41. When in doubt, go to the library!

Keen Harry Potter fans may recognise the above quote as being spoken by Ron Weasley about Hermione Granger in the Chamber of Secrets. She was a wise girl was Hermione and on this particular wet Wednesday morning I decided to follow in her footsteps and pay a visit to the Newcastle City Library.

I always enjoy a visit to a library, but truth be told if I was just in the mood to spend time amongst books I would usually opt for the Lit and Phil. What drew me instead to the City Library (and what led me to this blog’s introduction) was the recent arrival of a new Harry Potter exhibition.

Inspired by the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library in London, Newcastle City Library is one of twenty libraries across the country to host a magic-inspired exhibition in honour of the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter novel.

The exhibition is smaller than I had hoped it would be. I mean, truthfully it could never have been big enough to satisfy a Harry Potter obsessive like myself, but even those with more realistic expectations might find its size a little disappointing. It occupies only a small space on Level 1 by the entrance to the library and another small area on Level 6.

Despite its small size, however, the exhibition was still able to provide a decent chunk of magic related information. It focuses mainly on the different subjects taught at Hogwarts and looks at the origins and history of each of these. I learned, amongst other things, that Abracadabra was originally used as a magic charm against Malaria in Ancient Rome and that Bezoars really do come from the stomach of goats and really were used as an antidote to poison. Indeed, the exhibition taught me more generally just how much of J.K.Rowling’s work has some origins to real historical creatures, theories and philosophies.

As well as the Hogwarts subjects, the exhibition also contains references to magical tales and events closer to home, including the tale of the Lambeth Worm and stories about witchcraft in Newcastle. Beautiful copies of incredibly old books (from the 16th and 17th centuries) focusing on the use of herbs and plants for medicinal purposes can also be admired as a part of this small but undoubtedly intriguing exhibition. 


15. The Lit and Phil

The Lit and Phil is an absolutely wonderful building. The largest independent library outside of London, it’s the sort of place that you think only exists in books and films. Floor to ceiling shelves filled with over 160,000 books, a spiral staircase leading up to a gallery, numerous historical statues and artefacts, comfortable leather sofas.. It really is a book lover’s dream.

The Lit and Phil is home to the Literature & Philosophical Society, which was founded in 1793. The society first met in three other locations in Newcastle but moved to their permanent home – the Lit and Phil we know today – in 1825. Early presidents of the society include Robert Stephenson, Lord Armstrong, Joseph Swan and Charles Parsons. The members of the society have witnessed some truly historical moments – it was to them in 1815 that George Stephenson demonstrated his innovative miners’ safety lamp. The lamp is still on public display in the Lit and Phil today.

It was also at a lecture in the Lit and Phil in 1880 that Joseph Swan first demonstrated the lightbulb, thus making it the first public room in the world to be lit by electrical lighting. 

The current president of the Lit and Phil is my bezzie Alexander Armstrong. Of course when I say bezzie what I really mean is that I have never ever met him but I am a really big fan of Pointless…

The Lit and Phil hosts numerous events throughout the year including lectures, musical concerts and book launches. They also do free tours of the building. These take place every third Wednesday and every first and third Saturday of the month. I did one of these a few months ago and really recommend it. It only took around thirty minutes and was really interesting – you learn a lot about the library that you can’t get from just wandering in on your own.

That said, sometimes all you want to do is to just wander in on your own and that’s exactly what I did today. As part of my PGCE preparation we have been told to read a number of children’s books (basically the best homework ever) and so I spent a very happy morning just browsing through the children’s section of the Lit and Phil. Smashing.

I was under the impression, for some reason, that you could only go up to the gallery if you were either a member of the library or with a member of staff. As I was leaving today however, a lovely man, (perhaps seeing me glance longingly upwards) came to ask me if I had enjoyed my visit and if I wanted to go up. I was therefore able to take a few photos from this higher viewpoint and so can show just how bloody glorious the Lit and Phil really is! 

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