Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Lit and Phil

Last Saturday I had the privilege of staging the Victorian mystery event at a venue I found utterly entrancing. I’d heard about the Lit and Phil in Newcastle from writer friends in the North East – Peter and Margaret Lewis, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves and Chaz Brenchley are all fans of the place, and no wonder.

The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle, to give its full title, is home to the largest independent English library outside London, along with a massive music collection. It occupies a Grade II listed building and has magnificently ornate reading rooms. In some respects it reminds me of the Liverpool Athenaeum, but there are various differences – not least in the fact that the Lit and Phil operates as a full-scale lending library. It’s a historic institution and past speakers include Dorothy L. Sayers and F.R. Leavis.

As for the stock of books, it’s amazing. Even on a quick look round, I could see that it includes many crime novels that are no longer available in conventional public libraries. I could happily spend many hours there. Probably weeks. Possibly months.

With such a special setting, a full house, and a team of highly accomplished local actors to perform the parts in the mystery, it was bound to be a memorable afternoon, and so it proved. Kay Easson and her team did a great job in organising everything smoothly. It went so well that even a horrendous journey home on the motorway network through three hours of driving rain and wind couldn’t blow away the pleasure of the occasion. One thing’s for sure. Some day I’d love to go back to the Lit and Phil.


Roger Cornwell said...

What I love about the Lit and Phil (I too am a member) is that they are constitutionally prohibited from ever throwing away a book once it has entered the permanent collection. Which accounts for such gems as Catalogue of 20,554 faint stars in the Cape astrographic zone. It's not unknown to borrow a book and find it was last lent in the 1930s, if ever.

Anonymous said...

I too am a member and at 15, I imagine one of the youngest. I have too have had the 'last borrowed-1912' experience. I love the place and go almost every day.