Beatrice Groves – The Lion’s Mouth

On the 30th March J. K. Rowling changed her Twitter header to give us another clue about the upcoming Strike instalment The Running Grave, cleverly identified by @CormStrikeFan as Lion’s Mouth Aylmerton. Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: ‘Save me from the lion’s mouth’: Rowling’s new header and the Norfolk location of The Running Grave. Join Prof Groves as she looks at the historic and literary parallels in this quiet corner of Norfolk, after the jump:

‘Save me from the lion’s mouth’: Rowling’s new header and the Norfolk location of The Running Grave

On the 30th March 2023 J.K. Rowling changed her header and once again it points us to a small patch of Norfolk. After two images of Cromer pier and one of Aylmerton church, Rowling has put up the image of an English country lane in winter – and @CormStrikeFan brilliantly located it as a lane known as ‘Lions Mouth’:

The most direct route from St John the Baptist, Aylmerton (her previous header) to Cromer pier is to take Church Road and join the A148 (Holt Rd) which leads directly to the pier. But just a little jig to the right takes you past Sexton’s Lodge and along Lion’s Mouth, a road which borders the Felbrigg Hall Estate before re-joining the Holt Road. @CormStrikeFan – with an excellent bit of sleuthing – thought the name of this road had a ‘Strikey’ feel and followed it up to find that it was indeed the location of the header image. The ‘Strikey’ feel of Lion’s Mouth has much to do with that other Rowling header favourite the Wombwell Lion tomb in Highgate Cemetery, which Lindsay’s piece at StrikeFans suggested might point towards Rokeby, and noting some of the lions in the series so far:

Let us turn your attention to all the lion references in Troubled Blood. Whether it was Ricci’s ring, Talbot’s astrological drawings or the mention of the mob boss, Danny ‘the Lion’ Leo, lions are mentioned about fifteen times throughout the book… Will Strike and Robin be visiting the grave of George Wombwell that features his famous lion? Or will we finally be introduced to another famous lion? As most of us know, a lion is the astrological symbol for Leo, and Robin’s googling in The Cuckoo’s Calling told us all that Jonny Rokeby’s birthday is 1 August 1948, making him a Leo.

Although Rokeby was conspicuous by his absence in Ink Black Heart it seems highly likely he’ll be making a return in Running Grave (and, as John has pointed out, Rokeby’s middle name is Leonard).

Rowling does not often choose landscapes for her ‘clue’ headers and the only obvious parallel to this concatenation of headers from the closely aligned geographical locations – the two Cromer Pier headers, the image of Alymerton Church and this lane – are the repeated Highgate Cemetery headers for Ink Black Heart. This is a very heartening! Although as readers we only visit it once, a location could hardly be more important to a novel than Highgate Cemetery was to Strike 6 – being at once the murder scene, the location of the central text-within-a-text and its alter-ego game and the location of the genesis of the eponymous cartoon. I am confident, therefore, that this area in Norfolk is going to be more than bit-part player in The Running Grave – perhaps the location of both the murder and the commune from Strike’s past. It seems worthwhile, therefore, delving a little deeper into this unusually named location.

The Lion’s Mouth runs along the edge of Felbrigg Estate – the vast wooded parkland of 1760 acres in which the 15th century mansion Felbrigg Hall is set. According to the abridged, on-line version of the Norfolk Historic Environment Record database:

The western valley is known as the Lion’s Mouth, either from an oddly shaped tree formerly there or from the colour of the leaves in autumn.

The term ‘in the lion’s mouth’ could also mean, in danger of repossession.

This seems to be saying that a number of locations around the country are called the Lion’s Mouth because they were in danger of repossession. I can’t find any other record of this idea but certainly those who named this lane would have connected it with both danger and deliverance – for it is a famous biblical signifier for both.

It appears in Psalm 22 (one of the best known psalms): ‘Save me from the lion’s mouth’ (Psalm 22.21). It is also repeated, in a more fully hopeful formulation, in 2 Timothy 4.17: ‘Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.’ The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘the lion’s mouth’ as ‘taken as a type of a place of great peril.’ This is certainly suggestive for plot developments in The Running Grave – will there be great danger lurking and a great deliverance effected on this lane?

