Luxury at the library

If your idea of luxury involves a good book, sumptuous surroundings and uninterrupted peace and quiet, you need to know about Gladstone’s Library. Sitting unassumingly in the picturesque village of Hawarden, Flintshire, the UK’s only residential library is a blissful hideaway for book lovers, writers, theologians and anyone needing to just simply just be.

Gladstone Library

It’s a fair bet you haven’t stayed in a library before but you won’t be surprised to hear that, in true library style, the emphasis is on hush. The rooms are perfectly peaceful, with no TV, DVD player or radio to interrupt the silence. And they are simple but deliciously so, immaculate white bed linen warmed by thick Welsh wool throws and en suite pristine.

Gladstone Library

The library itself is an astonishing chamber, its thousands of books teetering upwards towards a vaulted ceiling and packed into nooks and crannies. The library is the legacy of four-times prime minister and Liberal MP William Ewart Gladstone, who lived in the nearby Hawarden Castle and wanted to bequeath his collection of 32,000 books to the nation. His solution was to buy this plot of land and trundle across the village with his books in a wheelbarrow to store them in a corrugated building known as the Tin Tabernacle. Following his death in 1898, this was replaced with the elegant redbrick residence standing today – a far more fitting tribute to the Grand Old Man – and his initial collection has now grown to almost a quarter of a million books, pamphlets and leaflets.

Gladstone Library

In marked contrast to the stillness of the library and the bedrooms comes Food for Thought, a residential dining room that doubles as a public coffee shop and bursts with chatter and literary discussion. Dinner is a lively affair, the lack of table service obliging guests to grab a tray and queue up for hefty helpings of home-cooked recipes such as turkey and sausage escalope followed by apple crumble, infused with cinnamon and swimming in cream. At the tables is a blend of clergy, students, writers, locals and tourists, all seemingly aware of the privilege of being here and keen for new experience. Gladstone intended his library to match up “books who had no readers with readers who had no books’. Even though he might not recognise the iPads and laptops quietly being tapped away at in the library, or some of the courses listed on the brimming events calendar, the pervading ethos of learning for all would be heartily welcomed by ‘the people’s William’.

Gladstone Library

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