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The Penny Readings – what the Dickens? 

Written by Rachael Norris, 7th December 2021

‘There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.’
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol 


Book a ticket to watch this year’s event online streamed live from the Mansion House

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The Reader has been hosting Penny Readings events since 2003 and this Sunday (12 December) will be our 15th rendition of the Dickens-inspired event.  

The Reader’s Penny Readings is a joyous celebration of storytelling, song, performance and community that is not to be missed for anyone who loves reading. If you’re new to the concept and want to know more about what to expect at this year’s event then look no further. 

Photos from The Penny Readings 2019 with thanks to Fern and Star Photography

What to expect this year 

Reader’s Clare Ellis (Head of Teaching and Learning) and Greg Harwood-Jenkins (Young Persons Mentor) will be hosting the show live from the Mansion House at Calderstones as we open up the treasure house of literary delights and look back on the year. 

Of course, it’s the Penny Readings so a seasonal selection of literature has been chosen to be shared and read aloud.  

There’ll be live and pre-recorded readings from patrons, including screenwriter and author Frank Cottrell-Boyce, actor Claire Skinner, and TV presenter and People’s Postcode Lottery Ambassador, Matt Johnson. 

For the music lovers, the night will also feature a selection of musical pieces by Vivaldi, Bach and Corelli performed by Marino Capulli (violin) and Lizzie Elliott (cello) from Liverpool music charity, Early Music as Education. 

If you’re a regular to our annual festive event then you’ll remember the beautiful guitar arrangements and vocals of staff member, Lily Kehoe who will be dazzling us once again. 

As well as readings from staff, volunteers and friends from across The Reader community we’ll also take a look around the world of Shared Reading and hear from volunteers and group members on their highlights from this year. 


What's the history behind the Penny Readings? 

You might have heard of Penny Dreadfuls such as Sweeney Todd or Dick Turpin but the Penny Readings are far from dreadful – more like joyful!  

Penny Readings events rose to fame in the 1860s around the time that Charles Dickens was travelling the country and delivering public readings of his work. 

An 1887 handbook for parish priests suggests a Penny Readings should have a programme of around 15 items, "instrumental pieces, songs, glees, recitation, and readings".  

The Penny Readings were named as such simply because the public would pay one penny for admission.  

Charles Dickens famously performed readings at the Liverpool PhilharmonicSt. George’s Hall and the Theatre Royal (Liverpool Playhouse).  

We hosted our Reader version of The Penny Readings in the Concert Hall at St. Georges Hall for 10 consecutive years celebrating our 10th anniversary there in 2013. 

The Concert Hall at St George's Hall

Bringing the Shared Reading community together 

We are probably best known locally for our home in Calderstones Park but you’ll find our Shared Reading groups running all over the UK (and around the world) in libraries, cafes, community centres as well as hospitals, care homes, prisons.  

Shared Reading groups are powered by a community of over 700 brilliant volunteers and the Penny Readings are a way for us to say thank you, celebrate reading and mark the end of the year by spending time together. Everyone is welcome to join in 

In 2019, following our refurbishment of the Grade II listed Mansion House in Calderstones Park we hosted the Penny Readings in our own home for the first time and welcomed Shared Reading volunteers from Abergavenny to Yeovil, Wirral to Weston Supermare.  

We all know what happened in 2020 but the upside was that over 200 of our community members and volunteers were able to join us online for the annual festive celebration without having to make the trip. 

This year we’re meeting in the middle and hosting the Penny Readings both online and in person.  


How can I attend? 

If you’d like to join us, there’s still time and all are welcome - whether you’re new to The Reader or not. Book here to secure your place and receive a link to stream the event: 

As is tradition, tickets for the Penny Readings are free although a small donation is always welcome if you’re able to consider making one. 

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