A stone’s throw from Newcastle’s Central Station, and around the corner from Newcastle’s Castle, is The Literary and Philosophical Society. It is the second oldest Literary and Philosophical society in the United Kingdom, only a few years younger than Manchester’s, and it is the second-largest private library in the country after the British Library.
Founded in an age when only a small number of people could access university education, the principle behind The Literary and Philosophical Society was that anyone was able to come and gain a university-level education at the society. As you approach the building, its impressive neo-classical frontage will catch your eye, perhaps giving you the intended feeling that you are entering an ancient temple.
Inside you will proceed up the stairs to the main library, and encounter the history of the building with statues of James Losh, who was one of the leading members in the 19th century, and other key figures. You may also notice his small friend: a toy wombat in his right hand, a small local joke that has continued since the exhibition of the North in 2018.
The principle behind The Literary and Philosophical Society was that anyone was able to come and gain a university-level education at the society
Next to him, there is a painting of Earl Grey after whom the tea is named. Members were encouraged to create their own debating societies, and Earl Grey created the Northern Abolition of Slavery Society and regularly held talks there to gather support for the cause.
Today, it still holds to the same principles that created it. Any member of the public can enter the building and use the huge collection of books for studying, learning or even for reading for pleasure. Becoming a member also adds a huge amount to the experience of The Literary and Philosophical Society, as you will be able to take books out the library and utilise their ‘secret’ rooms where members are able to work in silence.
It regularly puts on events for members, with a huge range of topics based on their collection – there will always be something to catch your interest. Membership also means that you will be able to request that any book in existence be added to the collection, meaning that even today the collection is constantly growing and developing. Today there are over 200,000 books in the collection, which gives any visitor the weighty feeling of all the knowledge stored there as soon as they step through the door. A visit is a must on any trip to Newcastle – and you can be a part of the heritage of continued learning and debate within these impressive walls.