We’ve always dreamed of staying overnight in a library so Gladstone’s Library has been on our literary travel wishlist for a long time. Founded by William Gladstone himself, Britain’s only Prime Ministerial library is situated near Chester in the Welsh village of Hawarden. The Grade I building has 26 bedrooms, a bistro – Food for Thought, and the famous historic Reading Rooms. Residents and day readers can access these between 9am and 5pm each day (up to 10pm in the Theology Room for residents). Although very welcoming, this literary sanctuary is definitely an adults-only destination – a place for quiet contemplation and study.
Booking and Checking-In
I booked our overnight night stay at Gladstone’s Library via it’s online booking system about 8 weeks in advance. Even at this stage, most of the rooms had already been reserved so if you would like to stay over I advise planning ahead. 2018 room rates range from £66 for a standard single room (not en-suite) to £100 for a double en-suite – all including a continental breakfast. Students, clergy and members of the Society of Authors receive special rates.
We arrived at lunchtime, two hours before the 2pm check-in. It’s fine to leave your bags at reception and explore the building in the meantime. I’d mention that Gladstone’s isn’t a hotel though so don’t expect lots of amenities when staying overnight at the library. The team doesn’t provide room service or luggage assistance. I’d describe it more as a luxury hostel or a retreat centre – simple with added comforts.
Our bedroom was small, yet light with mullioned windows and a compact en-suite. There are no TVs in the rooms. However they all have a Roberts Radio so we happily tuned into that and stacked our books on the lovely Melin Tregwynt blanket that covered. Wi-Fi is free during your stay and if you’ve brought a laptop, you can borrow DVDs from the extensive collection at the top of the main stairs.
There’s no need to take towels or toiletries as Myddfai Trading Company miniatures are provided. This social enterprise supports local young people with learning difficulties and gift sets are available in reception.
The Book Collection
One of the advantages of an overnight library stay is that you’re never going to run out of books! With a collection of almost 150,000 printed materials, we were in bookish heaven. The historic Reading Rooms house the main collection. You have to obtain a pass to enter and once inside, there’s a code of complete silence. Non-residents can catch a 5 minute Glimpse by joining sessions that start at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm (bookings at Reception). There’s also an annex joining this section which contains titles on a range of subjects.
If silence isn’t your thing then you can find a more relaxed area in the Gladstone’s Room. This communal lounge has lots of comfy sofas, an honesty bar and a library full of recent fiction which you can borrow. There’s also a garden with picnic tables and benches if the weather is fine.
All the reading stirred up a healthy appetite so we were glad of the licensed onsite bistro, Food for Thought. It’s open 10am – 5pm seven days a week for snacks, lunch and afternoon tea (check specific times when you arrive). Dinner is served between 6.30pm and 7.30pm although you can remain in the dining room for a few hours afterwards.
The standard continental breakfast is laid out in the main dining room (8am-9am). If you want a hot dish then you can order it from the counter for an extra £2 per person. The hearty food was tasty and the chef was able to cater for Al’s gluten and dairy-free diet so it suited us perfectly. We didn’t try any of the pubs or cafes in Hawarden, but there were several options available.
Hawarden is a pretty village and it’s worth exploring. We were particularly taken with the Hawarden Estate although parts of it were cordoned off for tree-felling so next time we’ll go when all the paths are open. We’ll also check out the Farm Shop. If you’re staying at Gladstone’s Library for a while then Chester is very close by and you can reach Liverpool fairly easily too.
Staying at Gladstone’s Library was just the tonic we’d hoped for. The retreat doesn’t just offer accommodation either. Aside from the colossal collection, the library also hosts numerous workshops and events as well as an annual literary festival, Gladfest.
Our overnight stay at the library has been one of the high points of our year. If you’re a bibliophile, this literary sanctuary is hard to top. It’s comfortable, quirky and the staff are lovely. Plus there’s the obvious benefit of being surrounded by enough books to last a hundred lifetimes. Maybe we’ll see you there next time! x