A hotel composed almost entirely of books might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly mine. I have just returned from five glorious days at St Deiniol’s, the UK’s only residential library. The library itself was started by William Gladstone, the Grand Old Man of Liberal politics, in an altruistic move to make his personal books available to other scholars (you wouldn’t catch me doing that). The current building was erected in 1902 and then became residential in 1905, now offering comfortable accommodation to scholars and clergyfolk. Although the tomes largely reflect Gladstone’s own interests in theology and history, the collection has been significantly broadened over the years to include most areas of the humanities. Even my relatively obscure corner of Victorian Studies was well represented in the stacks.
The stunning library is available to residents from 9am to 10pm each day and a desk can be bagged for the duration, complete with power point for laptop or other concessions to the ravages of modernity. For me, one of the many pleasures of my stay was eschewing the 21st century and actually using a pen and paper. The distractions are few and I was able to accomplish a quantity of research that normally would have taken me a month. All of one’s daily needs are taken care of, and the reasonable rates include half-board accommodation, with lunch included for a modest additional sum. The residents’ lounge offers comfy chairs and a mini bar to reward oneself after a hard day’s graft.
St Deiniol’s lends itself to complete seclusion, but there are also plenty of opportunities for chat with fellow residents. I spent enjoyable meal breaks with a student researching transvestite monks and a vicar with a penchant for Trollope. For those of a nosey disposition, there’s an abundance of ecclesiastical gossip to be overheard. Clergymen certainly predominate amongst the guests, but St Deiniol’s welcomes people of all faiths and also godless heathens like me. Talking to other residents demonstrates that Anglicanism is certainly a broad church, so to speak.
The Library is in Hawarden, a short bus ride from Chester, so is easily accessible from London. They offer a number of bursaries to students, covering the cost of half-board accommodation for up to a month. I would thoroughly recommend St Deiniol’s as a quiet retreat for a sustained period of concentration. I have a few friends who go there annually to focus on a particular project, and it’s of particularly benefit to those who normally have many competing demands on their time. It certainly lives up to its reputation as a health farm for the mind; I found it a completely liberating experience and am already planning my next visit.