Tag: Gladstone’s Library

A weekend away at a stately pile fit for a Prime Minister in North Wales

He was a four-time British prime minister and dominant figure of the Victorian era.

Clashing regularly in Parliament with his arch-rival Disraeli, he was described by Queen Victoria as a “half-mad firebrand”.

But a weekend visit to his ancestral estate in North Wales reveals his lesser-known passions for literature and collecting axes.

Away from Parliament, it seems, William Ewart Gladstone was a voracious reader and loved nothing more than chopping wood in the grounds of his stately pile.

Modern artworks

A new holiday let on his family estate in the village of Hawarden, located near the Chester border, draws back the curtain on the starched image of one of our greatest statesmen.

The West End, located within the western wing of 19th-century Hawarden Castle, has five stylish bedrooms and grand communal areas, blending the modernity of Yoko Ono and Damian Hirst artworks with Georgian-era furniture.

The meticulous home-from-home touches, such as Max Richter albums and coffee-table tomes about David Hockney and Johnny Marr’s guitars, have been curated by Charlie Gladstone, the great-great grandson of the Liverpool-born former PM, whose family still lives in the adjoining house.

Guests have exclusive access to the time-capsule Temple of Peace, Gladstone’s private library, and bespoke experiences, such as dinner cooked by the estate’s head chef, or a yoga session in the sprawling grounds.

A private woodland glade comes with an al-fresco wood-fired oven and hot tub.

After settling into our rural retreat with a hamper of goodies from the nearby Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, we set out against a wintery landscape to explore the walking trails, leading through the estate grounds to the village.

We pass the Walled Garden School with its regular programme of talks and classes, a group absorbed in Indian Head Massage as we stroll by, then emerge into a thriving rural village.

It boasts a clutch of restored estate cottages, a village store and a cosy local pub, the Glynne Arms, for pints of local ale and a slap-up supper of fish pie and sticky toffee pudding.

A pair of axes glimmer above the open hearth, a reminder that everything in Hawarden nods to Gladstone’s legacy.

“We think of him as rather rigid, but he must have been very charismatic to command huge crowds at public lectures,” says the Revd Dr Andrea Russell, Warden of Gladstone’s Library situated at the top of the high street.

The UK’s only Prime Ministerial Library was founded in the late 19th century as a memorial to Gladstone’s vision as a place “for the pursuit of divine learning”.

An elderly Gladstone is said to have delivered his books to the original building by wheelbarrow, aided only by a manservant.

The pin-drop-quiet Reading Room, dating from 1902, still has a collection of his personal volumes, the pages annotated furiously with his notes.

“I was a Disraeli fan but, since moving here, I’ve come to respect Gladstone’s vision for educational reform,” adds Revd Andrea, “as a man ahead of his time.”

Castle ruins

Back at the West End, we settle down for an evening of vintage vinyl and book browsing before an open fire, breaking off occasionally to look more closely at the artworks, notably Chris Levine’s Stoned, a Stonehenge standing stone glinting with diamond dust in the hallway.

Morning reveals another attraction: the ruins of the 13th-century Marcher castle in the grounds. It’s still privately owned by the family and best enjoyed from a bay-window seat with coffee and sourdough toast.

Gladstone died in 1898 and buried in Westminster Abbey but his heart remained in North Wales with his books and penchant for amateur forestry.

A winter-warmer break at the family home could be the ultimate romantic gesture for Valentine’s Day, or maybe inspire some Victorian-values thinking.

Either way, we came away from a weekend of reading, unwinding and logs on the fire having glimpsed something new — a wry smile on the lips of the ‘Grand Old Man’ in the faded photographs.

More from www.hawardenestateholidays.co.uk.

Coming soon: how to get your story published course

Bookings are now open for for my new day course: insider secrets of journalism. Journo basics 1

This is the first in a series of short day courses I’ll be running at Gladstone’s Library over the months to come as a freelance media tutor.

In course one I’ll be sharing my top tips for getting your work into print based on 15 years of experience as a freelance writer.

The date is Friday, October 17 and the cost is £45pp, including coffee upon arrival and e-leaning support around the course.

