William Gladstone served in parliament from 1832 to 1894 and was prime minister four times. Courtesy University of Liverpool
Researchers at the University of Liverpool are undertaking a major initiative to reveal the secrets of the library of the Victorian prime minister William Gladstone.
The three-year study aims to identify Gladstone’s own books at St Deiniol’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales and to complete an online library catalogue. Gladstone founded St Deiniol’s in 1889 to house and provide public access to his collection of some 32,000 volumes.
After his death in 1898 the library continued to grow as a valuable resource for Victorian Studies and now contains more than 250,000 books of history, philosophy, classics, theology, art, literature and periodicals.
Gladstone’s books still form part of the general collection at St Deiniol’s but have never been properly catalogued.
St Deiniol's Library, founded by Gladstone in 1889. Courtesy University of Liverpool
“Gladstone is a major political, historical and cultural figure, yet no separate catalogue of his personal library exists,” explained project leader Dr Juliet John, from Liverpool University’s School of English.
“The compilation of a virtual descriptive database of his books will be invaluable to scholars and book enthusiasts alike.”
Gladstone developed a habit of annotating his books and researchers will examine handwritten notes in the collection’s books to help determine which were owned and read by him. The information will then be entered into an online database, which will enable further study of Gladstone and the Victorian world.
His collection is known to include rare copies of works by Shakespeare, Tennyson and Dante.
The University of Liverpool will be cataloguing the library at Gladstone's residence in Hawarden, North Wales. Courtesy University of Liverpool
William Gladstone was born in Liverpool in 1809, the son of a wealthy merchant. After education at Eton and Christ College, Oxford, he entered parliament as Conservative MP for Newark in 1832, although he slowly moved towards Liberalism during his 62-year political career.
He would famously walk the London streets at night, trying to persuade prostitutes to give up their profession, and set up a women’s refuge with his wife.
Although disliked by Queen Victoria, Gladstone served as prime minister four times during her reign. A committed proponent of Irish Home Rule and humanitarianism, he finally retired in 1894.
Liverpool University is one of the UK’s foremost research institutions and will be holding a special conference to mark the end of the project in 2009, the bicentenary of Gladstone’s birth.