A Temple of Peace
Our next stop is what Gladstone called his Temple of Peace, his study in Hawarden Castle, the 18th-century house which belonged previously to the family of his wife, Catherine Glynne. The room, which was his personal haven and the inspiration for Gladstone’s Library, has been carefully preserved within what still serves as a family home, down to his stationery wrapped in brown paper in the cupboard.
“I’m not a Gladstone scholar, but people say they always understand something special about him that they wouldn’t have understood if they hadn’t come here,” says Charlie, as he opens up the room. (Scholars can visit the study in the house by appointment only.)
“These are the books he chose to leave there,” he says gesturing to the tomes on the shelves. “The rest went to Gladstone’s Library.” The latter began with the statesman’s own collection of 32,000 books, as well as £40,000 he bequeathed to the project (around £3 or £4 million in today’s money).
The first incarnation of the building comprised two large iron rooms, with six or seven smaller rooms acting as studies, which was known as the Tin Tabernacle or Iron Library. The magnificent Gothic pile was completed in 1902 with a residential element comprising 26 bedrooms.
“He took all the books up there himself in wheelbarrows,” explains Charlie. Gladstone, it must be said, was over 80 at the time and did, indeed, take on much of the manual labour involved in the transfer of the books to their new home three-quarters of a mile away, helped only by his valet and one of his daughters.
The four-time prime minister was not one to shirk from manual labour. “He loved chopping down trees,” says Charlie. “We’ve got a big thing on axes in the festival. There were so many people coming to Hawarden, to the woods, to collect chips from the trees he cut down, that they would lay on special trains.