For any book nerd, sleeping amid thousands of books is the stuff of fantasy novels. Or is it? Our roaming bibliophile, Zoe Macfarlane, reports from the book stacks & bedrooms of Gladstone’s Library.
In a quiet village in Northern Wales, the vision of four-time Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was brought to life. It was a grand mission; “to connect books who have no readers, with readers who have no books.”
The country’s inaugural residential library tucked in its first guest in 1906, shifting Gladstone’s vision from fiction to reality.
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a library” – Jorge Luis Borges
Arriving in the quiet hamlet of Hawarden, my own fantasy of staying at Gladstone’s (long on my bucket list) was realised. The village’s redbrick buildings and squat doorways appear whimsical and enchanting. Although quaint, Hawarden was little preparation for what was to come. A sharp right off the main street was followed by a sharp intake of breath. Gladstone Library was stunning.
“A library is… where history comes alive” – Norman Cousins
A cross between a stately home, university, and the type of building murder mysteries are set, the sensation of having time travelled was overwhelming. As I stood open-mouthed in front of this neo-Gothic beauty, plots and characters and dramatic prose swirled around me. Pinch me. Had I dropped into a Victorian classic or was this real life?
“So many books, so little time” – Frank Zappa
This boutique property – the UK’s only residential (and Prime Ministerial) library – reflects Gladstone’s obsession with books. Allegedly, Queen Victoria labelled Gladstone a little odd. Bestowed, perhaps, due to his every spare moment spent reading, annotating, and rearranging his personal collection of 32,000 books.
“To build up a library is to create a life” – Carlos Maria Dominguez
That collection has now grown to 150,000 printed items under a building that Gladstone sadly didn’t see come to life. His original tin-shed library has now morphed into a Grade 1 listed building, his children having brought his vision to life.
It’s not only Gladstone’s collection that has been extended. The staff today shapes their event calendar with Gladstone’s curiosity in mind. They image his thirst for today’s religion and language as they plan their workshops, retreats, and festivals.
“A book is a dream you hold in your hand” – Neil Gaiman
The distinct aroma of books complements the statuesque structure of Gladstone’s Library. But it is the opportunity to sleep in the same building as these historical tomes that draw worldwide visitors. While there are no books in the 26 bedrooms, I can only describe it as enchanting; knowing this hallowed library is underfoot. The slanted roof of my room reminded me of a net, capturing and infusing the wisdom of the books into my dreams.
And they are sweet dreams. The “shhh” of libraries the world overextends to the bedrooms, ensuring a peaceful night’s sleep. The stone windows of the room offer a sense of the building’s history, complemented by the comfortable, modern décor.
“Sleep is good. Books are better” – George RR Martin
At Gladstone’s, you finally don’t have to choose between books or sleep. I spent my days either in the pin-drop silence of the Theology Room or on a cosy sofa in the more relaxed reading rooms. By night, my dreams weaved plots and characters with the history of Gladstone and his library. Perhaps the most enriching, creative, and inspirational sleep I’ve had in years.
The Dewey Decimal (Aka the Deets)
Room rates start from £69 per night, and the Food For Thought home-cooked meals are very affordable. Trains will get you to nearby Chester, with a direct bus or taxi depositing you almost to Gladstone’s doorstep.
Share this story