23 WESTGATE ROAD | NE1 1SE | MON – THURS 9:30AM – 7PM | FRI 9:30AM – 5PM | SAT 9:30AM – 1PM
If you don’t already know it, you’ve probably walked past the Lit and Phil a million times on your way to the station or down to the clubs in town without noticing it. It’s tucked around the corner of the station, where its unassuming doorway may seem like just another opening in the line of old stone building fronts which stretch down from the station. The blue plaque next to the entrance colonnades is the clue that behind the door lies Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophy Society. Known as the Lit & Phil, it’s the largest independent library outside of London, housing over 160,000 books alongside a collection of music and a busy events schedule. It was also one of the first English societies to open its doors to women, so that’s always going to set it in good stead isn’t it. Although the Lit and Phil is a library, it’s actually much more than just that and is open to the public to use at all times; there are reading spaces, study spaces, a chess table, rooms for meetings, and archival objects, all in a beautiful setting. Whether you like books or not, need a quiet space to study or not, it is worth visiting for its impressive interior and interesting history alone.
Starting out as a ‘conversation club’ in 1793, the society was founded with the aim to educate the inhabitants of Newcastle. Important discussions were held that advanced significant historical developments, such as the abolition of slavery, the demand for the miners’ lamp, and saw speakers such as Gertrude Bell, Mrs Fawcett and Robert Spence Watson give talks in the lecture room.
The building is just as beautiful today as it was back then; a minstrel’s gallery of dark red railings and white wood surrounds the large main room which brims with bookshelves. It’s parquet floors and leather-clad chairs lead to a wrought-iron spiral staircase in the corner which takes you up to the minstrels’ gallery and the committee room. A father and son played chess in the committee room when I visited. It’s lovely, and the staff are so so happy to give tours.