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Hay-On-Wye Booksellers - geograph.org.uk - 235428.jpg
A second-hand bookshop
Hay-on-Wye is located in Powys
Location within Powys
Population1,598 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceSO225425
  • Hay
Principal area
Ceremonial county
  • Powys
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtHR3
Dialling code01497
FireMid and West Wales
UK Parliament
Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament
List of places
52°04′30″N 3°07′30″W / 52.075°N 3.125°W / 52.075; -3.125Coordinates: 52°04′30″N 3°07′30″W / 52.075°N 3.125°W / 52.075; -3.125

Hay-on-Wye (Welsh: Y Gelli Gandryll), simply known locally as "Hay" (Welsh: Y Gelli), is a market town and community in Powys, Wales; it was historically in the county of Brecknockshire. With over twenty bookshops, it is often described as "the town of books"; it is both the National Book Town of Wales and the site of the annual Hay Festival.

The population of the town in 1841 was 1,455;[2] this had grown to 1,680 by 1901. The town has grown little since, with 2018 estimates at 1,900. The built-up area includes Cusop across the border in England and has a population of around 2,000.[3]


The town lies on the south-east bank of the River Wye and is within the north-easternmost tip of the Brecon Beacons National Park, just north of the Black Mountains. The town is just on the Welsh side of the border with Herefordshire, England, here defined by the Dulas Brook. Where the brook joins the River Wye just north of the town, the border continues northwards along the river. The Wye was the boundary between the former counties and districts of Radnorshire and Brecknockshire.[4]

The adjacent village of Cusop lies on the English side of the Dulas Brook. The nearest city is Hereford, county town of Herefordshire, some 22 miles (35 km) to the east.[5]


The settlement's name is first referred to between 1135 and 1147 as Haya; in 1299 the name of La Haye is used. By the 16th century it was simply called Hay, and the use of the river as a suffix is a later addition. In 1215, a Welsh name, Gelli was recorded, and Gelli gandrell in 1614; the two names may have been used concurrently in 1625. The English language name, Hay, is derived from Old English hæg, possibly meaning a "fenced area" and a noun used in late Saxon and Norman times for an enclosure in a forest. The Welsh word celli (lenited to Gelli) has a range of meanings, including wooded areas of various extents.[6]


Hay Castle and Mansion

Hay-on-Wye, like Builth Wells, has two Norman castles within a short distance of each other. It seems likely that Hay was first 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.[7]

First castle[edit]

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 Login 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 northeast may 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.[8]

Stone castle[edit]

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. The English lordship of Hay passed by marriage to Miles of Gloucester and then into the de Braose family.[9] In the late 11th or early 12th century, a new fortification was built, taking the form of an earth ringwork with a stone gate-tower.[10] It was re-enforced in stone around 1200 with a curtain wall[11] but damaged during the Welsh rebellion led by Owain Glyndŵr around 1401 and in 1460 during the Wars of the Roses.[12] It was then substantially expanded in the 17th century, creating a Jacobean mansion.[13]

Book town[edit]

Hay Festival welcome sign 2016
Hay Castle bookshop

Hay-on-Wye is a destination for bibliophiles in the United Kingdom, with two dozen bookshops, many selling specialist and second-hand books,[14] although the number has declined sharply in recent years, many becoming general antique shops and similar.[15] Hay-on-Wye was already well known for its many bookshops before the festival was launched. Richard Booth opened his first shop there, called The Old Fire Station, in 1962,[16][17] and by the 1970s Hay had gained the nickname "The Town of Books".[18]

Hay Festival[edit]

Since 1988, Hay-on-Wye has been the venue for an annual literary festival, now sponsored by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which draws a claimed 80,000 visitors over ten days at the end of May or beginning of June to see and hear big literary names from all over the world. Devised by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence in 1988, the festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind".[19][20] Tony Benn said: "In my mind it's replaced Christmas".[19][21] In late July 2021, co-founder and director Peter Florence resigned as Festival Director.[22]


