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Gladstone’s Library: A Writer’s and Reader’s Dream


Feeling frazzled? Overworked? Caught up in the daily round? In need of a break? In need of space in which to write, read, reflect or simply to be?

Look no further, but book yourself into Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in North Wales. You may live some distance away (I drove four hours to get there) but, in Michelin terms, it is a vaut le voyage destination in its own right. It is set out like Napoleon’s library at Malmaison, which is a brilliant idea in a large room as it successfully divides it into a series of mini-Malmaison personal libraries for each reader.


There you will find a peculiarly English, nay Anglican, setting in which to do any or all of the above. Some come on a modified retreat, with solitude in their ‘cells’, daily Eucharist in the chapel, and  interspersed with communal meals at which heart speaks unto heart. A gentle nudge in this direction is provided by the deliberate absence of television in any of the bedrooms. Others come to finish their thesis or novel, knowing that someone else will cook and clean for them and supply good food at regular intervals. Others still are simply in search of a base from which to explore the surrounding countryside, interspersed with lively and intelligent conversation at the beginning and end of the day. St. Deiniol’s (its original name) is part club, part Oxbridge college, part cloistered monastery whose constituent parts form the large house and library of a host who asks nothing more of you than to behave as a civilised guest –  and settle the extraordinarily reasonable bill at the end of your stay. (Adding whatever you can afford as a donation seems the least one can offer in addition).

I call it ‘Anglican’ because guests understand that they are expected to obey the ‘golden rule’ of treating others as they themselves would be treated – and they do. The social contract works because both sides understand what is expected of them. An illustration: I needed help with my suitcase and the lovely intern, finishing her PhD on neo-Victorian literature while helping behind the reception desk for a few months, cheerfully and kindly carried it for me.

The tone is set by the Warden of fourteen years, the Revd Peter Francis, who tweaks the injunction at the end of the Eucharist to  “And what does the Lord require of us?  Just this: To act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” The use of the word ‘kindness’ rather than ‘mercy’ (the more usual translation of Micah 6.8) I found very moving, and indicative of the ethos of the whole place.

I was on my own and had thought I might feel lonely, although I was deliberately seeking a period of solitude and quiet away from the telephone and demands of social media. I need not have worried. When I wanted companionship and conversation, there was always someone to talk to, and when I wanted solitude no one thought it strange or unsociable (How many hosts can you say that of?!) I met a very wide range of people, including visiting Canadians and Americans, who all agreed that Gladstone’s Library is a unique haven which deserves to be treasured (as it is) and used to the full (as it needs to be if it is to thrive).

Thank-you, Peter, your visiting chaplain (Methodist, lest I have given the impression it is exclusively Anglican!) and all the staff for a stay that was both recuperative and invigorating. I can’t wait to come back!



Note: I stayed at Gladstone’s Library for four days, with a two-day course in the middle on ‘The Future(s) of Anglicanism’. This was a fascinating, and I think historically important, session, and I will be blogging about it in the next few weeks.


The illustrations are taken from the website, with the kind permission of the Revd Peter Francis.



8 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

sounds like a haven of tranquility.

Would love to visit, will see what I can fit in in the next year, once all the discernment stuff is settled once and for all.

Look forward to reading about the course.

07 September 2011 19:19
Lay Anglicana said...

UKViewer, I think you would love it. It is so laid back and offers you whatever you want to make of it.
My fantasy would be to have all our twitter and blogging friends here for a long weekend – but it might be too much for the peace and quiet of the Library!

07 September 2011 20:43

The Gladstone Library sounds wonderful…what a treat (maybe even another reason to plan a visit to the U.K. again– I love the U.K.)…thanks for this posting and I´ll look forward to your coming attractions.

Leonardo Ricardo

07 September 2011 21:49
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Leonardo. Two treats from your side of the pond on the course – Alan Perry flew in from Montreal and was just as erudite, witty and quietly charming in real life as you would expect. And Bishop Gayle Harris – Wow! is all I can manage for the moment – she had the whole audience eating out of her hand, what a star!

08 September 2011 06:28
Revsimmy said...

Laura, I am glad to hear you enjoyed your stay there. I spent a few nights at St. Deiniol’s when working on my MA dissertation a few years ago and loved the place. Your description of it as “part club, part Oxbridge college, part cloistered monastery” I think fits it to a “T”. I look forward to your posts on the course you attended.

13 September 2011 16:09
Anita said...

Thanks, Laura. It sounds like the perfect spot for a spiritual/intellectual/quiet getaway, and I am going to put it on my list of places to check out some time.

16 September 2011 15:32
Alan T Perry said...

It was brilliant meeting you there, Laura. And it was indeed a lovely place to be. All the lovlier for the wonderful people there.

19 September 2011 12:53
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Alan. It was a very special few days, and you paid tribute to this by coming all the way from Montreal for it.

19 September 2011 15:46

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