Gladstone’s Library: Sleep with books

By Yasemin Cusack

After a four-hour long car trip, I ended up in a lovely village called Hawarden in Flintshire, located on the North Wales border. For a Londoner, the idea of having the bliss and silence of countryside alongside sleeping with books is just intriguing.

A Grade-I listed reddish, church-like, sandstone, Victorian Gothic exterior design is the sort of building you might like to know more about. I’m welcomed by a portrait of Gladstone as if asking ‘Have you read any books today?’

Gladstone Library

Gladstone Library lands were bought in 1889 by William Ewart Gladstone, who was a member of Parliament for over sixty years and four times the Liberal Democrat Prime Minister. Gladstone believed in the power of education for transformation. He didn’t want to donate his books to London or Oxford where books could be easily reached. Gladstone was eager to share his personal collection with others and especially with those wanting to learn but facing financial constraints. Armed with only his valet and one of his daughters, Gladstone was well into his eighties when he wheeled 32.000 books three-quarters of a mile between his home at Hawarden Castle and the temporary place chosen for the Library. He unpacked them and put them on the shelves using his own catalogue system. The library moved into its current home in 1902.

Gladstone read 22.000 of his books by skimming through, often making notes beside paragraphs and sections that were of interest and importance. It is known from his notes in the books that he read these books himself.

After receiving a very friendly welcoming from the reception, I started to head towards my room, alongside the smell of homemade food coming from the kitchen. The 26 rooms are plain and contemporary; minimalist and great for resting. The modern art pieces on the white walls, a cool study desk and chair, a comfortable bed and a flexible lamp on the bedside table, a kettle, a good selection of teas and coffee, and a Robertson radio. There are no TVs in the rooms.

The residential library is home to more than 250,000 books, under the themes of theology, literary culture, the economy, history, politics, literature, art, with some of them annotated with Gladstone’s original notes. Residents can work in the Theology Room until 10pm, every day.

Gladstone Library room

Dinner and breakfast are served in the communal canteen’s food hall. For just £8.95 you can enjoy 2 courses such as salmon with potatoes and vegetables, or vegetable lasagne and salad, followed by apple strudel with custard.

For breakfast: cereal, porridge, fresh fruit, croissants and cheese that come as included in your room fee.
A cooked breakfast is available for a £2.00 supplement, which is omelette or kippers. After dinner, tea and coffee are served in the Gladstone Room. The room accommodates comfy sofas, shelves of contemporary fiction books, newspapers, candlesticks, board games, a fireplace, and an honesty bar.

The library has been residential since it first opened in 1904, this having always been Gladstone’s intention, but it gained more prestige with the Writer in Residence programme. The programme has hosted writers including Sarah Perry, Jessie Burton, Melissa Harrison, Sally Vickers, Wendy Cope, and Amy Liptrot. The Library is also home to many events such as “The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes”, “Greek in a Week”, “The Gladstone Umbrella”, “Gladstone Literary Festival”, “Writing: Finding Success Through Failure — An Evening with Writer in Residence, Emily Morris” and more.

Single rooms £69, doubles/twins £95, with shared bathrooms or
en suite £81 or £105 respectively. Breakfast included. Church Lane, Hawarden CH5 3DF; 01244 532350;

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