By Margaret Bennett
When our Treasurer, Margaret Bennett, mentioned she was going to stay for a few days at Gladstone’s Library in North Wales, we naturally invited her to write about it.
Have you ever wanted to have a sleepover in a library? Do you love the dusty smell of old books, paper and leather and the hush of researchers deep in thought, only interrupted by the occasional quiet rustle of papers and scratch of a pencil?
If so, Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire, North Wales, seven miles from Chester, is well worth a visit. The UK’s only prime-ministerial, and Wales’s only residential library. the Library was founded by the four times Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He bequeathed his collection of 32,000 books to the nation – apparently he’d only read 22,000 of them! He even transported them himself, from his home a quarter of a mile away from the library – by trundling them across in a wheelbarrow! That must have been quite a few trips!
The library now has 80,000 books and 70,000 papers and journals: many of the books have Gladstone’s own copious annotations still in them. It is particularly strong on 19th century history, theology, politics and literature, but it also holds modern collections, several special collections and archives ranging from the British Crime Writing Archive (including the records of the Detection Club) to the archive of the Movement for the Ordination of Women! It is recognized as the most important research library in Wales after the National Library of Wales.
The Library also hosts talks, conferences and writers-in-residence and it has its own literary festival, Gladfest.
The current building dates from 1902 and was designed by John Douglas. It was funded by public subscription and is now Grade I-listed. As well as the Reading Rooms, there are 26 bedrooms (mostly en suite), a comfortable lounge full of leather armchairs and novels, a chapel and a café. Notable guests include Alan Bennett and A S Byatt. It has been calculated that over 300 published books have been started, finished or worked on in the Library.
But you don’t have to be a writer: anyone can come and use the Library and stay in the beautiful building. It is open to all – writers, students, researchers and anybody looking for peace and quiet. There are no TVs in the bedrooms but books everywhere and each room has its own Roberts radio and writing desk. The staff are very helpful and welcoming and good food is available in the café and bistro. Rules are kept to a minimum, except for sensible ones relating to the use of the collections. It quickly comes to feel like home!
As Gladstone had wanted, the Library provides ‘books for readers without books and readers for books without readers’. And a peaceful place to read, write or just think.
Before you ask, yes, we are deeply envious of Margaret. There even seems to be a friendly cat.