The Literary and Philosophical Society is one of Newcastle hidden treasures. Stepping inside is like stepping back in time to an age of learning.
Near the Central Station in Newcastle you will find the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. The Lit & Phil as it is more commonly known is just round the corner from Newcastle Castle and old Newcastle. It is easy to walk past without realising the significance of the building. Indeed I have often walked past but last weekend I was enticed by the banner that has appeared outside. This says “We’ve been here since 1825, have you been in yet?” I took up the invitation and went inside.
It is really worth stopping for a moment and going in for a look around. Inside you will find the largest independent library outside London holding over 160,000 books. It is more than a library, it is like taking a step back in time to the Newcastle of the 1800’s. Books line the walls on all sides and light comes into the reading room though dome shaped skylights. It is a welcoming place, members are quick to help you and show you round. Members and visitors are welcome to stop and read a while, work or study, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the library.
The Lit and Phil began in 1793 when a few gentlemen got together and created a conversation club. They would meet in various locations around Newcastle. The society became popular and in 1825 they moved into this building which became their permanent home. The society attracted the great thinkers of the day and you can imagine them meeting here and exchanging ideas. Many famous names were presidents of the Lit and Phil, among them Lord Armstrong, Robert Stephenson, Joseph Swan and Charles Parsons. Statues and portraits of famous members are found beside the bookcases.
The society was a place where technology was shown off and the lecture theatre was the first to be lit by electric light during one of Joseph Swans lectures. George Stephenson also demonstrated his miners safety lamp here.The spirit of innovation is still alive and many events take place here during the year. There are concerts, lectures, workshops, poetry reading and book launches among others.When we visited there a recital was going on. The events are open to the public and many are free.
There are plenty of objects of interest to look at. Old books are displayed around the room and there was even a miners safety lamp. It is easy to spend time just walking around looking to see what is on display. Tables are dotted around the room inviting you to sit and read.
Even children are catered for with the children’s corner. Enclosed by book cases it provides a cosy place for children to sit and read. There are small tables and chairs, boxes of picture books and books for older children on the shelves.
Reading rooms are set off from the main library, we went into the ladies reading room. With paintings on the walls, snug sofas and comfy seats it would be the perfect place to relax and read for a while.
We accessed the second floor up the winding spiral staircases. The shelves are packed full of books of all types. As well as books the Lit and Phil also has an extensive range of music with over 10,000 LPs and 8,000 CDs as well as audio books and sheet music. There is a place set aside on the top floor where you can listen to the music. It also has a very impressive table, you can imagine heated discussions taking place here.
You can become a member of the Lit and Phil and borrow books published after 1850 or music from the collection. By joining the Lit and Phil you help to support the library and ensure its future. Anyone is free to drop in and use it as a reference library or just have a look around. It is a really impressive place and I am glad we dropped in to find out more about it. Have you ever been?
When you leave why not have a walk round to Amen corner and see if you can find the vampire rabbit staring balefully at the cathedral.