PREVIEW: Lit & Phil Comedy Night
The Literary & Philosophical Society is the largest independent library outside London, and houses over 160,000 books. The Society was founded in 1793 as a ‘conversation club’, the building as it currently stands, on Westgate Road near Central Station, was completed in 1825. In the past, it’s been home to some of the country’s free thinkers and intellectuals, speakers have included Oscar Wilde, Edith Sitwell, Mary Kingsley and John Betjeman, with past presidents including influential architects John Dobson and Richard Grainger and engineer Robert Stephenson.
We all know that times are hard for independent creative businesses, and the Lit & Phil is no exception. They regularly host fundraising events to raise money for their Development Appeal (whose newest patron is comedian and actor Alexander ‘Pointless’ Armstrong) to help with essential upkeep of the stunning Georgian building. Their next such event takes place on Monday 13th August at The Stand Comedy Club on High Bridge and features some of the region’s most loved comedians including Anvil Springstien, Andy Fury, Kate Fox, George Zach and Matt Reed.
So why should I be interested in this lofty institution, I hear you cry? Because The Lit & Phil is an essential part of Newcastle’s cultural history, says marketing manager Caroline Lievesley. “We have an amazing history. The oldest book in the library was printed 1504. The Lit & Phil is building a collection and so our books aren’t disposed of. For our members this means that if they find an author they like, chances are we’ll have them all. Some of our members will spend half a day here, it’s an historical building that they can feel a real part of.”
The sense of history is indeed palpable; from the grand sweeping staircase and huge paintings of notable figures on the walls, to the floor-to-ceiling stacks of books. It feels like even the air you breathe is redolent with knowledge and history; with that sweet, gently musty smell of old paper.
“When the Lit & Phil was first established, the members met to discuss issues of the day and it was decided that books would be published to further these discussions,” says Caroline, on how the collection was started, “today many books are donated to us, by people who want their treasures to be looked after and be more accessible to the general public. We don’t really source many old and rare books, the ones we have just get older and rarer!”
Caroline says there are too many gems to mention, but one of her favourite is the King James Bible from 1611. “There are also an amazing collection of tracts, and natural history books with extraordinary hand-painted pictures.”
The music library is also highly treasured, and without equal in the North East. With an extensive collection of classical, jazz and folk music, together with a good collection of spoken word, scores and sheet music.
Diversity is key when it comes to the society’s members, and Caroline agrees they’re a varied bunch. “Our audience is widening all the time. Whilst we attract retired people who may have more time on their hands, more students and local authors are discovering what we have to offer in terms of incredible resources and an inspiring place to be. For kids we’ve even got lots of Jacqueline Wilson.”
With diversification becoming a need rather than a desire, does the society feel under pressure to widen their audience, and the events they host, to ensure the future of the Society? “Probably as much from ourselves as from external pressure. We know the Lit & Phil needs to attract younger members in order to survive. We have always tried to have events for a younger audience, but it’s a new message to spread.”
In the hope of collaring the young market as early as possible, there are some science-based fun and games for young people during the Summer. “I’m also looking forward to the Tin Ring at the end of September, a beautiful and inspiring story of holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova. We also have some great music events – jazz at the Lit & Phil is becoming very popular.”
So what would eminent past presidents like Robert Stephenson think of adult comedy and Tracy Beaker at the Lit & Phil? “Knowing what we do of Robert Stephenson, my assumption would be that he would be quite open-minded about such entertainment, and pleased that the Lit & Phil was becoming accessible to a wider audience. During financial difficulties in his time, Robert Stephenson gave money to the Lit & Phil on the condition that the subscription rates were halved!”
Anvil Springstien, Andy Fury, Kate Fox, George Zach and Matt Reed perform at The Stand Comedy Club, High Bridge, Newcastle on Monday 13th August. All proceeds go to the Lit & Phil Fundraising Appeal. The Society hosts a variety of music events, heritage tours, lectures and workshops. They also have rooms available to hire, suitable for many uses. For further information on becoming a member of The Lit & Phil, visit the website.
- PREVIEW: Lit & Phil Fundraiser