Living Knowledge blog

09 December 2021

Taking your favourite exhibitions around the world

What do Paddington, Harry Potter and miniature books have in common? They’re all the subject of exhibitions that have gone on to tour following runs here at our site in St Pancras. After the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic our touring programme has gathered strength and we now have three exhibitions on the road in the UK and Japan.

Our much-loved exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, will soon open at Tokyo Station Gallery following its recent run at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe. The exhibition is our most successful to date having been seen by 156,000 visitors in London in 2017 and we’re thrilled to show it in Japan, following its popular tour to the New-York Historical Society in 2018.

The exhibition takes visitors on a magical journey to the heart of the Harry Potter stories and features original material by J K Rowling, alongside artwork from the books and our own treasures.

Harry potter exhibition500

A new chapter for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Not every object from an original exhibition held at the Library can travel due to fragility or light exposure limits, so we often have to select alternative objects from our collection and elsewhere. As Japanese audiences love fine art we borrowed a number of pre-Raphaelite oil paintings from UK museum collections for the latest tour of Harry Potter: A History of Magic.


The Horniman Museum’s Japanese Merman, which delighted audiences in London and New York, was replaced by a similar mummy from a Japanese temple. And we also added material that told the publishing story of Harry Potter in Japan.


Initially due to open in 2020, the exhibition would have marked the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Japan, however, the global pandemic led to a one year delay and a complete rethink by our Exhibitions team on how to tour exhibitions in uncertain times.

How do you install an exhibition abroad during a pandemic?

The exhibition had to be installed virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions which required a great deal of planning. An online book-strapping and object-handling workshop was led by our Conservation team and illustrated packing and mounting notes were provided to ensure easy understanding on arrival.

In Kobe the installation took place over six days with virtually supervised objects being installed between 7am and 1pm and overseen by exhibitions, curatorial and conservation staff. The Japanese conservators worked long days but always with the utmost care for the collection. Amazingly very few issues were encountered during the installation despite the time difference, language barrier and working on screens!

A marmalade-loving bear goes on a new adventure

This season has also seen our incredibly popular Paddington: The Story of a Bear exhibition begin its travels (although sadly not to Peru). After its run this year in St Pancras – supported by our travel partner GWR and the Unwin Charitable Trust – it will appear in four venues around the UK, starting at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. A particularly fitting inaugural destination for the tour, as it is home to the World Original Marmalade Awards!

We’ve already had lots of fun with Paddington this year, particularly at our Family Day in Leeds. The open air stage at Slung Low this summer saw storyteller Richard O’Neill imagining Paddington visiting Leeds and was followed by a version of the Lost Property Library, a project that we’ve been working on with Wrongsemble that encourages families to get involved with the performances.   

This interactive storytelling adventure continues in the exhibition at Tullie House, where they’re creating a story lab which guides visitors through creating their own Paddington-inspired tales. Like the exhibition at the Library, there’ll be plenty to see, with first editions of the books, original illustrations, and stories on the origins of Paddington.

Paddington exhibition view

Taking our treasures to you

We’re also working with museums and galleries across the UK through our Treasures on Tour programme. We’re opening up our collections by lending important works to all areas of the country so people can enjoy them closer to home, often in the towns and cities where they were originally discovered or created. One such loan that opened this autumn, is a display of the Bodmin Gospels and Cornish Passion Poem manuscripts, which have travelled to Kresen Kernow in their home county of Cornwall.

Treasures on tour2

Further north, our Miniature Books exhibition recently opened at Newcastle City Library. Inspired by the tiny books the Brontë family created for their toys, this exhibition features miniature books and manuscripts from our historical and contemporary collections. They sit alongside the smallest of books made by children in lockdown last year as part of a project run by our Learning team, who worked with famous children’s authors – including Viviane Schwarz and Joseph Coelho – to share their own mini creations.

The tour is in partnership with Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, who have added items from their own collection to complement the original display. And to keep building our National Library of Miniature Books, local primary schools in Newcastle will also create their own tiny books for the exhibition.

Coming to a venue near you

So, fear not. If you can’t make it to one of our must-see exhibitions in London, you might just find it in a museum, gallery or library near you in the not too distant future. Look out for updates in our emails, on our social media channels or wherever you get your local news.


Our Treasures on Tour programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

The Miniature Books exhibition is supported by the Brian Mitchell Charitable Settlement.

The Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition was developed in collaboration with The Blair Partnership and Paddington: The Story of A Bear has been created in partnership with Copyrights Group.