Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Victorian history’

Travel – Gladstone’s Library (St Deiniol’s), Hawarden, North Wales

April 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Gladstone’s Library was founded by Victorian Statesman, William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), arguably Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, and the most significant Anglican lay person of the last two centuries. Four times Liberal Prime Minister, four times Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Parliamentarian for 63 years, few politicians have achieved as many lasting reforms as Gladstone. He even came within a hair’s breadth of bringing peace to Ireland with his sadly ill-fated Home Rule Bill. 

Gladstone was a pragmatic political leader with an insatiable interest in history, literature, the classical world and theological dispute; a voracious reader who read 20,000 books. Britain at this time was the most powerful nation on earth, at the height of Queen Victoria’s imperialism.

I find it hard to reconcile Gladstone’s clear Christian conviction with the hypocrisy and barbarity of Empire. Yet he was solidly at the heart of it. Was he compromised by this or did he provide the conscience against even greater excesses?

‘We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace … nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right’. W. E Gladstone.

Gladstone, a millionaire, lived in the Castle in the village of Hawarden, North Wales, just a few miles from Chester. This is the site of St Deiniol’s Library which Gladstone founded. He bought the land in 1889 and the Library opened in 1894. The present Grade 1 listed building was opened in 1902 as the National Memorial to Gladstone. It is the only Prime Ministerial Library in the UK and is unique in being a residential library with 26 study bedrooms, some now fully refurbished and en-suite.

It’s a fascinating Victorian building; with the double-tier library occupying one entire wing and the residential areas including the dining room, kitchen and chapel the other. The bedrooms and offices are spread across the whole of the first floor. You quickly get to find your way around as the building is not actually that large.

I decided, after my week, that this is a rather special and unusual place.

Gladstone’s influence pervades the entire place. There is a huge granite statue in the grounds gazing out over the village! There are pictures, busts and other statues of the GOM (Grand Old Man) everywhere including a photo collage detailing the main aspects of his life in the main corridor leading to the dining room. 

The library was created around Gladstone’s original donation of 32,000 books. It houses a world renowned collection of theology and nineteenth century studies. The collection boasts more than 250,000 items. Gladstone wanted his library to be a country house “for the Pursuit of Divine Learning”, offering ‘insight and refreshment’ to visiting scholars and users.

The library is galleried with access to the second floor up some very narrow, winding and rickety stairs with rope handholds! Here you go back in time. This is an old-style ‘quiet’ library; individual study tables with desk lamps and old comfy leather chairs. It’s extremely conducive to study and thought, which of course is the USP of the place. It’s why it works so well. You come here specifically to think, write, study, reflect and retreat. It’s open in the evening until 10pm which I found to be a real boon.

The book collection covers mainly theology and history with the emphasis on publications from the late Victorian period. The GladCat computer system makes finding books within the library very easy indeed. There’s a thrilling touch of serendipity to come across books with Gladstone’s own pencilled annotations!

The property has a mixture of older and the newer refurbished bedrooms. I had one of the older rooms (Room 7, no view) which was very spacious, with the bathroom directly opposite. There are no TV’s in any of the bedrooms which I think is good! Broadband is fast, free and available throughout the building although one guest said it didn’t work in some of the bedrooms. I had no problems. One bug-bear however was the horrible noise late at night and early in the morning caused by the expansion of the hot water pipes!

I found that in a very short time, the place draws you into its own daily rhythm. You feel very much apart from the day-to-day. There’s a lovely modern Chapel on the ground floor. Communion takes place each weekday morning at 8am, following the Church of Wales Anglican liturgy.

The ‘Food for Thought’ Coffee Shop replaces the dining room during the day and provides snacks and drinks. I found the food overall – both in quantity and quality – adequate but not noteworthy. After dinner, the Gladstone Lounge takes on the atmosphere of a club or common room. An honesty bar operates from this room. There is a good selection of daily newspapers available both in the dining room and in the lounge.  The Fox and Grapes pub, just a short distance away across the road, serves good beer and food if, as I did, you want to get away from the library for just a while.

‘Be inspired with the belief that life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing that we are to shuffle through as best we can, but an elevated and lofty destiny’.

W. E Gladstone.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 685 other followers

%d bloggers like this: