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Category - "Gladstone’s Library":

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.



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