Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Wales

Inside Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in Wales is very similar in feel to Sir Walter Scott’s library at his home in Abbotsford. Although that one is quite a bit older than Gladstone’s they both have a Gothic atmosphere.

The lower part is the Reading Room and that is where most of the non-theology books are shelved.

reading room lower floor

As you can imagine, with so many old books there’s that lovely scent that comes with them. Apparently the glue and leather of old bindings gives off a smell similar to vanilla as it ages, whatever it is it’s a pity they can’t bottle it.

Gladstone's cabinet and Reading Room windows

To get upstairs you have to go up a teeny weeny spiral staircase.
reading room lower stairs

The roof bones or trees if you prefer must have got damp at some point as in parts they are white with water damage. Not surprising given the building is over 100 years old. It costs £2,500 a week to keep the place standing so it’s no wonder that the costs are fairly steep for the accommodation.

Gladstone's Library, reading room ceiling supports

areading room book shelves
I’m well used to handling old books and being in amongst a lot of them, but it’s always a treat to be in their company.

And I was surprised to see a wee Mauchline (wood) covered book on the shelves, I think nowadays people usually put them in display cases, it was decorated with a fern design, very Victorian.
Gladstone's Library reading room Katrina

So there you have it – Gladstone’s Library, just over the Border into Wales, not far from Chester, and they seem to have a lot of events going on, although I suspect they’re mainly of the religious variety.

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales

Gladstone's Library stitch

Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in north Wales was actually built after William Ewart Gladstone’s death, it was planned by his children to house their father’s collection of books which had been living in what was called locally the ‘tin tab’ which was one of those corrugated iron structures which were built by little mission churches all over Britain about 100 years ago. The ‘tab’ was of course short for tabernacle. Below is a photo of it, although this seems quite a bit larger than the tin tabs that I remember seeing years ago.

original Gladstone's Library 1

After Gladstone’s death £9,000 was raised by a public appeal to build a more solid permanent home for the books and it was enough to build the rather grand looking building at Hawarden. It’s the only residential library in the world I believe. There are 26 bedrooms as well as conference rooms. This is Britain’s only Prime Ministerial Library and it’s an apt memorial to the four times Prime Minister.

Theology seems to have been Gladstone’s main interest, but he was ahead of the times really and collected books on religions other than Christianity. However there are also lots of books on Shakespeare, politics, poultry keeping, fruit growing …. all sorts of books.

I seemed to be one of the few residents who was actually interested in looking at the books and one evening I had the entire place all to myself. I must admit that it was quite a thrill to be given my own key to the place for after hours use.

Reading Room Key, Gladstone's Library

If you are thinking about going to this place as a resident don’t expect luxury accommodation, it’s pretty spartan but the food is good, no waitress service though, just grab a tray as you would in a canteen.

As you can see below, the view from our bedroom window was of the dead centre of town!
Gladstone's Library bedroom 2

The outer doors are very Victorian in that Gothic way.
Corridor at Gladstone's Library

In the drawing room which is called the Gladstone Room there are some shelves of modern books which you can take to read in your bedroom.
Gladstone Library, drawing  Room

You can also do a jigsaw puzzle if you’re so inclined.
Gladstone Room
It must be cosy in the winter when the fire is lit.
Gladstone Room

I’ll show you photos of the actual Reading Room/Library tomorrow.

Yet more books

This bookcase is known as ‘your Dad’s’ bookcase as it belonged to Jack’s parents. The books are a mixture of old ones I bought and some from the previous generations, some are school prizes from as far back as 1905.

Katrina's Books

There are a lot of old favourites here.

Katrina's Books

My Folio books

Folio Books

Well, a couple of Gore Vidal books sneaked onto this shelf which is in a bookcase which originally stood in an Edinburgh solicitors office. Mainly though it houses Folio books, which are a gorgeous indulgence.

Folio Books

More of my bookshelves

Continuing a wee keek at some of my bookshelves.

I realised that this shelf which is in the sun room contains a couple of Rumer Goddens, but the rest are upstairs. When we moved house I swore I would sort out all my books alphabetically, but it isn’t happening, mainly because I have so many of them that I fit them in wherever I can, depending on height.

My Books

The shelf below ranges from Beverley Nichols to Nevil Shute, all favourites.

Katrina's Books

Some of my bookshelves

I’m going to be offline for a week or so, so I thought you might like to get a squint at just a few of my bookshelves meantime. I’m actually in the process of cataloguing all of my fiction books on computer, so that I can have a list of them all at my fingertips on my phone. I hate standing in a bookshop and wondering if I already have a copy of a book, it’s so difficult to keep track of them all and doublers do occur. I’m sure you know that feeling! I hate that Virago changed the design of their books, I so much prefer the plain old green ones. An old copy of High Wages sneaked in here, it’s a quandary, should I shelve books by publisher or author?

Virago Books

These books are the top two shelves in the bookcase nearest my side of the bed, within easy reach. I bet you own a lot of these ones too.
Katrina's Books

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

The Children of Green Knowe cover

I’m still catching up with children’s classics that I missed out on when I was a child and someone in the blogosphere mentioned The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston as being one of their favourites, so when I saw a copy of it just a week later in a secondhand bookshop in Ellon, Aberdeenshire it seemed like serendipity. This book was first published in 1954.

I have to say though that I don’t think I was in the right mood to read this book as other people seem to rave about it and I thought it was just okay. I will continue with the series though as the fourth book in the series won the Carnegie Medal and I’m trying to work my way through that lot.

Green Knowe is an old house and it belongs to Tolly’s great grandmother. Tolly’s mother is dead and his father and step-mother are in India. Poor Tolly is at boarding school and doesn’t even get to see any family over the holidays, so visiting his great grandmother for the first time is rather nerve-wracking. But she’s a lovely old lady and tells Tolly all about the previous generations of children who have lived in the house. The spirits of the children – and a horse – still inhabit the place, Tolly can hear them and eventually he can see them too and he’s able to play with them.

Green Knowe is based on Lucy M. Boston’s own home in Hemingford Grey, a village in Cambridgeshire and I believe it and the garden she created are open to the public. She was a student at Somerville College, Oxford in 1915 but left to become a nurse at the front in France. She didn’t begin her writing career until she was over 60. I think her memoirs might be a lot more interesting. She wrote Perverse and Foolish about her wartime experiences and Memory in a House is about her renovation and restoration of her house.

You can see images of The Manor at Hemingford Grey, the original of Green Knowe here.

Bombs on Aunt Dainty by Judith Kerr

A Lovely Way to Burn cover

I enjoyed reading Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit so much that I decided to read the sequel as soon as I could get it from the library. In Bombs on Aunt Dainty, Anna (Judith) is now a teenager and living in London with her parents and older brother Max. The city is full of refugees who have escaped from the Nazis and you can imagine their depression as they all gathered around radios listening to the news of the German army swarming through country after country and seemingly only kept at bay from England by that very narrow channel. A lot of the ‘enemy alien’ men were taken away and interned on the Isle of Man and as Max discovered, even the people of German extraction who had gone to school in England were deemed to be possible dangers to the security of the country, despite them being some of the first victims of the Nazis.

This is another lovely read with Anna growing up and discovering her talent for drawing, and infatuation with her drawing teacher. As soon as Anna and her brother Max got to England they seemed to feel that they had reached home. They didn’t feel like that about Switzerland or France where they had lived for quite some time, until they didn’t feel safe there any more. They both assimilated so well that people didn’t even realise they were German, but their parents struggled with the poverty that they had never been used to and the complete change in their circumstances. Even when the Nazi bombs began to blitz London they stayed put until they were completely bombed out and a lack of money was a constant worry.

