Back in the days when Glyn Tegai Hughes and R. Gerallt Jones were Wardens there was a custom that most overnight visitors to Gregynog appreciated as an unusual but delightful practice. Somewhere in your bedroom – usually on the mantlepiece if you were placed in the old house – you’d find a small collection of books. Not a random collection, but one carefully selected: different subjects (poetry, fiction, history, science) and different languages (Welsh, English and others), and all of them taken from the large library in Gregynog. You were invited to sample any or all of them, and the only rule was to replace them as you found them.
The placing of books in hotel bedrooms is not something you come across very often in my experience (I except the inevitable Gideon Bible). Indeed, communal books seem to be getting rarer in hotels and pubs in general, presumably as guests bring their own invisible books on iPads or Kindles, or have given up reading books completely. I was horrified when staying in the Hotel du Vin in Trumpington Street, Cambridge (of all places) to find a room marked ‘Library’ which contained no books, just trompe l’œil bookcases giving the appearance of rows of hardback books.
Gregynog’s thoughtful habit came back to me recently when spending a night in the hospitable Three Tuns Inn in Bridge Street, Chepstow. The building is an ancient one (it dates back at least to the 17th century; Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed in the house opposite), and our room seemed to possess no 90 degree angles: the floor sloped sharply down from the window. The doors creaked gothically, not to speak of the bed. But beside the bed, surprisingly, was a small selection of books.
Whether it was a deliberate collection, or whether it was hand-picked to suit any possible guest I doubt, but it was certainly an interesting collection. These were the titles:
William Shakespeare, Macbeth. Edited by G.K. Hunter. Penguin, 1967.
Samih K. Farsoun with Christina E. Zacheria, Palestine and the Palestinians. 1997.
Thomas Harris, The silence of the lambs. 1989.
Coin year book 1992.
Elsie J. Oxenham, Expelled from school. Collins, [n.d.]. With a MS inscription inside front cover: ‘Xmas 1927. Presented to Gwyneth [?] Mary Jones for good attendance at Salem Sunday School by Mr Jones Cwmbwrch [?], Superintendant [sic]’.
On the whole, with the exception of Coin year book, these are not books designed to ease a smooth transition to untroubled sleep. I didn’t get far through Elsie J. Oxenham‘s Expelled from school, and probably it’s a very moral tale (Elsie was a Congregationalist, folk dancer and camp fire enthusiast), though it doesn’t on the face of it suggest itself as suitable for a Sunday School prize. But how considerate of the owners to provide for the interests of that endangered species, readers of real books.
I recommend the Three Tuns: it has friendly owners and some interesting old features.