Just a few minutes’ walk from the tiny train station in village of Hawarden (pronounce it without the middle “ar” as in Hawden otherwise the locals think it is funny!), between Wrexham and Chester, is the impressive red-brick building holding Gladstone’ library.
It is impressive not just because of the books by or about Gladstone and his family, but also the splendid frontage as you enter through the squealing, ironwork gate to reach Reception. Anyone can visit, and there are short guided walks to introduce you to the collections, referred to as a Glimpse of the Reading Rooms, three times a day.
There is tea and cake available too until 5.00pm – delicious fruit scones, even better warmed with butter and jam. The real treat is the accommodation for guests, including dinner and breakfast, plus special access to the Reading Rooms “after hours” until 10.00pm. It is fairly basic, but clean and comfy with no TV in rooms or tea and coffee facilities, although there are soft drinks freely available in the lounge downstairs.
On this visit in late January, with biting cold winds raging outside, it was a pleasure to sit and relax in the guest lounge with lots of deep, inviting sofas and a real fire blazing in the marble and wood surround fireplace. There are jigsaws and games, plus a library of modern titles to help you unwind and relax.
Dinner is from 6.30pm (until around 7.30pm while I was here as there were few residents to cater for), freshly cooked with good choice of dishes including a vegetarian option. Wine is also available by the glass at dinner, at around £4.50 a glass, so a good option. Breakfast includes a good selection of cereals, fruit, porridge, croissants and toast plus juice and coffee/tea. Hot food is available to order at a nominal extra £2 – thee was plenty to eat without the hot option.
The library is a wonderful area on two floors, narrow winding stairs up to open area above, all wooden shelves, tables and chairs to sit and relax. This is an impressive collection – Gladstone’s private collection – including histories, letters and essays on the Gladstone family, political essays and studies of his life – for example, T.A.Jenkins’ study of “Gladstone, Whiggery and the Liberal Party 1874-1886”.
The collection is a recognized source of information related to politics and the Irish Question which is associated with Gladstone, a substantial source of information for scholars of Islam and religious studies, plus Theology and the Arts – all of specific interest to Gladstone.
A large proportion of visitors are from America, with regular voluntary placements of one month as a Pastor, with of course access to the library. It is a special place that has a relaxing, unassuming atmosphere perfectly suited to study and contemplation, but with good company, food and accommodation thrown in. When I am on a deadline for one of my books, I will choose here as a way to really keep focussed!
Details from the Library
• The collection has more than 150,000 printed items
• Gladstone wanted to ‘bring together books who had no readers and readers who had no books’
• The library welcomes visitors from across the globe, with specific intention of building a network of writers and thinkers to consider social, moral and spiritual questions
• Open 50 weeks of the year; 26 bedrooms; coffee shop/restaurant ‘Food for Thought’
• Visit their website for information on events held throughout the year https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/ or email [email protected]