In Hawarden, shielded by a tall hedge, lies an imposing and handsome sandstone building. Reminiscent of a large house, the building is Gladstone’s Library. Home to over 150,000 items, including the book collection of William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1868-1894, the library also offers residential and conferencing facilities that attract a cross-section of visitors, from members of the clergy and academics, to writers, readers and the local community.
The significance of Gladstone’s Library and its founder is signalled by a large statue, visible through a gap in the hedge with the library building beyond. Located on the site of the old Hawarden Grammar School, and opened in 1902 as the National Memorial to W. E. Gladstone, it is the only prime ministerial library in the UK.
Built to house Gladstone’s 30,000 plus books and to help Gladstone facilitate his aim to unite bookless readers with readerless books, the library also provided rooms and facilities for visitors. The residential facilities are still an important and popular attraction. Offering a retreat for those wishing to spend time reading, writing, researching, thinking, or meeting, the Library has over twenty bedrooms and regularly offers a range of courses. The warm welcome is reflected in the ambient oak panelling and comfortable furniture. And in a positive step towards inclusivity, the building has recently undergone a programme of alterations that enables increased accessibility to the communal areas, although a lift to the upstairs rooms is yet to be installed.
The popular GladFest, held every September, brings together readers and writers, with a programme of literary-inspired events that provide opportunities to develop skills, and to be entertained. Other events that run throughout the year include crime fiction readings, and writing workshops.
The Library’s catering facility, ‘Food for Thought’, has recently undergone changes, with the old oak tables in the dining room now replaced with modern equivalents, and an extended, mainly vegetarian, menu. The food is freshly made, and the cakes and desserts are very popular with residents and visitors. Many locals frequent the restaurant to share food and thoughts with family and friends.
Located on the ground floor, the main Reading Room provides a calm, quiet space for those wishing to focus on academic and personal thought and reflection. Residents and Readers are encouraged the make themselves at home amongst the books. The spirit of Gladstone lives on through the library space. In addition to the bookshelves, which were made to Gladstone’s specification, it has its own classification system, based on Gladstone’s own system, that sequences the books in the order they are added to the Collection. The galleried space has a church-like quality, with its vaulted, truss-beamed ceiling and carved wooden balustrade. Small, half-hidden stairways offer access to the gallery area, where books on theology sit waiting to be read and digested by researchers and writers alike. An engraving on the Reading Room wall gives a clue as to the happy and lasting connections with visitors, past and present.
For those wishing to learn more about Gladstone’s relationship with books and reading, a glass case houses examples of texts annotated by Gladstone, and a book of diary entries reveals his reading habits. Through a door to the side of the library space lies the House of Wisdom. This small, shelved room provides readers with the opportunity to explore and connect with Islamic texts that encourage an understanding of Islamic culture. Behind the scenes is a strong-room containing original documents and ancient texts.
On the opposite side of the building, a modern, non-denominational Chapel, built in 2008, welcomes everyone to its cosy, yet inspirational space. A small stained-glass window is inscribed with the sentence ‘Both hearing them and asking them questions’, again relaying the spirit of Gladstone, and a beautiful piece of locally-produced artwork, made from glass and copper, adorns the chapel wall, offering a focal point for visitors.
Whether a frequent reader, resident or one-time visitor, everyone is welcomed to Gladstone’s Library, and the friendly spirit of William Gladstone can be felt within the walls of this very special place.
Book a residential stay, or register as a Reader for full access to the Reading Rooms.
Friends of Gladstone’s contribute monthly or annually to help fund the library.
Gladstone’s Library continues to endeavour to uphold Gladstone’s wishes to keep the library affordable to those who need it most. They do this in the following ways:
Free Access to the collection
20% discounts to students, clergy and members of the Society of Authors
Negotiable discounts for those staying for a period of one month or more
The collection can also be accessed online
Contact: 01244 532350 email@example.com
* * *
Michelle is an educational consultant and a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research proposes to interrogate the formation of Northern identity in the nineteenth century, and the importance of the Portico Library, Manchester. In her spare-time she enjoys editing book collections, and visiting sites of cultural and historical significance.