St Deiniol’s, Gladstone and Hawarden

It is a curious instance where a single church can be dominated by one man and one family. St Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden is one such structure.

The church was not only where William Ewart Gladstone – four times British Prime Minister – and his family worshiped when he was in residence nearby at Hawarden Castle. Following the great fire that destroyed much of the church’s fittings and furnishings in 1857, William and Catherine Gladstone were instrumental in raising money for its restoration by Sir Gilbert Scott. Subsequently his children and grandchildren invested in and were memorialised within, this building. His second son Stephen became rector in 1872 and the church was a focus of pilgrimage during Gladstone’s own lifetime. This combination of association with one great man and his family, and the unlucky happenstance of the fire, made the space oppressively Gladstonian, although of course his remains and those of his wife are interred in Westminster Abbey.

The church guidebook by William Pritchard makes this point very clear: it is called ‘St Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden: Gladstone’s Church’. It has a foreword by Sir William Gladstone, who describes his own ancestor as ‘perhaps the greatest lay Anglican as well as the greatest statesman of his day’. Over half the guidebook is dedicated to the Gladstone and his family’s presence and involvement with the structure.


Catherine and William Gladstone’s memorial – their bodies are actually in Westminster Abbey

Gladstone Memorials

Rock of Ages, translated into Latin by Gladstone himself and set up as a memorial

The highlight of memorials in the church is the Arts and Crafts double memorial effigy to William and Catherine themselves, taking up an entire chapel on the north side of the church.This memorial is replete with symbolism – a boat of life carrying the couple to Heaven. Given the fire that destroyed most windows and many memorials before the mid-nineteenth century, the church is decidedly dominated by memorials to Gladstone’s family and friends.


Memorial bench commemorating Gladstone’s tree-planting

What is fascinating is that this is not a heritage creation – like Bronte country – but an active construction within and immediately after Gladstone’s lifetime, an accruing association between political figure, landed aristocrat and Anglican stallwart.

Churchyard Memories

The churchyard is also replete with Gladstonian memories. There are gravestones memorialising members of Gladstone’s family, as well as a bench memorialising the trees planted in 1912 by W.C.C. Gladstone.

Grave of a Gladstone, St Deiniol’s churchyard
Trees: part of St Deiniol’s churchyard’s Gladstone family memorialisation

A Landscape of Memory

Of course, St Deiniol’s sits in a Gladstone memoryscape long in the making.

St Deiniol’s Library

Adjacent to the church is St Deiniol’s Library built around Gladstone’s collections, fronted by a memorial originally intended for Dublin but unsurprisingly for 1923 refused and erected instead in front of the library in 1925.

Gladstone’s axes

Then of course there is Hawarden Castle itself with the Temple of Peace – Gladstone’s private library – preserved in perpetuity as it was in the great man’s lifetime. I visited this a few years ago on the invitation of a conference. The landscape and its trees are also enshrined with the mythology of Gladstone the tree-feller. Indeed, his library contains his collection of axes.

The public have daily access to part of the parkland where views are possibly of the medieval predecessor of Hawarden Castle.

The striking war memorial also is linked closely to the Gladstones through patronage and personal loss and inside the church is a memorial to one of the Gladstones – Captain W.H. – killed in France in 1915.

Hawarden war memorial
Gladstone memorial, Hawarden
Gladstone read the Archaeological Journal!

Also, there is the memorial to Catherine and William’s golden wedding anniversary; a water fountain demanding of the visitor to indulge in its waters: ‘Drink Ye’ it exclaims. I like the flaming urn, very baroque and not at all related to drinking on face value, but perhaps a spiritual connection is being invoked.

View of Hawarden Castle from Gladstone’s “Temple of Peace”

Of course, I have to finish with two ways by which Gladstone was archaeological. First, Gladstone was archaeological in his own sense of place and past. From his ‘Temple of Peace’ he had views of the medieval ruins of Hawarden Castle. Second, Gladstone read archaeology! When I visited a few years ago, I was delighted that Gladstone had some of the opening volumes of the Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute, aka the Archaeological Journal, on his shelves.

If Gladstone dominates the landscape of Hawarden, it is important to remember the many other souls who are memorialised in the church, churchyard and wider landscape. However, that would be the subject of another blog…