The next course will run February 27, 2015 with the theme of finding your voice as a blogger.

I’ll also be available for private mentoring – fees upon request.

Contact me as above for details or book online at the link to workshops.

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* I’ve been trying to write some flash fiction as a potential entry for the Harry Bowling prize. This is an edited version following feedback from my monthly writing group, Seriously Sentences at Gladstone’s Library. Is this good enough to enter?

Her hair was just-showered clean. Her tongue, wet and darting, was eager as an eel. But her perfume, cheap and cloying, betrayed her. I breathed it in impassively as I arrived home and followed its scent trail up the stairs.

She was kissing me now, sucking the life out of me. The ceiling fan whirred, the streetlights flickered and the steam from the rice cooker seeped through the shoji screens like a silent sarin attack. The house slept innocently.

I focused on the detritus of the room to avoid registering the moment before I pulled back. She rose, closed the screens and moved silently across the landing, the padding of tiny feet on the tatami fading against the soundtrack of sirens and stumbling salarymen making for the last train to the suburbs on the street outside.

Afterwards, lying sweat drenched and dislocated on the futon, I traced the pathway to this moment.

On the first day she had walked me around the district, passing rows of grey-facade housing blocks and turning down endless identikit sidetsreets. It took me days to learn how to pick my way through the labyrinth.

But eventually I did. Walk past the convenience store with the coffee machine, loop around the newspaper kiosk, where a shrivelled old man slipped soft-porn manga inside copies of the Japan Times, and cross behind the red lanterns of the local izakaya, where I’d sometimes down beer with hot-sake chasers at night, alone and bewildered.

Once we took a taxi home together at dusk. The driver, all pristine-white gloves and shiny-peaked cap, feigned professional indifference to a middle-aged woman and her young male gaijin companion.

“There’s a storm coming,” he said. We nodded our agreement and stared out as the neon swam upstream through the fledgling puddles forming on the road.

The next week we went to the supermarket, cruising aisles of dried fish and exotic fruit. She led with the list while I followed with the trolley – love’s young dream.

We went for kaiten sushi on the way home and sat, impassively, as the sushi train rolled before us like the opening credits of a mediocre movie. The thin slices of fish glistened and the sting of wasabi flared our nostrils.

She took me for ice cream afterwards and produced an aged Polaroid, snapping me in an anodyne shopping mall with a scoop of chocolate fudge smeared around my mouth like a child’s forced smile. It was a Sunday quiet. Empty.

That night, after her aged parents had retired for the night, we sat and watched a video. A young boy was playing on his bicycle and smiling for the camera. She was there in a summer dress, her husband, grey suited and hair greased, looked on kindly. They looked happy.

After the accident, she explained, they took in the first homestay, a young American lad brushing up on his kanji at a local university. They told the guests to come and go as they please, she said, but never to enter to the room where her father slept.

He kept a nightly vigil over the small shrine to her son, Hiroyuki, placing fresh offerings and reciting Shinto prayers.

One night I brought home a friend from college. With her retro clothes from Amerika-Mura vintage shops and her bottle-blond hair, she was mot just kawaii but a proper maguro – a real fresh tuna in the parlance of the fleshpots of Shinsaibashi.

After the ritual bowing and polite conversation before her departure, the house felt cooler. I didn’t need the fan that night. Maybe the summer humidity was giving way to autumn at last.

A week later I packed my backpack and moved on, settling for a shoebox behind Shin Osaka, where trains rumbled through the night and commuters, six abreast on the zebra crossing, inspected my microwave breakfast as if watching a daytime soap on the giant TV screen above the intersection sponsored by a electronics manufacturer.

I speculated what happened the night I left. Hiroko-san would slide away the private screen in the darkest recess of her room, pinning a Polaroid snap to a board. This would be the latest image of a young man, ice cream-smeared and curious. The names would scrawled in felt pen below each of the gurning mugshots. Forced smiles.

She would then prepare an offering for the shrine to Hiroyuki-chan and lie down on her futon.

We all knew it. There would be more fresh tuna by market day.

* What do you think of this flash-fiction piece? Post your comments below.


Harry Bowling Prize

Seriously Sentences at Gladstone’s Library