On my quest to find more hidden gems for book lovers across the UK, I discovered Gladstone’s Library in North Wales. Boasting the title of the UK’s only residential library, this is the only place in the UK where you can sleep amongst the books. Well, almost. The impressive library is right underneath the rooms. And sleeping with books is any book lover’s paradise, right?
Gladstone’s Library first opened its doors in 1902 though it was not until 1906 that they started accepting residential guests. It’s named after the longest standing British prime minister, William Gladstone, who, incidentally, attended Christ Church at Oxford, just like me! He had an impressive political career but he also spoke 5 languages and read over 20,000 books during his life time. He lived to the age of 88 so that’s almost a book a day throughout his adult life!
During his lifetime his personal collection of around 15,000 books were placed in a building that looked akin to a very large shed. It is rumoured that when he first set this up, he carted all his books from his home at Hawarden Castle down to his library using nothing but a wheelbarrow! Clearly Gladstone was a fascinating man and Gladstone’s Library is a wonderful tribute to this avid reader. Sadly, Gladstone himself never got to see the library as it is today.
The library itself is obviously the main attraction here and it is just as stunning in real life as it is in photos. The library has two floors with a sort of mezzanine level running round the building and there are books stacked from floor to ceiling on these beautiful wooden shelves. The library is completely free though you will need to apply for a reading card before you can gain access to it. If you’d simply like a quick look around, there are daily guided visits at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. This only lasts around 15 minutes or so but it is worth it to see (and touch!) Gladstone’s own private collection.
The similarities to Oxford University libraries are astounding and the wonderful thing is that it’s open to the public, whilst those at Oxford are not. There are almost a whopping 150,000 books at Gladstone’s Library, mostly in the fields of: theology, history & politics and literature. The amazing thing is that you can pick these books straight off the shelves even though some are over 100 years old. You might even find markings and scribbles by William Gladstone himself!
Dotted around the library are secluded desks, usually fit for only one person, where you can work away on your novel in peace and quiet. The majority of the people using the library seem to be budding authors and students in the area so everyone is here to work hard. Gladstone’s Library offers the perfect setting to knuckle down and bash out that work you’ve been putting off. How could you fail to be inspired when surrounded by all these wonderful old books?
If the library proves too imposing for you and you need a break, there’s a lounge area (pictured above) filled with squashy sofas and, you guessed it, even more books. In this space things feel a bit more relaxed than the silent library and you can make yourself a cup of tea, play scrabble, read the paper or some modern fiction. If only my own living room looked like this! There’s no TV in this space, nor in any of the bedrooms, in fact, there’s only one in the whole building! The focus is very much on peaceful reflexion and work.
One thing that really surprised me at Gladstone’s Library, is the addition of the Islamic reading room. When you go from the multi-cultural city of London to Wales, the lack of diversity is immediately noticeable. It warmed my heart to know that, even out here, there are small steps being taken to foster a relationship of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Staying at Gladstone’s Library
Gladstone’s Library also operates on a B&B basis with 26 rooms available for overnight guests. Guests range from budding authors to students, clergymen and researchers and the library serves as a wonderful hub for bookish folk. There are a range of different rooms available including singles, doubles, twins, some with ensuite bathrooms and even a special Monad Suite where you will get your own writing room attached to the bedroom.
The quirky bookshelf wallpaper is beautiful and makes their rooms the perfect cosy space for bookworms. However, if you want to snag yourself one of these rooms, you’ll have to opt for a room with a shared bathroom instead of an ensuite. Bathrooms are shared between two bedrooms meaning there’s a maximum of four people per bathroom anyway.
To be clear, Gladstone’s Library does not operate as a hotel. There have been guests before who have come and been disappointed by the lack of room service and other snazzy add ons, but those guest seem to have completely missed the point. People come here for tranquility and the space to write and relax, not a luxury hotel service.
Gladstone’s Library operates a simple B&B service that includes a continental breakfast every day and lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are also available from the Food For Thought cafe (more on that below). The simple buffet breakfast (cereal, yoghurt, croissants, fruit) can also be topped up with extras like an english muffin with poached eggs, or ham and eggs etc. Fairtrade tea, hairdryers, towels and some toiletries are provided but in the interest of being as eco-friendly as possible, the sheets are only changed every four days.
Food For Thought
Gladstone’s Library is also home to its own bistro cafe which is open to the public for both lunch and dinner. Even if you’re not staying at the library you can pop in for a meal in their lovely dining room in which the walls are lined with old portraits and Penguin postcards, to add to the literary theme.
Every day the cafe serves up home made food made from local produce, which is just what you need after a long day in the library. If you’d like to make your visit an even more special occasion, you can book afternoon tea for just £12pp, which is very reasonable.
What’s great is that if you’re staying here alone, you can always make friends at meal times by sitting down wherever there’s a spare seat. You never what sort of conversation you could have about literature, life and beyond!
If you are coming from London then the best thing to do is book a train ticket from London to Chester. When you arrive at Chester, you can take bus 4 or X4 right to Gladstone’s Library and you’ll be there in around half an hour.
Room prices start from £66 but there are discounts available for students and clergymen.
Day Readers: 9am – 5pm Monday – Saturday
Overnight guests: 9am – 10pm Every Day
*I was a guest of Gladstone’s Library in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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