The Cheese Market (and former town hall on the first floor)

Hay-on-Wye is a Welsh community with a town council. Its boundary follows the English border/Dulas Brook from the River Wye south-eastwards for just over a kilometre, turns south-west to a point just south of Oakfield house, thence north to Greenpit Farm and north-westwards, enclosing the Hay Showground and meeting the National Park boundary near the B4350, Brecon Road. From this point, it follows the National Park boundary to the River Wye and the river back to the Dulas Brook.[23]

The town council consists of a mayor, deputy mayor and eight councillors.[24]

Hay also participates in the election of a councillor to Powys County Council as part of a larger county division.[25]


Stock certificate of the Hay Railway Company, issued on 8 July 1811. The horse-drawn narrow gauge railway connected Eardisley in Herefordshire, England, with Brecon in Wales over a distance of 24 miles, opened in 1816. The company merged into the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway in 1860.
Stock certificate of the Hay Railway Company, issued on 8 July 1811. The horse-drawn narrow gauge railway connected Eardisley in Herefordshire, England, with Brecon in Wales over a distance of 24 miles, opened in 1816. The company merged into the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway in 1860 and the line was converted to standard gauge for operation by steam locomotives.

The B4350 runs through the town and the B4351 links it with the main A438 from Brecon to Hereford, on the far side of the River Wye.[26]

The town was formerly served by train services at Hay-on-Wye railway station on the Hereford, Hay and Brecon line ; it closed in 1962 due to the line's commercial underperformance.[27]


Hay St. Mary's Football Club is based on Hay Sports Field, off Brecon Road,[28] and they compete in the Mid-Wales Football League.[29]

Hay-on-Wye Cricket Club is also located on Hay Sports Field.[30] The 1st team compete in The Marches Cricket League.[31]

Hay Golf Club (now defunct) was founded in 1903. The club continued on its nine-hole course until the onset of World War 2.[32]

Music and philosophy[edit]

HowTheLightGetsIn Festival, Hay-on-Wye, 2018
HowTheLightGetsIn Festival, Hay-on-Wye, 2018

Hay hosts the philosophy and music festival HowTheLightGetsIn, which occurs annually in Hay-on-Wye in May. HowTheLightGetsIn aims "to get philosophy out of the academy and into people's lives".[33]

Quality of living[edit]

Hay-on-Wye was named one of the best places to live in Wales in 2017.[34]

Notable buildings[edit]

The Clock Tower, Hay

Hay has nearly 150 listed buildings, including the Castle, St Mary's parish church, St John's chapel, the Ebenezer United Reformed Church, the Swan Hotel, and part of the town wall, as well as many of the town centre inns and shops.[35]

The Butter Market was commissioned by William Enoch and erected in the form of a Doric temple in 1833; the Cheese Market was commissioned by Sir Joseph Bailey, 1st Baronet and completed in 1835.[36]

Oakfield is a Grade II listed Regency house located south of the town centre: built in about 1820, it was recorded in 1842 as the home of Henry Allen Junior.[37]

Hay-on-Wye has a Victorian clock tower which was completed in 1884.[38]


Hay-on-Wye is twinned with Redu, a village in the Belgian municipality of Libin, and with Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa.[39]

King of Hay-on-Wye[edit]

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 and a National Anthem written by Les Penning. 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.[40] In 2005, Booth announced plans to sell his bookshop and move to Germany; on this occasion local Member of Parliament (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".[41]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Sedbergh – the national book town of England
  • Wigtown – the national book town of Scotland


