Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 2nd October 2019 | 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 (October 2019)
Friday Forum: Edible Futures
What will food look like in 50 years? Over a whole day of talks – from reducing waste to dishes tailored to your genome – a crack team of scientists, designers, artists and chefs aim to find out.
Details: 11th October, 10.30am-5.30pm | Hochhauser Auditorium, V&A, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | £22.50-45
Engendering Men’s Health with Grayson Perry
As part of a new seminar series, ‘Beyond the Binary’ at UCL’s Centre for Gender and Global Health, academics will be looking at how gender roles and notions of masculinity can affect men’s health on a world scale. There’ll be three panel discussions, an art show, and a discussion of masculinity with the day’s headliner, artist Grayson Perry.
Details: 14th October, 2-8pm (Grayson Perry speaking 6-7.15pm) | Kennedy Lecture Theatre, ICH, 30 Guilford Street, WC1N 1DP | Free – register here
How To Control Your Attention
Over the past decade, Silicon Valley has pushed its tech innovators to create addictive technologies that tap into our basic behavioural instincts. And one by one, many of them have now become activists against their own creations (the guy who created the ‘like’ button has sworn off social media). Nir Eyal once taught companies how to get people ‘hooked’ – and now he’s here to tell you how to reclaim your attention and get away from distraction.
Details: 16th October, 1-2pm | Great Room, The RSA, 8 John Adam Street, WC2N 6EZ | Free – register here
Speeches That Changed The World
Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore presents some of the most crucial, poignant and chilling speeches in history, performed live by a cast of acclaimed actors. Expect to hear the words of the great and terrible, from Genghis Khan to Stalin, Michelle Obama to Elizabeth I, read aloud by the likes of Jason Isaacs and Nathalie Emmanuel.
Details: 16th October, 6.45-8.15pm | Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DW | £12.50-40
Changing Perspectives on Homelessness
A free lunchtime lecture hoping to tackle the root causes of – and potential solutions to – the homelessness crisis, with first-hand accounts from those who have experienced it, as well as insights from a day centre for rough sleepers.
Details: 17th October, 1-2pm | Darwin Lecture Theatre, 044: Darwin Building, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT | Free – register here
Can There Ever Be Real Progress In Politics?
Human rights activist Francesca Klug and author David Runciman duke it out – one believing that some political lessons can’t be learnt, the other confident that civil liberties will continue to steadily increase.
Details: 17th October, 6.30-8pm | 2 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AA | £15
Matrophobia: Murdering Mothers in 19th Century London
An atmospheric talk in an old operating theatre wedged into a church attic, examining 19th century fears of motherhood and attitudes towards infanticide through the transcripts of Victorian court cases.
Details: 17th October, 7-8.30pm | The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY | £12
London Literature Festival
Back for a 13th year, this festival at the Southbank Centre brings together an all-star cast of voices for readings, discussions and performances. Hear work written in UK prisons, attend talks on the practicalities of writing and getting published, and listen to speakers from multi-award winning poet and writer Lemn Sissay to Anthony Daniels, the actor inside C-3PO.
Details: 17th-27th October | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 7XX | Individually ticketed
A Conversation With Peter Brook
Peter Brook has been described as “our greatest living director”, and this month, the 94 year-old will be speaking about his long and storied career, touching particularly on the role of music in the theatre (about which he’s somehow just written a book, too).
Details: 22nd October, 6-6.45pm | Lyttleton Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX | £9
Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic In Modern Times
Just in time for Hallowe’en, Thomas Waters – an actual lecturer in witchcraft – discusses the origins and persistence of Black Magic in Britain, from Medieval quacks and witch hunt victims to herbal healers and Victorian mediums.
Details: 23rd October, 7.30-9.30pm | Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL | £6.92
An Evening With Rory Stewart
Diplomat, cabinet member, Harvard professor and adventurer: Rory Stewart has a fair amount to talk about. So you can expect this discussion, filled with personal anecdotes and lessons learnt, to be just a little intriguing.
Details: 23rd October, 7.30-8.45pm | Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DW | £30
Curator’s Introduction: Antony Gormley
If you’re like, pretty sure you get what sculptor Antony Gormley’s saying with his room full of sea sludge at the Royal Academy, but just want to make sure, this curator’s tour of the exhibition will tell you everything you need to know.
Details: 25th October, 11am-12pm | The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, 6 Burlington Gardens, W1S 3ET | £6-10
The Irrational Ape
Critical thinking can save the world: and author David Robert Grimes is here to save critical thinking. He’ll be speaking on his new book, which advises on how to retain free and rational thought in a world increasingly subjected to fake news, prejudice and groupthink.
Details: 27th October, 3-4.30pm | Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL | Free/£5-8
Letters From An Astrophysicist
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a legend of cosmic science – and for one night only, he’ll be coming to London to read some of his replies to the many letters he’s received over the years, from prisoners to priests, and share some of his infinite wonder for the universe.
Details: 30th October, 7.30-8.45pm | Hammersmith Apollo, 45 Queen Caroline Street, W6 9DZ | £41.25-88.25
BOOK NOW: Printed In North Korea, a unique insight to the country via its colourful graphics, and the Barbican’s Battle of Ideas weekender, taking place 2nd & 3rd November.
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