Hawarden Estate.

There’s a visitors’ book in Hawarden Castle that’s been signed by every guest for well over 100 years. It’s a big book, massive in fact, and there’s still space for many more guests.

Flicking through this book reveals a host of interesting guests; politicians and royalty; lots of both, in fact. Look! There’s Queen Elizabeth II, oh and the King and Nick Clegg and Roy Jenkins and many cohorts of William Gladstone. And there are creatives and Oscar winners and no doubt a few rogues too.

We’re not really about history on Hawarden Estate; it’s the present and the future that truly interest us. But people are what give an estate like this its soul, its meaning, its purpose, its momentum.

And many of those guests in that heavy, storied visitors’ book have stories worth telling.

Let’s start with Cecil Beaton. That’s Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton CBE to you. He was Charlie Gladstone’s great uncle and a regular guest here. Beaton’s range was extraordinary, he photographed the Queen on her Coronation Day (though she wasn’t a terrific fan of his), won two Oscars and four Tonys, published countless books, was the Official War Photographer, photographed Princess Margaret on her 21st birthday, was an accomplished painter and drew beautifully. And on and on and on. He was a rigorous aesthete and a frightful snob and he casts a long, creative and exiting shadow over this beautiful place.

Charlie’s father, Willie (that’s Sir William Gladstone, Bt, KG to most of us) was the sole executor of Cecil Beaton’s will, which gives us a clear view of the relationship between the Gladstones and Cecil and reminds us of the many times the latter’s name crops up in that visitors’ book.

In many ways Willie and Cecil were incredibly similar; they were both wildly creative, highly cultured and eccentric. But in other ways Willie, whose endless achievements resulted in his investiture as a Knight of the Garter at the gift of the Queen, was closer in character to his great grandfather, William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister and who was widely respected for his boundless energy, sense of duty, intellectual rigour and deep religious convictions, than he was to the more free-wheeling Cecil Beaton.

There’s a lot written elsewhere about William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister to Queen Victoria and Britain’s longest-serving PM. He’s often regarded as Britain’s greatest ever statesman, but Queen Victoria hated him. Mr Gladstone loved Hawarden and spent much of his life here, reading 22 000 books and writing prolifically in The Temple of Peace, his study in the castle, which remains today pretty much as he left it..

So, let’s not linger on Mr Gladstone too long.

Let’s talk about Mrs Gladstone. Catherine is often somewhat ignored, perhaps inevitably given that lived in the shadow of the political colossus that was her husband. But Catherine was spectacular. The poet and diarist Lucy Masterman wrote that ‘Catherine was one of those informal geniuses who conduct life, and with complete success, on what the poverty of language compels me to call a method of their own.’ She was ‘like a fresh breeze’ wherever she went and could grasp the subject of discussion in a ‘few minutes of airy inattention’. Unlike her husband, Catherine was famously untidy, and would write letters before discarding them on the floor in the well-founded assumption that an army of adoring supporters would pick them up and post them. Catherine once told her husband that he would have been a ‘dreadful bore’ if he’d married someone as tidy and organized as himself. Good point!

Back to that famous, ancient and bustling visitors’ book and with it, back to Lucy Masterman. Masterman was a poet, an author, literary editor of the highly regarded journal Outlook and perhaps most relevantly here a biographer of Catherine’s. Masterman was fiercely intelligent and fearless and when her husband, an MP, died, she stood for parliament as a Liberal.

Then there’s Albert Gladstone (let’s give him the benefit of his full name, shall we; Sir Albert Gladstone, Bt, MBE) who was born at Hawarden and lived much of his life here. He won a gold medal in 1908 Summer Olympics for rowing and joins a relatively small group of Welshmen to win gold.

And there’s Baba Hambro, Charlie’s grandmother, who died here in 1973 and is perhaps best known as Cecil Beaton’s sister and his early model and constant muse. Anyone familiar with Beaton’s work will know the many iconic photos of Baba and her beloved sister Nancy, dressed to the nines by their brother, often in silver foil.

Let’s not forget Will Gladstone, who was killed by a sniper aged 29 in 1915 and was initially buried in France. But by permission of George V his body was disinterred and, as the last fallen soldier to be officially repatriated after the First World War, he was then reburied in Hawarden. There are photographs of his funeral procession leaving the castle by way of the garden and park to arrive in the village to thousands and thousands of onlookers. In his short life he was an MP (Liberal, of course) and the last of four generations to serve in the House of Commons.

On and on goes that visitors’ book. On and on goes Hawarden Estate. On and on go all of the people who live and work here and move us forward.

Today the estate employs more people than ever; old and young, those who linger briefly or those who are in it for life. Banging the drum for this magical place are three generations of Gladstones; Charlie, Caroline and their children, Jack, India, Tara, Xanthe, Kinvara and Felix. And in turn, those children’s children, Aphra, Cyra and Lyla. All involved in one way or another, all engaged with Hawarden, all banging those drums to the rhythm of progress, of forward motion and of many more good names in that visitor’s book.