Lit & Phil – Newcastle upon Tyne, England - Atlas Obscura

Lit & Phil

This gorgeous space is England's largest independent library outside of London. 


England’s largest independent library outside of London is a beautiful, brilliant space. Light floods into the airy, spacious main reading room from domed overhead skylights. A wondrous wall of books wraps around the perimeter, covering both levels in a vast display of tempting titles. You won’t find any stodginess or stuffiness here, from neither the decor nor the people who run the library.

The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne (better known as the Lit & Phil) welcomes curious members of the public to pop inside and peruse its collection of more than 160,000 books. It’s a true repository of knowledge, one where inquisitive individuals are encouraged to dive into its diverse reading materials or attend one of its many events.

The Lit & Phil has always been committed to cultivating intellectual exploration. It was originally founded in 1793 as a gentleman’s “conversation club.” At first, the society focused on arranging and hosting lectures, experiments, and discussions. But it was only a matter of time before the library came along.

In 1825, the library relocated to its current space, an impressive Greek Revival-style building. Since then, its stately halls have welcomed an assortment of bright thinkers. During a talk by Joseph Swan in 1880, its lecture theater was the first public room to be lit via an electric light.

Now, nearly two centuries later, people are still feeding their minds within halls of the Lit & Phil. The library continues to grow its collection, adding about 1,000 new volumes each year.

Know Before You Go

Full public access to the library is available during normal opening hours, which can be found on the website. An external stairlift is available.

The library offers free guided tours on the first Saturday and third Wednesday of each month, which can be booked in advance. The library allows you to borrow any of the books for an annual membership fee and relies upon donations from the public to maintain its collection. A book-binding group associated with the library is responsible for restoring the historic works. The library closes at 1 pm on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays.

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