Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 13th January 2020 | Main image: Royal Academy Lates
It’s about time you made good on that new year’s resolution of leading a life of cultural and intellectual refinement.
But we don’t want to lecture you.
Instead, we’ll leave it to the professionals – the guest speakers, the research professors, the illustrious poets, artists, and social activists who regularly take to the stage in London to share their insights with the masses. Whatever you want to brush up on – whether it’s politics, tech, or just the rebirth of classical architecture in 15th century Italy, there’s free lunchtime lectures, candlelit evenings and mind-broadening salons on pretty much everything under the sun.
And so to buoy you forwards on your quest for intellectual enlightenment, we’ve picked out not only the best places that are putting on regular talks, but also the best events this month.
So without further ado…
TOP PICKS THIS MONTH (January 2020)
Free Lectures on Anthropology
Was there ever a matriarchy? Is the nuclear family really that typical? Did language develop because we started trusting each other? If you’re at all interested in humans, these introductory talks – with case studies from Malaysian hunter-gatherer shamans to teenage gangs in 1950s New York – will probably appeal to you.
Details: Throughout January | UCL Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, WC1H | Free
How To Thrive In A World Without Work
So, robots are probably going to take all our jobs. And while that means there might be more money to go around, it poses the questions of how we can distribute it fairly; how we can stop Big Tech from becoming (more) megalomaniacal; and what we’ll do when we don’t have jobs to fill our time.
Details: 16th January, 1-2pm | Livestreamed & at RSA House, 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ | Free
The Modern House Talks: Houses for a Better Life with Meredith Bowles
Beautiful estate agency and interiors site The Modern House are holding a series of talks on modern living. First up, Mole Architects’ Meredith Bowles will be talking about how you can design your house to create somewhere that’s a joy to live in, and is also sustainable for the environment.
Details: 16th January, 7-9pm | St Alphege Hall, King’s Bench Street, London, SE1 0QX | £15
Mindfulness: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Psychology
Willem Kuyken is literally an Oxford Professor of Mindfulness – which must make switching off and forgetting his work pretty difficult. This month, he’ll be coming to the British Library to talk about Buddhist spirituality and practices, and how they’ve fed into contemporary ideas of mindfulness and presence.
Details: 16th January, 7-8.30pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB | £13
Fanny and Stella
Hear the remarkable tale of Fanny and Stella – a.k.a Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two Victorian socialites who dressed as women. Arrested by the Met and subjected to a sensationalist public trial that involved detectives, politicians and forensic scientists.
Details: 16th January, 7.30pm | Highgate Cemetery, Swains Lane, London, N6 6PJ | £10
Adam Kay – This Is Going To Hurt
Britain’s most famous junior doctor will be sharing bizarre festive anecdotes from his time working in hospitals over Christmas alongside his award-winning stand-up comedy. He’ll have you in stitches.
Details: 19th January, 4.30-5.30pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB | £13
Can Machines Be Conscious, and Would It Matter If They Were?
The title pretty much hits the nail on the head with this one. It’s a free lecture from a Professor in AI, and he’ll be talking about how we’d be able to tell if AI robots became ‘conscious’, whether it would be useful, and what makes the difference between simulated and real consciousness.
Details: 21st January, 1-2pm | Barnard’s Inn Hall, Holborn, London, EC1N 2HH | Free, just turn up
Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime with Sean Carroll
We know, you’re probably sick of hearing about the irreconcilable conflict between the multiple worlds proposed by quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. But just in case you wanted, say, a total beginner’s introduction to them, and what quantum physics actually means at an individual level, cool physics man Sean Carroll is here to help.
Details: 21st January, 6.30-8pm | Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL | £25
Black Men On The Couch
For the first in a series of talks designed to reduce the stigma around mental health and therapy; Rotimi Akinsete will be joined by the Artistic Director of the Young Vic theatre, Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, about the successes and challenges he’s encountered in his life.
Details: 21st January, 7-8.30pm | LVMH Lecture Theatre, UAL, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AA | Free, but register ahead
Reweirding: Car Park Life
Gareth E. Rees bloody loves a car park. And he’s making a (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) case for them being majestic, liminal spaces where anything can happen. From drug dealing to dogging, via finding Sir Francis Drake outside a B&Q, this is an ode to Britain’s great tarmac-covered urban playgrounds.
Details: 22nd January, 7.30-9.30pm | Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL | £7
The Value of Care: Women’s Work and Emotional Labour
Why is nursing – traditionally a female-led career – still battling old prejudices? Two speakers contributing to a new report on gender, nursing and pay gaps will talk about historical and contemporary views on this highly demanding, and undervalued, sector.
Details: 29th January, 5-7pm | Royal College of Nursing, 20 Cavendish Square, London, W1G 0RN | Free, but register ahead
Before Grenfell Fire
Dr Shane Ewen discusses historic and contemporary tragedies that have arisen from poor building decisions and designs, from Bradford City Football Club to the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower.
Details: 29th January, 6.30-8pm | The Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, EC1M 4DA | Free, but register ahead
The next event in Antique Beat’s series of Salon discussions, London Power takes a look at the social history of Battersea Power Station. You’ll hear all about its industrial origins, that Pink Floyd album cover and the 30 years it was left in ruins, as well as other ways London’s been powered (apparently including treadmills and sparks from fish). Plus, you’ll get a glug of gin to power yourself through.