All through the book it’s obvious that the English were admired greatly. I can’t help wondering what happened to the traits that engendered such admiration, they’re not at all in evidence nowadays.

I was annoyed by the constant use of the word England when what the author meant was Britain and even worse was that the many allied forces didn’t get a mention at all, as if it was only England who fought against the Nazis when of course it was also fought by New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, Russia and of course eventually the USA. However using England when they meant Britain was a habit that people of a certain generation got into.

If you like a wartime setting you’ll enjoy this one. Now I’ll have to track down the next book – A Small Person Far Away in which Anna apparently goes back to Berlin after the war. I imagine it wasn’t for long though.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons cover

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is the first book in the series which is set in the Lake District, I believe it was Coniston Water and Lake Windermere that inspired Ransome to write these books. I’m fairly sure that I read one donkey’s years ago but after we visited Coniston around this time last year I thought I would start at the beginning of the series again. This book was first printed in 1930 but my copy dates from 1942 and according to the inscription it was given to Frank for his birthday on 27th of August 1943.

The Walker children John, Susan, Roger and Titty (what possessed the author?) are in the Lake District for the summer holidays. Their mother is busy with the new baby and father is away, but has given the children permission to sail to one of the islands in the lake and camp out there. Mother gets out her sewing machine and makes a couple of tents and the children are well stocked up with food and equipment. They’re dab hands at sailing too and manage their borrowed dinghy Swallow professionally.

Sailing towards the island they sail past a houseboat, complete with a small cannon, a green parrot and a man that they name Captain Flint. He doesn’t seen at all friendly. The island seems perfect but there’s evidence of previous inhabitants with a pile of wood and the remains of a fire.

It isn’t long before another boat turns up, it’s called Amazon and is skippered by two girls who live locally. Nancy and Peggy fly a pirate flag and are up for adventures. John is impressed by their sailing knowledge and it isn’t too long before they’re all friends. It turns out that Captain Flint is really their Uncle and up until this year he had been good fun, but since he has started to write a book about his travels he has changed into a curmudgeon and sees the children as his enemy.

There’s a bit of a mystery going on but really the charm of this book is that you can’t help wishing that you too are by a lake with a wee boat to sail around in, visiting various islands and just getting away from it all.

It was different times though and I imagine that if parents allowed four of their children aged from 7 to 12 to sail off and fend for themselves social services would have something to say about it!

I believe that in the modern reprints of these books the character of Titty has her name changed to Kitty. I’m wondering what Titty was supposed to be short for – maybe Felicity of Verity but presumably in 1930 it wasn’t deemed to be faintly not nice for a wee girl.

Sometimes when I read books I have a particular piece of music going through my head, for this one it was of course Deacon Blue’s Dignity.

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

A Lovely Way to Burn cover

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh is the first book in her Plague Times trilogy. I must admit that I didn’t realise this when I started reading it. As I only recently finished reading Station Eleven it was too soon for me to embark on another ‘end of the world as we know it’ book, but I had started – so I finished.

Stephanie/Stevie Flint has just turned thirty and has been living in London for seven years. Her career as a journalist has come to a halt and she’s now working as a presenter for a TV shopping channel and doing very well at it – at least the money is good. Her current gentleman friend Simon is a surgeon and when he doesn’t turn up for a date with her after work she just assumes that he’s probably going off her. But when she goes to his flat she discovers that he is dead.

Very quickly the bodies begin to pile up as the whole world seems to be in the grip of a pandemic which is being called ‘The Sweats’. Stevie contracts it but eventually recovers, one of the very few to do so, for most people it’s a quick death sentence.

But Simon didn’t die of The Sweats and Stevie suspects that he was murdered despite the fact that he supposedly died of natural causes – and so begins her investigation which leads to attacks on her life, while London descends into chaos. The people who haven’t yet succumbed to the illness either load up their vehicles and head out of the city, or begin drinking their way to oblivion.

For me the whole plot didn’t quite hang together so I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with this series.