Cromer, meanwhile, sounds like a place in which nothing bad could happen. One reason it has the resonance for me – and I’m guessing for Rowling too – is because it turns up as a traditional spot for sea-bathing and taking the air in Jane Austen’s Emma – Rowling’s favourite novel. Emma’s father, Mr Woodhouse, is lamenting that his elder daughter did not holiday in Cromer:

“You should have gone to Cromer, my dear, if you went anywhere.—Perry was a week at Cromer once, and he holds it to be the best of all the sea-bathing places. A fine open sea, he says, and very pure air. And, by what I understand, you might have had lodgings there quite away from the sea—a quarter of a mile off—very comfortable. You should have consulted Perry.”

“But, my dear sir, the difference of the journey;—only consider how great it would have been.—An hundred miles, perhaps, instead of forty.”

“Ah! my dear, as Perry says, where health is at stake, nothing else should be considered; and if one is to travel, there is not much to chose between forty miles and an hundred.—Better not move at all, better stay in London altogether than travel forty miles to get into a worse air. This is just what Perry said. It seemed to him a very ill-judged measure.”

Emma’s attempts to stop her father had been vain; and when he had reached such a point as this, she could not wonder at her brother-in-law’s breaking out.

“Mr. Perry,” said he, in a voice of very strong displeasure, “would do as well to keep his opinion till it is asked for. Why does he make it any business of his, to wonder at what I do?—at my taking my family to one part of the coast or another?—I may be allowed, I hope, the use of my judgment as well as Mr. Perry.—I want his directions no more than his drugs.” He paused—and growing cooler in a moment, added, with only sarcastic dryness, “If Mr. Perry can tell me how to convey a wife and five children a distance of an hundred and thirty miles with no greater expense or inconvenience than a distance of forty, I should be as willing to prefer Cromer to South End as he could himself.”

Jane Austen Emma Ch12

Is Rowling going to enjoy proving Mr Woodhouse wrong with a significant example of why one should not go to Cromer on holiday?

There is also a subtle link with another of Austen’s novels – Mansfield Park – in the new header location. This pleases me because it was Mansfield Park that started my foray into literary allusion in Harry Potter. The naming of Filch’s evil cat as Mrs Norris seemed a brilliant gift to children – so that when they grew up and read Austen for themselves they would have a thrill of recognition when they met the worst aunt in literature; and it was this cratylic name that was the first step in my journey of wondering what other literary allusions might be lurking. Lately I have written on Mansfield Park again, in my essay on Austen for Cecilia Konchar Farr’s Open at the Close: Literary Essays on Harry Potter – where you can also enjoy an essay by John! I was pleased, therefore, to find some chimes with Austen’s novel at Felbrigg Estate, the park along which Lion’s Mouth lane runs.

Firstly, Mr Crawford’s estate – Everingham – is in Norfolk, and it is Mr Crawford who is at the centre of one of the main themes of Mansfield Park – that of ‘improvements.’ Improvement was the name given the fashion of the time for reworking grand houses and parkland to give the latter a more romantic, natural style, embracing vistas and irregularity. In a central scene of the novel Mr Rushworth is swayed by this fashion into inviting Mr Crawford to play ‘improver’ at Sotherton:

He had been visiting a friend in the neighbouring county, and that friend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way; and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk of nothing else…

“I wish you could see Compton,” said he; “it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison—quite a dismal old prison.”

“Oh, for shame!” cried Mrs. Norris. “A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world.”

“It wants improvement, ma’am, beyond anything. I never saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life; and it is so forlorn that I do not know what can be done with it.”

“No wonder that Mr. Rushworth should think so at present,” said Mrs. Grant to Mrs. Norris, with a smile; “but depend upon it, Sotherton will have every improvement in time which his heart can desire.”

“I must try to do something with it,” said Mr. Rushworth, “but I do not know what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me.”

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”…

Jane Austen Mansfield Park Ch6

Repton is regularly linked with Felbrigg and no lover of Jane Austen can read his name without immediately thinking of this scene. Repton is connected with Felbrigg estate as well with the concept of improvement more generally (something likely to be a bit of a keynote of Running Grave).

Humphry Repton was, in fact, a Norfolk boy – although born in Suffolk, he moved to Norwich in 1762, aged 10, and became a farmer in Sustead, near Alysham, before becoming  one of England’s most famous landscape gardeners. Repton made drawings of Felbrigg and wrote an entry on it in Armstrong’s 1781 History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk. Although the extent of his involvement with ‘improvements’ of the Felbrigg estate is not known, it is generally thought that it bears the imprint of his style, and – somewhat surprisingly – he was actually close friends with its owner. He was ‘on intimate terms with William Windham of nearby Felbrigg Hall, whom he accompanied to Ireland as private secretary, and whom he helped in his political career.’[1]

