Gladstone's Library (1809 - 1898) features in quite a large part of my life. It was given by William Ewart Gladstone to the nation, shortly before his death in1894. His wish was to 'bring together readers who had no books and books who had no readers'. To this end he bought land near his home in the village of Hawarden, in Flint. He provided a corrugated iron building to house his personal collection of 32,000 books - and it is said that he transported then, in a wheelbarrow, from his home to the new library assisted by one of his staff and one of his daughters. The project cost him £40,000 (about £3million in today's money). The corrugated building was replaced by an elegant sandstone edifice in 1902, funded by public subscription of £9,000 and in 1906 a residential wing was added, which the Gladstone family paid for.
It is the only residential Prime Ministerial library in the country. Dinner, bed and breakfast is available at very reasonable cost. The dining room, 'Food for Thought' provides excellent meals, using as far as possible local produce. Many of the local people dine there - you're not forced to read a book if you don't want to! You can register as a day reader, without charge, and use the library (which now houses quarter of a million books0 free of charge.
The library relies on donations from the public. It costs about £1000 a day to run. There are about 20 staff, and the heating bill must be enormous. It's also a Grade One Listed building, so repairs and updating are expensive.
It is a priviledge and a delight to work there. A large part of my three books* has been composed at one of the desks in the upstairs gallery of the library building. WiFi is available freely but I avoid using it - I'm there to work not doodle about on Facebook ...
I must admit to the distraction of trying to work when surrounded by books. Perhaps that old volume on the shelf there - the small book in the leather binding - perhaps it's last reader was the grand old man himself?
Maybe I'll see you there one day?
* Available on Kindle: 'Empty Bananas', 'Mussukunda' and, very shortly, 'The Mechanical Girl' - about life in The Gambia and how Europeans can either exploit or benefit the Third World.
All monies from the sale of these books is passed to the charity Gambian Occasional Emergency Support - G.O.E.S.