Public School Stories

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter story, as author JK Rowling noted:

JK Rowling tweet

The world of Harry Potter centres around the adventures of a young wizard while at a boarding school for magicians in training – a fantastical place with moving staircases, talking portraits and spell-casting lessons. Underneath these magical elements, however, the Potter-verse is steeped in traditions of the English public school or boarding school, and the stories themselves draw on conventions found in many school-boy tales. Sneaking into forbidden rooms at midnight, collecting house points, avoiding certain members of staff, inter-house sporting events, visits to the tuck shop, chatting in the common room, going out of bounds – all would be familiar to a Victorian reader.

Special Collections holds the Tozer collection – a sequence of books which illuminates the Victorian public school tradition. As well as schoolboy stories the collection includes analytical works studying this educational moment, memoirs by headmasters and staff of such schools, and histories of the schools themselves.


The Tozer Collection is an excellent resource on the history of education, and also touches on aspects of sporting, social and colonial history. The books are as yet uncatalogued but visitors are welcome to visit Special Collections and browse the shelves.