Gladstone’s Library Reading Rooms, March 2022

by Emma van Woerkom

Silence is Golden

It is always a treat to spend many hours in the quiet company of books. Needless to say, my visit to Gladstone’s Library has been nothing short of a revelation. Not only are the buildings and surrounds beautiful, the library staff seamlessly knowledgeable and helpful, but the excellent quality of the reading stock and quiet places in which to read are to be applauded.

Planning ahead and using the online ‘Main Cat’ search facility honed my inquiries, (for anyone wishing to explore the volumes owned by Gladstone himself, use the website’s  ‘Glad Cat’ search). Of course, there were some registration forms to complete, proof of ID etc, but this is all quite standard for viewing rare volumes. I found the process slightly easier than registering for the British Library Reading Rooms.

The heart of Gladstone’s Library harks back to its high Victorian roots. Rich wooden bookcases, pillars, galleries, and a lofty vaulted ceiling where natural light pours in. Individual desks are located on both floors, along the main centre concourse or positioned in discreet niches in between the heaving book cases. Not wishing the leave the 21st Century totally behind there is excellent access to Wi-Fi throughout the building complex, plus scattered plug points for ailing laptop batteries.

When I arrived, everything was ready and waiting for me. I had a whole table to myself right at the centre of the library’s ground floor, complete with a comfortable chair, book pillow and snake weights – I find it’s important to have enough space to spread your material and some modicum of seated comfort for the hours of research and reading ahead. My first selection, an original 3 volume publication from 1761 appeared and away I went.

This library is so in tune with its readers, possessing an easy quiet atmosphere so conducive to concentration, that three hours slipped by without my notice. I returned after lunch to my desk exactly as I had left it, eager for my second selection.

One of the great delights of research is the discovery of new links to your source subject. At Gladstone’s, Teresia Constantia Phillips led me to Hestor Chapone, who in turn led me to her correspondence with Samuel Richardson. So, was there also a printed copy of Richardson’s Letters at Gladstone’s too? Yes! And as quickly as it arrived at my desk, I found mention of Teresia again – the circle complete!

With a little time to spare and the “when in Rome” attitude, I decided to treat myself to requesting a large, beautifully illustrated volume from the History Room, which is located just off the main library. The book was set out for me on a table next to a window. In the peaceful afternoon sunshine, the colours of this illustrated volume just glowed – what a thrill for this book lover.

If you are staying at Gladstone’s Library overnight then don’t forget to take a walk around the library just before it closes at 10pm. It is a wonderful atmospheric experience.

Gladstone’s Library after dark.

A special thanks for making this visit to amazing goes to my fellow travelling Hay Writers
and to all the Staff at Gladstones, especially Isobel Goodman, Assistant Librarian.

For more information on Gladstone’s Library Reading Rooms

or go to


About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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