Hay-on-Wye: The Town of Books

Nov 24, 2014 0 comments

Hay-on-Wye is a small market town and community on the banks of the river Wye in Powys, Wales, adjacent to the English border. Often described as "the town of books", Hay-on-Wye draws a large number of book lovers looking for bargain across more than 40 bookstores selling mostly second-hand books. The town is also home to the Hay Literature Festival which brings some 80,000 writers, publishers and literature fans from all across the world at end of May each year.

It all started in 1961 when Richard Booth opened his first second-hand bookshop in Hay, in an old fire station. He hired a couple of strong men from the town and took them to America, where libraries were closing fast. There he bought books and shipped them in containers back to Hay-on-Wye. Over time other libraries joined the initiative and started shelves, shops and more ways to sell used books appeared in every corner. By the 1970s Hay had become internationally known as the "Town of Books". Today, the town receives an estimated 500,000 tourists a year.


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Among the numerous bookshops in Hay, the most unusual and delightful are the ones called “Honesty Bookshops”. These bookshops, sometimes nothing more than a shelf on a wall, are usually unmanned. People simply select books and drop the money in a small letter box. There is one located on the grounds of Hay Castle – a 12th century fortress in the heart of the town. This open air bookshop consist of wooden shelves, stacked against the castle boundary walls, and lined with books. The paperbacks are 10p each and the hardcovers are £1. There is a small box with a slot in the front and a white card sign which says, “Pay Here”.

Since 1988, Hay-on-Wye has been hosting the “Hay Festival of Literature & Arts” that has, over the years, drawn writers such as David Simon, Stephen Fry, Salman Rushdie and Simon Singh. Described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind", the festival has expanded in recent years and now includes musical performances and film previews.

Also see: Britain’s Telephone Box Libraries that work under the same honesty principle.


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A young reader at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. Photo credit: unknown

Sources: Wikipedia / Daily Kos


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