Details: 30th January, 6.30pm | Westminster Arts Library, 35 St Martins Street, London, WC2H 2CP | £10
REGULAR LECTURES & TALKS
The Culpeper Astronomy Nights
The Culpeper‘s rooftop astronomy nights have attained near-mythical status. Not just because they’re great, but because tickets are rarer than gold dust. Conducted with an intimate crowd of around 15, you’ll start your evening with a feast in the Culpeper’s dining room before a short lesson on the constellations, before heading up to the roof to take a peek at the moon, stars and planets through a professional telescope.
Details: 40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP | Sign up for ticket releases here
A regular evening curated by It’s Nice That, during which four speakers from creative industries discuss their most seminal projects to date, and reveal the processes behind them in short, snappy presentations. They also sell out quicker than hotcakes, so subscribe to their mailing list to stay updated on ticket releases.
Details: Oval Space, 29–32 The Oval, E2 9DT | Last Tuesday of every month
Tucked away from the museum’s busier rooms is the V&A’s princely lecture hall, lined with some of history’s great thinkers (which, very shortly, will also include you). They offer free lunchtime lectures as well as ticketed evening talks, variously inspired by current exhibitions; prized objects; and even the process of collecting itself.
Details: Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | What’s On | Listen to previous lectures here
The London Art Salon
The London Art Salon like to frame things a little differently. Committed to breaking down barriers to art, they cut out any pretentiousness with accessible one-off lectures and tours around the best current exhibitions in London.
Details: Various locations | What’s On
How To Academy
Striking the tricky balance between talks that aren’t pointlessly general, but aren’t university-level specific either, the How To Academy host lectures across London with a range of speakers. You can listen to in-depth discussions from historians, professors and researchers; learn business skills from some of the world’s most experienced consultants and coaches; and hear from famous figures from Rory Stewart to Al Gore.
Details: Across London | What’s On
Get a peek behind the scenes at the National Theatre, where you can hear about out how theatre is made from the directors, actors, set designers and even wig-makers working on current productions.
Details: Upper Ground, SE1 8XX | What’s On
The National Gallery is essentially an art school, with free lunchtime lectures on various paintings; longer lectures on broader themes; ‘Talk and Draw’ workshops, where you’ll hear from an expert on a particular painting before creating your own take on the piece; and their 10 minute talks, taking place every weekday at 4pm at a different painting in the gallery.
Details: Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN | What’s On
The British Museum
Curators, historians and archeologists take to the stand at the British Museum, where you can score everything from free gallery talks to Latin classes. There are regular free lectures linked to current exhibitions, as well as study days on weekends that combine talks, tours and screenings for an intensive introduction to some of the world’s most interesting places, people and eras.
Details: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG | What’s On
The School of Life
How to Make Love Last. How to Fail. The Meaning of Life. Just a couple of the breezy, light-hearted topics the School of Life are tackling with their near-daily lectures, hosted by speakers, philosophers, thinkers, creatives and psychologists drawn from around the world. Settle in for an evening class, all-day workshop or 5 day course – you know, depending on how dedicated you are to finding eternal serenity and stuff. READ MORE
Details: 70 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB | What’s On
The British Academy
Set in the grandiose surroundings of William Gladstone’s former mansion, the British Academy is a century-old society dedicated to tackling the big questions in the humanities and social sciences. Drop by for discussions on loneliness or the future of romance, while taking a peek at one of London’s most opulent buildings.
Details: 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, SW1Y 5AH | What’s On
University College London
UCL has over 100 different academic departments, which together make for an insanely varied calendar of both free talks and ticketed lectures, on topics as wide as artificial intelligence to Latin American street art. Held in the University’s own lecture rooms, it’s all the useful bits of uni (learning about what you want) without any of the bad bits (essays, exams, jägerbombs).
Details: Across the UCL Campus | What’s On
The Conway Hall Ethical Society has roots going as far back as 1793, and is now the only remaining ethical society in the UK.
Essentially, it’s there for moral support.
And it’s achieving this not only through courses, photography workshops, film screenings, free concerts, comedy nights and language classes, but also by lining up a roster of esteemed activists, writers and academics who speak on topics like the societal impact of big data and the technocracy, political extremism, and the significance of corridors.
Details: 25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL | What’s On
Gresham College has been hosting free lectures for Londoners for over four centuries, so it’s fair to say they’ve got the formula down. They host around 130 lectures throughout the year on topics across the arts and sciences, while the 2,000+ lectures that have been recorded there since the ’80s can be found on their website, too. Ideal for a classic evening of “How To Be A Shakespearean Atheist” ‘n’ chill.
Details: Barnard’s Inn Hall, EC1N 2HH | What’s On
The Last Tuesday Society
The Last Tuesday Society is not your average bar. And the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is not your average museum. So the events held amongst the stuffed two-headed animals and voodoo dolls are just a touch unusual too; from absinthe tastings to taxidermy classes; and gothic storytelling to séances round the sarcophagus…
Details: 11 Mare Street, E8 4RP | What’s On
Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy has been training and promoting artists since the reign of George III. Now, it’s promoting art appreciation, too, thanks to both the 15 minute mini-talks that take place around its galleries, and the more in-depth discussions covering both the history and future of art – not to mention the celebrated Lates; colourful parties filled with after-hours gallery openings, immersive performances and talks.
Details: Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD | What’s On
The Old Operating Theatre Museum
Tucked away in a church attic, The Old Operating Theatre Museum was once the venue for surgery performed on female patients from the neighbouring St. Thomas hospital. Now, it’s home to film screenings, secret concerts, quirky historical talks and the occasional after-hours Victorian surgical demonstration.
Details: Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY | What’s On
Thirst for knowledge still not quenched? Pay a visit to the most Unusual Museums in London