the local area. Currently the whole attraction is dedicated to the making of Harry Potter and is now home to many of the series’ most iconic sets, props and costumes. It was opened to the public in early 2012.
As early as 2001, after the success of the first film, Warner Bros. were putting plans to build an attraction dedicated to the series in place and so began storing items from the films when they were no longer being used. Finally, in 2010, as the last film was nearing completion, Warner Bros. announced they would be purchasing Leavesden Studios and work on the tour began.
The tour’s layout and overall presentation was designed by the Burbank-based Thinkwell Group in close collaboration with Warner Bros, as well as the actual filmmakers, including Production Designer Stuart Craig, Set Dresser Stephenie McMillan, Creature Designer Nick Dudman, Construction Manager Paul Hayes and Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson. It only includes sets, props and costumes that were actually created for or used in the production of the Harry Potter film series.
- the Great Hall,
- Dumbledore’s Office,
- Diagon Alley,
- the Ministry of Magic,
- Gryffindor Common Room and
- Boys’ Dormitory,
- Hagrid’s Hut and
- a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle (used for exterior shots).
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter opened to the public on 31 March 2012. The opening event was attended by many of the Harry Potter film series cast and crew members, including Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, David Thewlis, Helen McCrory, George Harris, Nick Moran, Natalia Tena, David Bradley, Alfred Enoch, Harry Melling, producers David Heyman and David Barron and directors David Yates, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell.
Over a year since the opening of the tour (and almost twenty years after the complex was converted from aerodrome to film studios) the site was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 26 April 2013. On their royal visit they were accompanied by the Duke’s brother Prince Harry and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling (who had been unable to attend the tour’s grand opening the year before) amongst other illustrious guests. Several hundred beneficiaries of charities they all support were given exclusive invitations to the Studio Tour on the day of the royal visit. The royal entourage visited both the tour, meeting many of their beneficiaries, as well as the studios, where they saw some of the props and costumes from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, before conducting Leavesden’s royal inauguration.
Each tour session typically last three hours, and the tour has the capacity to handle 6,000 visitors daily. Despite Warner Bros. being the studio behind Harry Potter, the tour is not styled as a theme park due to the fact that Warner Bros. sold the license to do so to Universal Studios. Instead, visitors get a chance to see up close the detail and effort that goes into a major feature film at the scale of the Harry Potter series.
Though the standard tour is self guided, allowing visitors to enjoy the tour at their own preferred pace, various guided tours are available at an additional cost. Visitors with some disabilities may find, however, that certain guided tours are available to them at no extra cost if they contact the tour in advance.
Diagon Alley is available to explore virtually on Google Maps Street View.
Warner Bros. has continued to put on special features for the school holidays, such as Dark Arts and Animal Actors, at no extra cost to visitors. Some installations like the Wand Choreography Interactive and the inside of the No. 4 Privet Drive Exterior set have been so popular that they have remained after their respective features have closed.
In January 2015, the attraction’s first expansion was announced – a brand new Platform 9¾ section, where visitors are able to board the original carriages behind the Hogwarts Express steam engine used in the films. As with the rest of the attraction, the set was constructed and dressed by the original crew members who worked on the film – including Stuart Craig himself, who designed the new set exclusively for the tour (since these scenes in the films were actually shot on location in Kings Cross). The setup includes the locomotive GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall (dressed as 5972 Hogwarts Castle) and the British Rail Mark 1 carriage that appeared in the films, brought to life by John Richardson’s special effects team. Finally a new green screen experience illustrates what working on the films is like from an actor’s point of view. This section opened in late March 2015. Following the death of Alan Rickman in January 2016 who played the role of Professor Severus Snape, visitors and fans commemorated him and set up a shrine upon the Platform.
In those days, Fantastic Beasts and where to find them still had to go in premiere…