In lieu of hiring Repton, Mr Rushworth invites Mr Crawford to survey his estate, but very little is achieved (as far as improvements go, at least). Indeed the failure of actual improvements in the novel probably hint at the way in which the attraction virtue holds for Mr Crawford (his newly found admiration of the good) will not lead to any lasting changes in his nature. After failing to improve Sotherton, Mr Crawford later sketches out his plans for improving Edmund’s parsonage house at Thornton Lacey – “The farmyard must be cleared away entirely, and planted up to shut out the blacksmith’s shop” – improvements that glance at the way in which ‘improvements’ could benefit the landowner at the expense of others. Mr Rushworth’s words describe more explicitly the destruction often involved in such ‘improvements:’

After a short interruption Mr. Rushworth began again. “Smith’s place is the admiration of all the country; and it was a mere nothing before Repton took it in hand. I think I shall have Repton…. Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

Jane Austen Mansfield Park Ch6

Fanny laments this destruction with reference to one of Austen’s favourite poets, William Cowper, and his famous poem ‘The Poplar Field’. But ‘emparking’ (park creation) often involved the destruction of the built environment too. And, in a detail which I think Rowling would have liked if she found it in her researches of this area, during the improvements at Felbrigg ‘the old road leading to the church [was] systematically obliterated’ (Williamson, The Archaeology of the Landscape Park, 112). In an usual move ‘much time and effort were expended in filling a hollow way left by a road closed in 1778’ (134-35) so that no trace of it now remains. Along with many other evocative spots nearby (which I wrote about here) I love the idea of this ghost road.

In the link with Repton and Norfolk, and in the theme of improvement, it seems just possible that Mansfield Park was in Rowling’s mind as she wrote The Running Grave.

One final thought: if you click on Sexton’s Lodge at the top of Lion Mouth on Google Maps you mostly get pictures of fungi. It is clear that these beautiful beech woods are prime fungi foraging country – and this caught my attention because, ever since the mushroom Phallus Impudicus popped up as a cryptonym for Daniel Chard in Silkworm, I’ve had a suspicion that Rowling is a fellow mycophile! In 2022 she liked a tweet of a beautiful (but lethal if consumed raw) Fly Agaric and there are some startlingly mushroomy similes in Troubled Blood: ‘they leapt to his practised eye like a cluster of plump mushrooms in long grass;’ ‘He was starting to feel like a truffle pig trying to do its job in a room full of incense, dead fish and strong cheese.’ In one sense comparing hunting clues to hunting fungi is an obvious parallel, but I think it is also sufficiently odd to be suggestive. Fungi do turn up as a murder weapon in Troubled Blood as Janice was, of course, using fungus to poison – perhaps in a nod to Agatha Christie:

Agatha Christie was a big fan of the mushroom death. Florrie Gibbs in Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy supposedly died of poisoned mushrooms that she picked herself. In The 4.15 from Paddington, Lucy Eylesbarrow creates a dish with mushrooms that is blamed for the entire household becoming ill. By the Pricking of my Thumbs has a poisoned mushroom stew and the Secret of Chimneys has a poisoned sage and mushroom soup.

BBC The Perils of Mushrooms.

I think after Janice we probably won’t be seeing a poisoner for a while, but since Strike and Robin appear to be heading out to fungi-laden woods, I’m hoping for some confirmation that Rowling is a fellow fungi forager!


[1] Tom Williamson, The Archaeology of the Landscape Park: Garden design in Norfolk, England, c.1680-1840 (Oxford: Bar Publishing, 1998), 112, 195.

All of Dr Groves’ on line Rowling scholarship can be found in the Beatrice Groves Pillar Post.



  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Very interesting – many thanks!

    Sayers’ and Eustace’s The Documents of the Case is another – and striking – fungus-related murder mystery…

    Ekwall gives Old Scandinavian ‘fiol-bryggia’ (‘plank-bridge’) as Felbrigg etymology, but my mind went first to ‘fell’ in the sense of ‘fierce, ruthless, terrible, destructive’ (COD ed. 2), and ‘brigg’ reminded me of the Brig o’ Dread in the Lyke-Wake Dirge – is that possibly Rowling-Galbraithian as well, or just ‘off the wall’?

    I sang “de ore leonis” in a Requiem last week and “de” and ‘ex ore leonis’ variously today (‘western’ Palm Sunday Tract, Psalm verses – and ‘fel’ in the Offertory: “dederunt in escam meam fel”: ‘they gave me gall for my food’) – how liturgically playful is JKR’/RG (perhaps)?

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