  1. ^ "Ward/Town population 2011". Neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  2. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, Vol III, (1847) London, Charles Knight, p.766.
  3. ^ "Custom report - Nomis - Official Labour Market Statistics". Nomisweb.co.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  4. ^ "Historic Landscape Characterisation: The Middle Wye Valley: Transport and Communication Landscapes". Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  5. ^ "Getting to Hay" (PDF). Hay-on-Wye Tourist Information Bureau. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  6. ^ "Hay-on-Wye" (PDF). Historic Settlement Survey – Brecon Beacons National Park. Clwyd–Powys Archaeological Trust. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  7. ^ Waugh, Scott L. (2004). "Bohun, Humphrey (VI) de, third earl of Hereford and eighth earl of Essex (c.1249–1298)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2776.
  8. ^ Fairs, Geoffrey Lowrie (1972). A History of the Hay: The Story of Hay-on-Wye. Phillimore. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0900592676.
  9. ^ "Hay Castle: A Turbulent History", Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, retrieved 2 May 2016
  10. ^ King 1961, p. 69; "Hay-on_Wye" (PDF), Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, retrieved 2 May 2016
  11. ^ "Hay-on_Wye" (PDF), Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, retrieved 2 May 2016
  12. ^ Samuel Lewis (1849), "'Hay – Herbrandston', in A Topographical Dictionary of Wales", British History Online, retrieved 2 May 2016
  13. ^ "Hay Castle", Coflein, p. 2, retrieved 2 May 2016
  14. ^ Hay-on-Wye booksellers Archived 25 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Hay-on-wye.co.uk, Retrieved on 2008-05-04.
  15. ^ "Bookshops in and around Hay-on-Wye". Hay-on-wye.co.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  16. ^ "Richard Booth obituary". The Guardian. 22 August 2019. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  17. ^ Dominic Rech. "The 'mini Trump' who built a kingdom out of books". Cnn.com. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  18. ^ Laurence, Rebecca. "The secrets of Britain's town of books". Bbc.com. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  19. ^ a b "20 facts about Hay-on-Wye and its famous festival". BBC News. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  20. ^ "Hay book fest marks 25th at "Woodstock of the mind"". Reuters. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ "Hay Festival of Literature". The Guardian. 26 May 2000. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  22. ^ Flood, Alison (26 October 2020). "Hay festival founder suspended after bullying allegations". The Guardian.
  23. ^ "Community and Town Council Boundaries". One Voice Wales. Archived from the original on 2 March 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  24. ^ "List of Hay Town Council". Hay-on-Wye Town Council. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Your Councillors by Ward". Powys County Council. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  26. ^ "Where is Hay-on-Wye?". Hay-on-Wye Tourist Bureau. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  27. ^ "Railways - Horse and Steam". Glasbury Historical Society. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Hay St. Mary's Football Club website". Haystmarysfc.co.uk. Hay St. Mary's FC. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  29. ^ "The Mid Wales Football League". Midwalesleague.pitchero.com. MWL. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  30. ^ "Hay-on-Wye Cricket Club website". Haycc.play-cricket.com. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  31. ^ "The Marches Cricket League". Marches.play-cricket.com. MCL. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  32. ^ "Hay Golf Club, Powys. (1903 - WW2)". Golfsmissinglinks.co.uk. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  33. ^ Pauli, Michelle (22 May 2009). "Enlightenment comes to the Hay festival". The Guardian.
  34. ^ "These towns have been named as the best places to live in Wales". Walesonline.co.uk. Wales Online. 10 March 2017. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  35. ^ "Listed Buildings in Hay, Powys". Britishlistedbuildings.co.uk.
  36. ^ "The Cheese Market, Hay-on-Wye". History Points. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  37. ^ Cadw. "Oakfield, Hay-on-Wye (7299)". National Historic Assets of Wales. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  38. ^ "Broad Street Clock Tower, Hay On Wye (32549)". Coflein. RCAHMW. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  39. ^ Hay-on-Wye is twinned with Timbuktu, BBC News, 7 February 2007, 15:53 GMT, accessed 8 February 2007.
  40. ^ "Richard Booth". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 11 May 2007.
  41. ^ "Self-styled king of Hay sells up". Bbc.co.uk. 18 August 2005. Retrieved 11 May 2007.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]