Literary Festivals are a feature of the contemporary world of publishing and there are many literary societies which specialise in particular writers or genres but the Barnes Literary Society is unusual in that it offers its members a monthly lecture on a wide variety of literary topics. A glance at previous speakers reveals an impressive list of high profile lecturers and a broad range of subjects, all presented by experts in their field. Regular outings to places of literary interest and a stylish summer party with a literary theme are a part of the programme and have ensured a sociable and vibrant society.

My initial idea was based on a literary society in Glasgow, Scotland: the Bearsden Literary Society. My father was Treasurer for some years and President in 1965-1966. The Bearsden Literary Society has a long history: its first meeting was in 1892. Since then it has met every second Monday over the winter months. Its initial aims were to encourage literary effort and discussion among its members. The Society broadened its syllabus in the 1920s and now offers a wide range of topics. It is still going strong under the auspices of a local church.

I floated the idea of a Barnes Literary Society to a couple of local friends on a wet February afternoon in 2004. They shared my vision and went ahead to enthuse other friends who formed the founding committee. BLS likes parties and the first event was a launch party for Barnes residents which was greeted with great enthusiasm. The initial programme consisted of local speakers who were generous enough to give their expertise free to support the new initiative. We approached some high profile local writers and actors who were excited by the idea of a literary society and they have supported BLS as patrons ever since. One even offered his beautiful garden for our first summer party. The Barnes Bookshop was supportive from the beginning and sales and signings of our speakers’ books have been a feature of events ever since.

Over the years topics have ranged widely and included poetry, novels, biography, theatre, art history, music, science, film, publishing and journalism. Our speakers have transported us to far flung places. They have made us laugh. We have shared captivating experiences and we have been given insights into ideas, people and places. They have stimulated searching questions from our members and lively conversation after events. High quality speakers are essential to maintain a healthy membership and this has always been our priority. It was probably a fascinating talk by P.D. James at the beginning of our second year which made our reputation as a society of substance.

The society has always been self-financing and the founding committee provided financial support to get it started. Its immediate popularity and the numbers that wished to join were encouraging and through hard work and dedicated organisation BLS flourished and continues to do so. The Society celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014 with a dinner which included a celebration of the river Thames in poetry and prose with readings from our patrons Isla Blair, Julian Glover and Roger McGough.  We look forward to our 15th anniversary in 2019 and indeed our 20th in 2024.

Fiona Smith, founding Chairman, BLS
August 2017