Today's Object of the Week is a plaque on the outside of a remarkable library - which has hosted some remarkable people.

The illustrious Literary and Philosophical Society stands just to the east of Neville Hall, in Newcastle.

This building by John Green dates from 1822-25 and is known to locals as the ‘Lit and Phil’. The society was founded in 1793.

It the largest independent library outside London, it is still available for both lending - to members - and as a free reference library.

Read more: Who lived in this Durham 'house' named after a 3ft 3in Polish Count

The exquisite library is for everyone. A note on the society website reads: "We have no entry fee and anyone may come and explore our curiosities, browse our books and discover our charms. 

"We welcome the curious, the knowledge-seeking, the lovers of antiquity or anyone who just wants to escape the world and lose themselves in a good book or some beautiful music."

Members of the Lit and Phil over the years have included engraver Thomas Bewick, industrialists Robert Stephenson, William Armstrong and Joseph Swan, writer Sid Chaplin, architect John Dobson and Prime Minister Charles, Earl Grey.

It was here in February 1879 that Joseph Swan first demonstrated his remarkable invention – the electric light bulb.

Swan’s incandescent electric light, developed in 1878, was first successfully demonstrated to the public in a lecture at the ‘Lit and Phil’ at a meeting that was presided over by industrialist, William Armstrong.

The Lit and Phil’s beautiful library became the first public room in the world lit and filled with illumination by electric light and this must have captivated the interest of the learned and enquiring men in attendance.

The Northern Echo: The Literary and Philosophical Society building in Newcastle. Picture: DAVID SIMPSONThe Literary and Philosophical Society building in Newcastle. Picture: DAVID SIMPSON

William Armstrong was one of the first to recognise the potential and in 1880 Swan installed electric lights at Armstrong’s house at Cragside, in Northumberland.

At that time Swan lived at a house called Underhill in Low Fell, Gateshead and this was the first private house in the world to be lit by electricity. Armstrong’s Cragside holds the distinction of being the first house lit by hydro-electric power.

Over the years the Lit & Phil has welcomed many great literary figures including Oscar Wilde, EM Forster and Gertrude Bell.

Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant was a school boy member and recent visitors and patrons include Melvyn Bragg, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, David Almond, Alexander McCall Smith, Derek Jacobi and Michael Palin.

The blue plaque was erected in 2003 to mark the bi-centenary of the birth of railway pioneer Robert Stephenson, who belonged to the society for most of his life.

* Thanks to historian David Simpson for his help in compiling this feature. For more on the history, culture, people and places of the North East, visit his website at

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