The Tiny Welsh Town That’s Brimming With Books | Atlas Obscura


– [Bridget] Hay-on-Wye is tiny. You can walk around the town’s entire circumference in about 20 minutes. I think we’ve passed this place twice already. (laughs) But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Because nestled into its less than one square mile, are nearly 20 independent bookshops. It’s a mecca for bibliophiles across the UK. Most of the bookshops offer secondhand or antique books. And some of the shops even specialize in the genres they carry. Oh! Chaucer’s early poetry. This bookshop is dedicated entirely to detective fiction, true crime, and horror. Now a town of books, it wasn’t always this way. In 1962, a book enthusiast named Richard Booth opened up the very first bookshop here, in what was then a struggling, rural community. Today, you’ll see his name all over town. Richard Booth became known for his publicity stunts. One of which was declaring Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom of books. And he, its king. – Now Richard is really clever. He’s his own kind of advertising machine. ‘Cause of course, it just propelled Hay from being this sleepy market town, with a few bookshops, into something worldwide. – [Bridget] Derek Addyman started out working for Richard Booth. Now, he and his business partner own three shops in Hay. Including Addyman Books, a veritable maze of themed rooms, and books upon books. – It taught me a lot. He’s a man who saved a town from becoming just another town, into something unique. – “Stories About Giants,
Witches and Dragons.” Richard Booth passed away in August of 2019. Over 50 years after his first bookshop here, books are now not only just big business for Hay-on-Wye, they’re actually preserving it. This is Hay Castle. It was built in the late 12th century. And it’s seen better days. – [Mari Fforde] We
think that the town kind of grew up around the castle. It was a Norman lord who built it. And once they built the site here, it kind of attracted people to it. And then a market grew up around it. And then the town of Hay has kind of grown up around that. The builders started work last June, so we’ve only been going just over a year. There’s a lot of funding to raise. And so one of the other things that we have, that kind of donates towards the whole project, is the Honesty Bookshop. – [Bridget] So, how does it work? Since it’s all outdoors, I don’t see anyone working here. – No, we have a little box over there. And you just put your money in. And you have to be honest, cause it’s an Honesty Bookshop, so. – [Bridget] Aw so, it’s sort of the honor system?
– Yeah. – Does anyone ever not obey the honor system? – I like to think not. They probably do, (laughs) but it’s a good amount of money, every month, that we get from it. So the trust decided the best thing to do with the money, is to put it straight into the restoration project. So the money comes up from the little box here, and goes into the funds, and goes towards all the work that’s going on up there. – Should I get this? (coins clanking into metal box) There’s something to be said about the permanence of books, in an ever-modernizing world. They remind us to take some time for ourselves, to slow down. Book towns create a hub of knowledge and imagination. And Hay-on-Wye has actually turned into something of an inspiration. More and more book towns have been popping up, all around the world. And let’s hope that trend continues. – There’s a great turnaround. And I think people are getting kind of too much screen time. And I think they need to interact with the world. There is a world beyond your desk. – A lot of people come here because they have a love of books, and a real passion for books. And I think that’s really nice when books bring people together. They’ve got characters. Just lovely old books here. And the paper’s different. And all of the artwork that’s in them. And the smell of them. Some people really love the smell of old books. So, there’s all kind of things that are always gonna keep books there, I think. They’re never gonna go. They’ve been here a long time, and they’re here to stay. – Thanks so much for watching. Subscribe to our channel to see more awesome videos like this one. And leave us a comment, to let us know where we should explore next. And to check out more of my personal content, head to: https://www.youtube.com/thecuriousworld.

23 Replies to “The Tiny Welsh Town That’s Brimming With Books | Atlas Obscura

  1. Would have been better if a bibliophile did the interview. Seriously, walking around picking up recent paperbacks is not compelling. And getting the country wrong? You can do better than this.

  2. I am surprised you don't mention the annual Hay Festival in May where you can hear authors from all over the world discussing their work.

  3. Larry McMurtry dis something similar with his hometown of Archer City, Texas. Unfortunately he closed down his book shops. He based the idea on Hay-on-Wye.

  4. My family and I were in Hay-On-Wye in August 2019. We arrived on the day of Mr. Richard Booth's funeral. We were witness to a good many people paying tribute to him in a long processional through town on the way to a community wake. Many of the local townspeople we met were eager to share a bit about him. All spoke fondly of his success, humor, and the fact that he was a bit eccentric.

    I had planned our visit as a surprise for my son who is an avid reader. Our visit coincided with market day which we thoroughly enjoyed. We also enjoyed wandering the streets and exploring all the little shops. Hay-On-Wye is a lovely little town which I would absolutely love to return to some day.

  5. Hay Castle should have a scriptorium where visitors can watch scribes creating books. Maybe in a different part of the castle there can be Renaissance printing press.

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