COMEDIAN Alexander Armstrong returned to the North East last night to launch an appeal for one of the region’s oldest cultural institutions.
The Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle city centre needs to raise £1m to secure its future.
Known as the Lit and Phil, the subscription library is in a difficult financial position.
It currently has 1,872 members – the highest number since 1952 – but the Grade II* listed building on Westgate Road, Newcastle, requires significant investment.
Adjustments must be made so the building conforms with the Disability Discrimination Act and staff say the building is showing its age. The building will be modernised while retaining all of its glorious character.
Television comic and actor Alexander Armstrong – one half of Bafta-winning duo Armstrong and Miller – became patron of the Lit and Phil last year. He spoke at the venue last night to launch the appeal for funds.
Alexander, who was born in Rothbury, Northumberland, said his family were intrinsically linked with the society as two of his ancestors, WG Armstrong and Robert Spence Watson, were former presidents.
Alexander said: “My family have been involved with the Lit and Phil since the 1790s. They are part of the history so my family have strong links with the place.
“This is where the North East story came together, where the pre-eminent thinkers of the day held their discussions. It’s fantastic to think that all disagreement was left at the door.”
“It’s a breathtaking, fabulous space with its immaculate collections, grand staircases and the busts of the luminaries.
“I’ve never really had a big role to play in the region but I’m desperately proud of my origins as a North Easterner and my family history in the area.
“The Lit and Phil doesn’t rely on public funding and it’s so important that it is preserved. Places like this are so important.
“If you ask any author what their first step is in writing a book it’s not going on the internet or making themselves a cup of coffee, it’s getting themselves to a library, where you can immerse yourself in all that surrounds you.”
Bill Midgley of the appeal said the aim was to raise £1m within a year and that the Lit and Phil now had to be run as a business.
He said: “The society has been around for over 200 years and we have to ensure it is here for future generations.
“We have to preserve the fabric of the building so all that’s inside it isn’t at risk.
“I think Newcastle has got a lot of well hidden secrets and this building is certainly one of them.
“We need to get more people through the door and for more people to become members.”
The Lit and Phil is the largest independent library outside London, housing more than 150,000 books. Its music library contains 8,000 CDs and 10,000 LPs. The society was founded early in 1793 as a ‘conversation club’, with an annual subscription of one guinea. The current building was built in 1825.
The society’s lecture theatre was the first public room to be lit by electric light, during a lecture by Sir Joseph Swan on October 20, 1880.
More details on the appeal are available at www.litandphil.org.uk
I’ve never really had a big role to play in the region but I’m desperately proud of my origins