A visit to the Lit and Phil

Now that I have been here working at the UL and Pendlebury libraries for a couple of months, I feel pretty well settled in, and am enjoying getting to know Cambridge a bit better. Especially now that spring is springing and it’s getting warmer, it is a lovely place to explore. Even with all this though, I have still found myself travelling up and down the country on a number of weekends. A couple of weekends ago, I went back home up to the North East. And what did I do with my time away from work? Why, I visited a library of course!

lit and phil

Lit and Phil entrance.

The Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society (or ‘Lit and Phil’ as it is often known) is the largest independent library outside of London. It also houses one of the largest music libraries in the North East, which has been collecting scores for over a century, and recorded music since 1942. Originally founded as a ‘conversation club’, it has kept that atmosphere of a social meeting place as well as a library, and there are often companionable groups gathered around the coffee table, reading the papers, knitting, or meeting for a game of chess. With its series of lectures and concerts, the Lit and Phil is still a place to explore and discuss ideas, still very much doing what it set out to do at its foundation in 1793. Some of the speakers at the Lit and Phil have included George Stephenson, who gave a demonstration of his new miners’ safety lamp (also known as the ‘Geordie lamp’) here in 1815, and Joseph Swan, who demonstrated his electric light bulb for the first time in the Lit and Phil lecture theatre.

lit & phil sign

Plaque in commemoration of Swan and his light bulb.

The collection of scores and music literature is housed upstairs in a room just off this book-lined gallery, which gives a nice view of the pretty ceiling!

lit and phil gallery

View of the gallery.

From very early on, the library was involved in the musical life of Newcastle, with the Music Society in Newcastle beginning to hold their concerts there in 1789. The library started building the music collection officially in 1913, collecting complete editions of the works of Mozart, Handel, and Bach. Like the rest of the collections, the music library has a particular focus on local composers as well as more general collections, holding scores by Charles Avison and William Shield, as well as other music books of local interest such as the ‘beuk o’ Newcassel sangs’.

lit music room2

The committee room, where the printed music collections are kept.

robert spence watson

Portrait of Robert Spence Watson, secretary of the Lit and Phil from 1862-1893, in the music library.

During my time volunteering in the music library before doing my library traineeship, I was able to get to grips with (among other things) the card catalogue which is used for the recorded music collections – this is still being added to in addition to the online catalogue, and stood me in good stead for using the card catalogues when I got to the UL!

lit card cats

Card catalogue.

Alongside the music collections, the series of concerts at the Lit and Phil keeps it at the heart of music making in Newcastle, with a series of free lunch time concerts, lunchtime jazz, and evening and weekend concerts. It also does a lot with young musicians, hosting the Avison Ensemble’s Young Musicians’ Awards, and also working with students from the Sage Gateshead.

Being just a couple of minutes walk from the central station, the Lit and Phil is very convenient to get to – highly recommended as something to visit if you are in Newcastle!

lit and phil


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1 Response to A visit to the Lit and Phil

  1. Pingback: A (insert collective noun here) of music librarians | MusiCB3 Blog

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