‘I learned more reading at Morden Tower than I had at a hundred universities’
We came across the Morden Tower on a walk around Newcastle’s thirteenth-century city wall which can still be seen in several parts of today’s city. Here, on the northwest side, it is most evident, a stone’s throw from St James’ Park Football Ground and Chinatown.
The Morden Tower became one of Britain’s best-known literary landmarks. For the past 45 years, hundreds of poets have come from all over the world to give readings in this ancient turret-room, at first sight not the most obvious of venues.
Morden Tower readings were started by Tom and Connie Pickard in 1964. The very simple architecture of the room and its intimate scale – it’s roughly circular, and holds up to 50 people at most when sitting comfortably – has turned out to be to its advantage, ensuring for poets a space and atmosphere in which they have been able to achieve direct communication with their audience.
Some of the many poets and writers that have read at Morden Tower include: Carole Anne Duffy, Allen Ginsberg, Seamus Heaney, Adrian Henry, Ted Hughes, Roger McGough, Derek Mahon, Brian Patten and Stevie Smith. Allen Ginsberg said of it: ‘Reading at Morden Tower altered my own poetic practice slightly toward greater economy of presentation. So I learned more reading at Morden Tower than I had at a hundred universities’. The magic of the Morden Tower helped many poets on their way.
34-36 Stowell St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4XQ. 8 minutes on foot from the main station.
Sadly, there are few live events there these days, but you can view the outside and the plaque on the wall celebrating Basil Bunting’s first reading of Briggflats in 1965, with this excerpt inscribed on it:
‘Gentle generous voices weave
Over bare night
Words to confirm and delight
Till bird dawn’
- Visit: The Literary and Philosophical Society, 23 Westgate Rd, NE1 1SE, litandphil.org.uk. The Lit & Phil Library is Newcastle’s exquisite secret library, open to all and free to explore and browse. Established in 1825, it became a hub of learning and enlightenment.
- Visit: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, 30 Lime Street, NE1 2PQ. Celebrates children’s books, their creators and their readers through exhibitions and events.
- Walk: Newcastle City Guides lead daily tours. See newcastlegateshead.com/city-guides
- Listen: To Basil Bunting reading Briggflats on YouTube