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Hay-On-Wye Diary

An eccentric Welshman called Richard Booth went on to declare Hay a kingdom in 1977, appointing himself king with powers to give peerages and issue passports...

Hay-On-Wye Diary
Hay-On-Wye Diary
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Bookcentric Eccentric

Crossing the majestic Severn Bridge, we are in Wales and very soon England’s rolling downs billow upwards into soft green hills. These are the Brecon Beacons, and Hay-on-Wye, ‘Town of Books’, is tucked away on the edge of the national park. This tiny town has become famous for being home to over 30 bookshops, thanks mostly to an eccentric Welshman called Richard Booth who realised in the 1960s that a second-hand books market could well revive the flagging rural economy of this town. Booth went on to declare Hay a kingdom in 1977, appointing himself king with powers to give peerages and issue passports. It was a deliberate stunt that drew attention to Hay and led, many years later, to Booth himself being awarded a (proper) MBE for his services to tourism. The old boy still lives in Hay and continues to be much adored by his ‘subjects’ but, in a pragmatic passing of the old guard, his bookshop was recently bought by an energetic American rather appropriately called Elizabeth Haycox who, along with her British husband, has refurbished Booths into the most beautiful bookshop I’ve ever set foot in. It was the venue for the Hay festival’s opening ‘Authors Party’ and I drew in my breath as I entered and saw acres of soft wood paneling and capacious sofas, more a grand private library than a shop.


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