Hidden in a quaint village by the name of Hawarden in North Wales, six miles from the beautiful city of Chester, Gladstone’s Library is a lot of wonderful things: the only residential library in the UK, the UK’s only prime-ministerial library, and the best place, in our humble opinion, to spend a weekend on the whole bloody island.
We spent two nights at this hotel/library/paradise hybrid, exploring the grounds, reading Gladstone’s books, relaxing by the fire, and chatting with likeminded people about politics and history, enjoying perhaps the best weekend of our lives.
Gladstone’s Library: The Incredible History
William Gladstone was an amazing man. Son to a slave-trader, Gladstone dove straight into British politics out of university, serving in the Conservative Party. In a rare political shift, Gladstone became more liberal through the course of his life, eventually forming the Liberal Party, and then serving as Britain’s Prime Minister four times (to this day, he is the UK’s longest-serving PM). Gladstone moved dramatically away from everything he had come from, famously opposing the Opium War with China, fighting to rein-in unfair landlords, crusading for home rule in Ireland, and aiding Bulgaria in their fight against the Ottoman Empire.
Aside from all he did for liberal politics, Gladstone also owned and read 22,000 books in his lifetime (this averages at five books per week). He spoke several languages, including Latin, and annotated his books in detail. He was an avid reader of theology and history, specifically, and before his death he built a big shed library to house all of his books. After his death, in accordance to his wishes, this shed was dismantled to make room for the incredible Gladstone’s Library which still stands today.
Why Gladstone’s Library is Better than Disneyland
For lovers of literature, those who want nothing more than a quiet retreat for a weekend away, or those who simply enjoy the atmosphere of being around books, sitting with a glass of red by the fireside on a wing-backed chair, and talking politics, there is no better place than Gladstone’s.
The atmosphere in this place is staggering. The library is open to the public, and many local people and students some to find a quiet place to study. The rooms are quaint and homey, and purposefully lacking in TV, placing an emphasis on quiet reading and writing. Although you do get a lovely Roberts Radio to listen to.
The building itself has a stately home design, making one feel like they are living through a season of Downton Abbey. The staff are kind and helpful; they love their jobs, and I can see why. It’s a place of friendliness and chatter; the kind of place where you’ll strike up a conversation with a stranger in a way you never would out in the cold real world.
To give a personal example, we were due to start a tour of the library when a man named Gordon, who had until a few years back been Gladstone’s in-house chaplain, came to tell us a little of the building’s history. He met us again at dinner and told us everything we could ever hope to know about the man himself, William Gladstone. After retiring to the common room for coffee, Gordon introduced us to a visiting professor of British History from Tennessee who sat with us for hours, discussing American and British history, the class system, and the state of Brexit and Trump’s America. It was a wonderful experience that could only have happened at this wonderful place, the kind of place that invites these kinds of experiences.
Festivals and Events at Gladstone
Beyond your average weekend away, Gladstone’s also offers various events like writer’s retreats, festivals, and lessons from Writer’s in Residence. The upcoming Hearth Festival on 2nd February invites four novelists to speak and give intimate advice to budding writers who wish to attend and learn from the best. These festival takes place in the common room, surrounded by books and bordered by a fireplace on opposite walls. The festivals and events at Gladstone’s are so much more intimate than your typical festival experience, putting comfort and friendliness at the forefront of the experience.
If you’d rather a busier literary event then look no further than Gladfest in September (6th – 8th), rooms will book fast for this one if you’re hoping to stay as there will be writers in residence.
Food and Drink
There’s a restaurant on-site ‘Food for Thought‘ which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is open for snacks and coffee throughout the day. They even offer a beautiful afternoon tea and Sunday lunch (which need to be pre-booked). There’s plenty to choose from and it is all homemade and very reasonably priced. Eating in the restaurant with the other guests feels very cozy and wholesome, far more than anything we’ve ever experienced in a hotel before; and many of the customers are regulars from the village who want to come and enjoy the atmosphere.
If you’d like to eat out, there are some lovely cafes, a pub, and restaurants in the village that are within walking distance and you get to walk back to this stunning grade-1 listed building all over again!
Come and Stay Here
The care and love given to books and those who love them is staggering at Gladstone’s Library. To walk amongst his private collection of 22,000 books gives you goosebumps. Staying for a night or two or three means having access to such a wealth of knowledge, and a place to forget your stresses, read some books in utter peace and calm, and maybe even find the inspiration to write a story of your own.
You can book a room at Gladstone’s Library here. We’ll definitely be going back.
For more bookish fun in Wales, visit Hay on Wye – the beloved book town!
Will predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.