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History of Gladstone's Library

Gladstone's is Britain's only residential library. It was founded by the Victorian statesman William Ewart Gladstone and became following his death in 1898, the nation's tribute to his life and work.

A lifelong student and scholar, and a voracious reader and collector of books, Gladstone built up a remarkable library which reflects the wide range of interests of a true Victorian polymath. The library which Gladstone was eventually to give the nation was entirely his own creation. Its formation began when as a young boy - the son of a wealthy Liverpool merchant - he was presented a copy of Sacred Dramas by its author Hanna More. Books acquired at Eton followed, and the collection really began to grow during his time at Oxford where he received a double first in Classics and Mathematics, and another first in History. Gladstone was Prime Minister four times during his sixty-three years of active politics. Amidst this pressurised life his diary records regular searches of book shops and book catalogues, and the reading of books in his study at Hawarden Castle near Chester - a room he called the 'Temple of Peace'.

In later years Gladstone began to think about making his personal library accessible to others. "Often pondering" writes his daughter Mary Drew, "how to bring together readers who had no books and books who had no readers, gradually the thought evolved itself in his mind into a plan for the permanent disposal of his library. A country home for the purposes of study and research, for the pursuit of divine learning, a centre of religious life."

Gladstone saw that the books classified as Divinity and Humanity would be of value to members of all denominations of the Christian Church for the study of what he called 'divine learning', but equally he wished to grant access to students of the humanities from other major world faiths, or none. Such potential readers needed a place where they could stay and read, and have time to think and write in a scholarly community - their own 'Temple of Peace'.

The first step towards fulfilling this vision was taken in 1889, when two large iron rooms, lined with felt and pine and with six or seven study alcoves, were erected. Gladstone also acquired the adjacent house as a hostel to provide "inexpensive lodgings together with congenial society."

Gladstone, over eighty years old, transferred 32,000 of his books to the Iron Library. He undertook much of the sheer hard manual labour himself, helped only by his valet and one of his daughters. Most of the books were moved by wheelbarrow, (from Gladstone's study to the library is about half a mile). "What man", he wrote, "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?"

This temporary building was only the beginning of realising his vision. Gladstone wanted a permanent residential library and he discussed this dream with his family and with the Trustees appointed to care for the collection. He endowed the library with £40,000, (approx £2,000,000 today) which indicates that this was his major bequest.

On his death in 1898 a public appeal was launched for funds to provide a worthy building to house the collection and to replace the temporary structure and hostel. The £9,000 raised provided an imposing building designed by John Douglas, which was opened in 1902, the National Memorial to W.E. Gladstone. It was the Gladstone family who fulfilled the Founder's vision and funded the residential wing (opened in 1907) to create this unique institution.

Throughout this century the library has continued to acquire books specialising in the subjects which were of most interest to Gladstone. There are now over 250,000 volumes of Theology and History, but also excellent basic materials in Philosophy, Classics and Literature. There is an important collection of manuscripts including much of Gladstone's correspondence.

Today, Gladstone's Library remains a haven in which the exhausted, the world-weary, the student, the researcher, the bibliophile, clergy and laity of all denominations can work or rest at the minimum charge envisaged by its founder.

Foundation of Gladstone's Library - Significant Dates

1809 - Birth of William Ewart Gladstone

1889 - The Iron Library

1894 - The First Students Hostel in the adjoining house

1898 - Death of William Ewart Gladstone 19th May / Funeral in Westminster Abbey 28th May

1899 - October 5th - Gladstone's widow, Catherine, cut the first sod and the Duke of Westminster, on behalf of the National Memorial Committee, laid the first stone.

1902 - 14th October Gladstone's Library was formally opened. - £300 per year to be the minimum on books (15,000).

1904 - Residential wing started. Cost met entirely by family.

1908 - 3rd January Residence officially opened. - 15th May King Edward VII visited the Library.

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, CH5 3DF, UK

Telephone (International):- +44 1244 532350 - Fax:- +44 1244 520643

Telephone (UK):- 01244 532350 - Fax:- 01244 520643


© Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire

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