Last Saturday I was to meet friends in Porthmadog for a ride (and more – watch this space!) on the Ffamous Ffestiniog Railway. Porthmadog is a very long drive from Leeds so I was very happy to know about Gladstone’s Library and to secure a room there for two nights.
Gladstone’s Library is in Hawarden in North Wales, just west of Chester and not far from the M56 and the A55. I first heard about the Library whilst studying for my Master’s in Victorian Studies and then it was called St Deiniol’s Library and it’s the only British Prime Ministerial Library. It’s also very unusual in that besides having a restaurant open to residents, readers and the public you can also book a room and stay there overnight. ‘Sleeping with Books’ is its tagline.
“Gladstone was eager to make his personal library accessible to others; the first step towards fulfilling this vision was taken in 1889 when two large iron rooms were erected with six or seven smaller rooms to act as studies. Gladstone, over eighty years old, was closely involved in the transfer of 32,000 of his books from Hawarden Castle to their new home a quarter of a mile away, undertaking much of the manual labour himself, helped only by his valet and one of his daughters.
The Library Building
He endowed the library with £40,000 indicating that this was more than a hobby or a sideline: this was his major bequest. Following his death 1898, a public appeal was launched for funds to provide a permanent building to house the collection and to replace the temporary structure. The £9,000 raised provided an imposing building, designed by John Douglas, which was officially opened by Earl Spencer on October 14th 1902 as the National Memorial to W. E. Gladstone. The Gladstone family were themselves to fulfill the founder’s vision by funding the residential wing, which welcomed its first resident on June 29th, 1906.” [source]
Gladstone’s Library Front
The Main Entrance
Gardens at the Rear of the Library
As I was leaving very early on Saturday and would be out all day I didn’t spend a lot of time in the actual library itself but I signed up for a Reader’s Card and hope to go back very soon. There are three ‘Glimpses’ of the Library each weekday and I managed to join the last one at 4pm on Friday. A Library intern gave us a brief introduction to its history and stock and we were able to look at the collection which consists of Gladstone’s personal library as well as relevant books and other print items which the library continues to acquire today.
The Library also hosts an amazing choice of literary and cultural events.
“THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING
HAPPENING HERE AT
GLADSTONE’S LIBRARY – FROM
LECTURES TO RESIDENTIAL
COURSES TO FILM EVENINGS.
OUR POPULAR LITERARY
FESTIVALS, GLADFEST AND
HEARTH, RETURN AFTER A
HUGELY SUCCESSFUL 2015.
WE ALSO HAVE A NEW
ADDITION TO OUR FESTIVAL
THEN THERE IS OUR RENOWNED
WRITERS IN RESIDENCE SCHEME
AND A SELECTION OF SPECIAL
AUTHOR-LED EVENING EVENTS
TO LOOK FORWARD TO. READ ON
TO FIND OUT WHAT WE HAVE
PLANNED FOR 2016 INSIDE OUR
BEAUTIFUL BOOK-LINED WALLS.”
Just look at the 2016 Calendar here.
I did spend some time exploring the grounds and taking a walk in Hawarden Park just across the road. Part of the park is open to the public but as a resident at the Library I was issued with a permit that allowed me to access the woodlands beyond the public area.
Enter the Gate and Parkland walks await
Enter by the large castellated gate at the top of the village centre and follow the track at a No Access notice turn right and follow the track through Bilberry Wood. Keep to the broad track and cross the bridge. After a while I turned back.
Track through Bilberry Wood
Although the permit said I was allowed to take certain paths it seemed unclear to me as there were strongly worded notices forbidding this even to permit holders. I never met a soul though. Back in the public area I climbed up to take a closer look at the medieval castle.
I didn’t visit it, as it is now a private home, but nearby is Hawarden Castle itself the 18th century former home of William Ewart Gladstone. His descendants still live there.
A Side Street in Hawarden
After my late afternoon walk in Hawarden Park I noticed that St Deiniol’s church next door to the Library was open so I stepped inside to admire the Burne-Jones windows and have a look at the Gladstone Memorial Chapel before the evening’s choir practice began.
St Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden (the white cross on the left is the Boer War Memorial)
Burne-Jones‘s Last Ever Stained Glass Window
‘To the glory of God and as a thanksgiving for the long and blessed lives of their parents, this window was dedicated by the sons and daughters of William Ewart and Catherine Gladstone. Ascension tide 1898.’
Two-light window by Morris & Co designed by Edward Coley Burne-Jones
‘To the glory of God and in loving remembrance of Mary Joy Hurlbutt. This window was erected by her sons and daughters in the year 1911’.
After supper served to residents in the dining room (Food For Thought) it was time for me to go and sleep with books as I had a very early start the next day.
Food for Thought
The Gladstone Memorial
Former Victorian Prime Minster William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)
What a place – and I never even knew it existed! Glorious,really looks deserving of a longer stay, too. Or a return visit…
It’s the perfect combination, Diana. I will definitely return – although it does get very booked up, especially by groups and attendees on their residential courses.
My goodness, you have brought back memories of a perfect short Winter holiday spent at a Trust House Hotel in PorthMadog way back in the 1980s. It was cold, deserted and very somber. The food was wonderful and we rolled up to the table 3 times a day to be fed like fighting cocks and in between we walked everywhere. Particular highlights were visiting the strange Port Meirion village, where no one else was there except a man walking his dog ad rescuing a very uncooperative sheep, tangled in barbed wire–took us about 45 minutes and was the first and only time my husband used his Swiss Army Knife!
Happy memories of a holiday in Wales, Erika. Some of my fellow travellers on the Ffestiniog Railway the next day had stayed at the Portmeirion Hotel as the village is now, so I understand.
Beautiful library building!
Who wouldn’t want to spend a night or two within its walls!
You certainly find the most fascinating places to stay in! This all looks and sounds delightful.
And this was one of the best!
I want to go there! Our next visit to the British Isles will be guided by your blog. Wonderful spot.
Very happy to hear that there will be a “next visit”, Julie. Will have to pin you down to some dates ;-).
I would have spent the entire weekend right there! Lovely!
I think you have a point, sherry. Now that I’ve tried it out I need to just go and stay there and drink it all in in a leisurely fashion.
[…] dawned bright and sunny and the day stayed perfect in every way throughout. I crept quietly out of Gladstone’s Library at 10 past 6 in the morning and arrived at Porthmadog Harbour Station Car Park at about 20 to 8. […]
What a fascinating place. I’m always in Chester with work but never knew of the library just down the road. Will have to find time to visit
Yes, good idea. Take a little drive out for coffee or lunch or tea and have little nosey around. If you go don’t forget to go through the red door in the gate opposite for a walk in the park. It’s a real surprise.
It’s now on my list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention with your post 👍 😊
[…] I picked up friend Ann from her home in Widnes and we’re now spending a few days ‘Sleeping with Books‘ at Gladstone’s Library. After my two-night stay last year I thought it would be […]