The Making Hay: A Kingdom Built on Books

Events like these might seem out of place in such a rural community, but Hay is no ordinary town. It is the home of the largest secondhand bookstore in the world. Every available building is full of books, and every year this flourishing enterprise attracts visitors from all corners of the globe.

The Making Hay: A Kingdom Built on Books

By Mr Ghaz, July 3, 2010

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The Making Hay: A Kingdom Built on Books

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On April fool’s day 1977, a small country town on the order between England and Wales declared its independence. Passports were issued and stamped for Hay-on-Wye in each of the town’s two taverns, and the Hay national anthem was sung. Leading citizens were appointed to top government jobs, and aristocratic titles-dukedoms, earldoms, and knighthoods-were available for a price. Ambassadors dispatched to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands, and a rowing gunboat patrolled the meandering river Wye.

A Town of Books

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Events like these might seem out of place in such a rural community, but Hay is no ordinary town. It is the home of the largest secondhand bookstore in the world. Every available building is full of books, and every year this flourishing enterprise attracts visitors from all corners of the globe.

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The man responsible for turning Hay into a Mecca for the bibliophile is the self-proclaimed king of Hay, Richard booth. When Booth started his first secondhand bookstore there in 1961, Hay was a picturesque but dying town of fewer than 2,000 people. The town had gradually declined along with the local farming economy, and many of its businesses had closed. Booth began began to pack the many empty buildings with books. In due course he filled up the old workhouse, a chapel, a movie theater, and even Hay Castle.

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As estimated 8 ½ miles of book shelving wend their way through Hay-on-Wye’s unusual bookstore. The Booth Empire boasts an enviable turnover of more than a million books a year. Unlike most dealers in old books, Booth has never specialized in one subject. He buys books in bulk-entire private libraries whenever possible-in the belief that no book is worthless, that “someone in the world wants it.” Price is low and there is something for everyone, the casual browser and the collector of rare books alike.

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It was Booth’s battles against the rules and regulations of government agencies that led him to declare Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom in 1977. He is passionately committed to the survival of rural communities such as Hay and firmly believes in encouraging the revival of traditional crafts. He even delivers books around town in a horse-drawn cart. Horse transport, he says, relieves the energy crisis and provides work for local saddlers, wheelwrights, and blacksmiths who might otherwise be unemployed.

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The people of Hay are fond of their eccentric and amiable king, who has brought prosperity to their town. And although not everyone thinks that his ideas are realistic, his new industry does employ about 10 percent of the local population. All the merchants in Hay benefit from the regular invasions by bookworms, and the townspeople have every reason to be proud of the books that have placed their town so firmly on the map.  

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6 Comments
  1. Posted July 4, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Awesome article Mr G. This is the first I ever heard of Hay.

  2. Posted July 4, 2010 at 4:26 am

    This was interesting to know. The people living here must be very knowledgeable since they’ve a lot of books to read here. Liked it.

  3. Posted July 5, 2010 at 12:21 am

    very interesting!

  4. Posted July 5, 2010 at 4:16 am

    another great job Mr. Ghaz.. you never runs out of interesting topics to discuss.

  5. Posted July 5, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I’ve been there and it lives up to your write

  6. Piran Treen
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    One should not overlook the Offa\’s Dyke path which wends its way through the town of Hay.

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