Hay-on-Wye (Welsh: Y Gelli Gandryll), is a small market town and community in Powys, Wales, situated on the English border. Often described as "the town of books", it is the National Book Town of Wales.
The town lies on the east bank of the River Wye and is within the Brecon Beacons National Park, just north of the Black Mountains. The town is situated just within the Welsh side of the border with Herefordshire, England, which is defined by the Dulas Brook at this stretch. Where the brook joins the River Wye just to the north of the town, the border continues north along the river. Hay has approximately 1,900 inhabitants. The village of Cusop lies on the other side of the Dulas Brook and is in England. The nearest city is Hereford, county town of Herefordshire, some 22 miles (35 km) to the east. The town was formerly served by Hay-on-Wye railway station by the train services known as the Canney Creeper, which closed in 1963 under the infamous Beeching Axe.
Hay-on-Wye, like Builth Wells, has two Norman castles within a short distance of each other. It seems likely that Hay was fortified by William Fitz Osbern during his penetration of south-east Wales in the summer of 1070 when he defeated three Welsh kings. The history of the site then continues through the lordships of the de Neufmarchés, which was confirmed at the Battle of Brecon in 1093, and also the Gloucester/Hereford families until 1165, when the district of Brycheiniog passed into the hands of the de Braose dynasty of Marcher Lords. In 1230 Hay Castle passed to the de Bohuns and the local history, including the battle near Hay in 1231, is continued through the Mortimer Wars of the 1260s and the battle near Brecon in 1266 down to the death of Earl Humphrey de Bohun in 1298.
Lying close to St. Mary’s Church on the western edge of Hay-on-Wye is a small but well-preserved motte. The site overlooks a gorge and small stream, locally known as The Loggin Brook, that flows into the River Wye, which was undoubtedly one reason for the construction of a motte and bailey castle there. A recently levelled platform under the car park to the north east may have once have housed the castle's bailey. This little fortress was probably the work of William Revel, a knight of Bernard de Neufmarché who is usually referred to as Bernard Newmarch, and may later have been the seat for the manor or commote of Melinog. Other than this, the motte has no further recorded history.
The main fortress within Hay-on-Wye was situated on the great site commanding the town and river under the current ruins of the castle and
mansion. This was undoubtedly the 'castello de haia' handed to Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford, in 1121 with Sibyl de Neufmarché, the daughter of Bernard de Neufmarché. It is most likely
that the keep stood by this time. It is therefore possible that this is the oldest Norman tower in Wales, dating to the onslaught of William Fitz Osbern in 1070. During the anarchy (1136–54) in the
reign of King Stephen a series of charters were passed by the Gloucesters concerning the castle. In 1165 the last of Miles of Gloucester's male descendants was killed at nearby Bronllys Castle and
Hay-on-Wye Castle passed into the hands of William de Braose, 3rd Lord of Bramber and of New Radnor and Buellt. The de Braose dynasty were energetic lords and probably built the core of the gatehouse
which now stands besides the keep. In the summer of 1198 a major English army formed here before marching off to victory at the Battle of Painscastle some four miles to the north.
In 1230 the last de Braose of Brecon, William de Braose was hanged by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Brecon lordship with Hay-on-Wye passed into the hands of the de Bohuns. Taking advantage of this in 1231, Prince Llywelyn ravaged the lands of his de Bohun in-laws during which Hay-on-Wye town was burnt, although the castle survived the onslaught. The castle saw service in the Barons' War of 1263 to 1266, changing hands three times, once being surrendered to the great Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. With the conquest of Wales by King Edward I Longshanks life became more peaceful in this Marcher town.
Around 1401 both town and castle suffered damage by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr, although the castle was listed as defensible against the Welsh in 1403. The fortress later passed to the earls of Stafford, who were to become the unlucky dukes of Buckingham during the Wars of the Roses. The castle was repaired during the conflicts of the 1460s, although its military use would have been somewhat dubious against cannon.
In the 1660s, James Boyle of Hereford built a new mansion on the north side of the castle, while most of the curtain wall was demolished to improve the views. The mansion is now used for second-hand bookselling.
Since 1988, Hay-on-Wye has been the venue for a literary festival, now sponsored by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which draws a claimed 80,000 visitors over ten days at the beginning of June to see and hear big literary names from all over the world.
On 1 April 1977, bibliophile Richard Booth conceived a publicity stunt in which he declared Hay-on-Wye to be an 'independent kingdom' with himself as its monarch. The tongue-in-cheek micronation of Hay-on-Wye has subsequently developed a healthy tourism industry based on literary interests for which some credit Booth. In 2005, Booth announced plans to sell his bookshop and move to Germany; on this occasion local MP Roger Williams was quoted as saying "His legacy will be that Hay changed from a small market town into a mecca for second-hand book lovers and this transformed the local economy".
RICHARD BOOTH, KING OF HAY
Richard George William Pitt Booth, MBE (born 12 September 1938 in Hay-on-Wye, Wales), is a Welsh bookseller, known for his contribution to
the success of Hay-on-Wye as a centre for second-hand bookselling. He is also the self-proclaimed "King of Hay".
He was educated at Rugby School and the University of Oxford, yet he dreaded seeing how young men like himself left his hometown for the city, and wondered what trade could save this small rural economy. Having inherited the Brynmelyn estate from his uncle, Major Willie Booth, he then opened a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, in the old fire station, and took the strongest men of Hay to America, where libraries were closing fast. They bought and shipped books in containers back to Hay-on-Wye. His example was followed by others, so that by the 1970s Hay had become internationally known as the "Town of Books".
On 1 April 1977 Richard Booth proclaimed Hay an "independent kingdom" with himself as king Richard Cœur de Livre and his horse as Prime Minister. The publicity stunt gained extensive news coverage, and resulted in several spin-offs such as "passports" being issued.
On 1 April 2000 Booth followed up with an investiture of "The Hay House of Lords" and created 21 new hereditary peers for the "Kingdom of Hay".
The Hay Literary Festival was another spin-off from the burgeoning number of bookshops in the town, which now gets an estimated 500,000 tourists a year. In recognition of his services to tourism, Richard Booth was awarded the MBE in the 2004 New Year Honours List. In August 2005, Richard Booth announced that he was selling his Hay bookshop and moving to Germany. The bookshop is now under ownership of Elizabeth Haycox "The Queen of Hay" and has had extensive refurbishment works carried out since 2009.