We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

A quiet (very quiet) break, with a Liberal flavour

July 13, 2017 12:28 PM

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire

Are you looking for a short break with a difference? For peace and quiet, and an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life? For a chance to hold and read the books that were owned and even annotated by a great Liberal leader of yesteryear?

Look no further than Gladstone's Library, in Hawarden (Flintshire), which is described on their website as "Britain's finest residential library, and its only Prime Ministerial library. It was founded by the great Victorian statesman himself and, following his death in 1898, became the national memorial to his life and work as well as one of the few Grade I-listed buildings in North Wales".

Gladstone's Library began in 1889, when William Ewart Gladstone gave 32,000 of his books to found a new library, and endowed the venture with £40,000. The library's first home was in a temporary structure, and Gladstone reportedly moved many of the books there himself, in a wheelbarrow. After Gladstone's death, a dedicated (and impressive) building was built to house his collection. More recently, the collection has been expanded considerably, particularly in the area of theology.

A passionate, dedicated and apparently continuous reader, Gladstone annotated many of his books in pencil. Sometimes the annotations are no more than a vertical line marking passages of interest, but other annotations include notes and symbols (corresponding to Gladstone's own key). Some of the comments display Gladstone's serious approach to reading, but in one case he simply wrote "Idiot" next to the author's name on the title page.

Gladstone is known to have read 22,000 of the books himself (or at least to have started reading them) because he kept a journal throughout his life, and listed each book there as he began it. He reportedly was seldom seen without a book in his hand. The range of books in the Foundation Collection is eclectic, although alongside the history, politics, philosophy and travel books there is a high proportion of volumes favouring his own interest in religious matters.

The library is equipped with study desks and armchairs, so it is a comfortable and quiet place to read, study or write. Unlike a modern library, it is silent, to encourage reflective and contemplative study. It is used by scholars, clerics, historians and writers of all types, and has broadened its remit to include writing courses and other day or residential courses.

Gladstone's Library is residential, with 26 bedrooms (many of them en suite) located in one wing of the building. There is a communal lounge, and good home-cooked food. In contrast to the silence of the library itself, the communal areas are convivial and friendly.

If you want a quiet book-based break, far from the madding crowd, Gladstone's Library is well worth a visit (despite the very long journey from Suffolk Coastal).



  • a residential visit to Gladstone's Library from 01 to 03 July 2017, with a guided tour (or "glimpse") of the library on 02 July 2017
  • [accessed 13 July 2017]