THE number of boarders at Stonyhurst College has shot through the roof, thanks to Harry Potter and a £1million outlay on new pupil digs.

The number of girl boarders at the Hurst Green educational establishment increased by 11 per cent last year and boy boarders rose by three per cent -- with the national average also three per cent.

College bosses today said the increase reflected a significant investment in facilities at the college and its preparatory school, St Mary's Hall and claimed boarding had become extremely fashionable following the Harry Potter phenomenon.

The increase, recorded in a census carried out by the Independent Schools Council in January, reflects a growing trend across the UK.

Adrian Aylward, headmaster of Stonyhurst College, said: "Our college roll has increased significantly, which is a testament to the major investment we have made to improving and providing high quality accommodation and facilities at the college and St Mary's Hall."

Stonyhurst College marketing and admissions manager Jonathan Hewitt, added: "The Harry Potter phenomenon has certainly had an impact at the younger end of the market. Gone are the days of Dickensian dormitories. Boarders these days have palatial facilities and boarding is now seen as a fabulous experience."

The census revealed that independent schools are enjoying strong growth, with boarding pupil numbers increasing for the second consecutive year, the first time in 21 years and 2003 seeing the first-ever increase in the number of boy boarders in the UK.

Independent Schools Council national director David Woodhead, said: "The census confirms a renewed interest in boarding and justifies years of effort by boarding schools in modernising facilities and communicating the benefits of boarding through better marketing techniques. This growth represents a huge achievement for Stonyhurst College and all independent schools."

Stonyhurst College hosted a Harry Potter-style weekend for youngsters aged seven to 13 who wanted to experience boarding life.

The college was inundated with inquiries from wannabe boarders across the country keen to attend the event, which include a Harry Potter-style banquet.

In 1998, Stonyhurst College spent £1million on revamping facilities and boarder accommodation in preparation for admitting more girl pupils.

And in 1999 the college's 17th Century Great Hall received a £500,000 revamp, with help from English Heritage, which included the replacement of an Italian marble floor.

The boarding accommodation at Stonyhurst College also won the Ribble Valley Council Civic Design Conservation Award in 2001.