After five years of wandering I’m back in the warm embrace of the Gladstone Library. Cosy leather arm-chairs, wall to ceiling books, a personal collection of a Victorian gentleman. I feel like the character in Paolo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ who has been venturing ‘abroad’ in search of a new truth, a new meaning, when all along the truth is right in front of my eyes.
The truth is that the Gladstone Library is a unique place. It’s a library with rooms, a residential library where you can stay for the weekend or a week. There’s a large sitting room, a bit like the drawing room in a large country house, filled with sofas, chairs and a fire place (with a real fire in winter). There’s a restaurant serving home-cooked food. Then upstairs there’s a couple of dozen bedrooms.
On a peaceful Sunday morning it is positively delicious to trot along the polished wooden floors of the building from the resident’s lounge to the library. To open the door to this wonderful room, filled with carved wooden beams, and spiral staircases leading to a mezzanine floor, it is like entering a wonderland for book lovers. Gladstone’s collection is typical of a high quality gentleman’s library of the 19th century. Books on philosophy and history, law and sciences, geography and adventure. As an old man William Gladstone, Victorian politician, leading Liberal and many times Prime Minister of the British Isles gave his personal collection of books to his local village of Hawarden in North Wales. The story goes that he and his valet moved the books from Hawarden Castle (Gladstone’s residence) to the village by wheel barrow.
There’s an extensive section on theology and a special reading room poetically named The House of Wisdom which contains a relatively new collection of books relating to the East and to Islam. This fascinating collection was assembled by Peter Francis, Warden of Gladstone’s Library, a man of liberal religious tastes. So if you’ve been meaning to discover more about ‘Orientalism’ and the European view of the East, this is a great place to start. I often read a couple of chapters of Edward Said’s masterpiece to get me in the mood.
Ever since I started writing my blog www.educated-traveller.com almost eight years ago now, Gladstone’s Library has been a haven and a refuge for me. A place where I can put pen to paper in comfort and tranquillity. It’s my very own ‘Sanatorium for the Mind’…..
Further reading and other libraries that have inspired me:
- The House of Wisdom, Baghdad
- Gladstone’s Library and the discipline of writing…..
- Sanatorium for the Mind – Gladstone’s Library, Wales
- St Gallen – Switzerland a Baroque Library
- Oxford – this is Oxford
Gladstone’s Library is open daily and has a great cafe too: www.gladstoneslibrary.org
Inspiration – Inspired by the exoticism of the East you might feel a trip to Istanbul coming on Istanbul – A Day in the City or the need to take another look at Venetian Art and how it was inspired by Venice’s trade with the East. Orientalism in Venetian Art
- Written: September 2021
- Updated: May 2022