British Prime Minister (4 times), William Gladstone was a total book addict. When he was a boy, the author Hannah More presented him with a copy of her book Sacred Dramas and that started his lust for collecting. As a pupil at Eton he spent any spare money on books, and more were accumulated while he studied at Oxford. He began keeping a diary while at school, and that records his purchases of books and visits to antiquarian shops.
As his collection grew, so did his concerns of how best to arrange the books. In 1898 he published a little booklet in a limited edition of 500, On Books and the Housing of Them, which dealt with the perennial book addict’s problem – too little space for one’s books. Gladstone designed special plans, gave measurements and drew diagrams which would fit the maximum number of books comfortably into a room.
Gladstone’s library was at Hawarden Castle, Wales, and he called the room his ‘Temple of Peace’. It was his haven from the stresses of political life. Gladstone was a generous reader and wanted others to enjoy the books he had collected. In 1889 two large rooms were erected and Gladstone, over 80 at the time, was deeply involved in the transfer of 32,000 of his books to their new home. His valet and his daughters helped, but Gladstone also pushed wheelbarrows full of books to the new library, a quarter of a mile from Hawarden. He wanted to be the one who placed the books onto their new shelves: “What man who really loves his books delegates to any other human being, as long as there is breath in his body, the office of introducing them into their homes?” He also endowed the library with £40,000. But the iron structure was not a permanent building and after Gladstone’s death, there was a public appeal to raise funds. In 1902 the new building was opened as a national memorial to Gladstone. Many American presidents have presidential libraries in their names, but I don’t know of any other British Prime Minister who does, so it is a wonderful tribute to a reading man.
Gladstone’s collection specialised in theology, philosophy, history, the classics, art and literature. The new library adds to the collection, and also houses Gladstone’s correspondence.
Did you know that you can sleep at this library? It is the UK’s only residential library. You can sleep in a comfortable room (without TV), use the reading rooms, browse the collections and even eat there. Definitely something on my ‘To Do List’ for when I am next in Britain.
Thanks to a generous and far-sighted man, a personal library has become a public one. Have you visited Gladestone’s Library? Would you like to sleep here? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.