Wednesday, August 21, 2019

R I P Richard Booth, The King of Hay

The local newspaper for Hay-on-Wye, the Brecon & Radnor Express, reports the sad news that Richard Booth, the man who founded the bookshop town, has surrendered his earthly throne. In the 1960s he had the genius to see the potential for a town full of bookshops, and the flair and determination to make it happen.

Hay is a border town between England and Wales – you can stray between the two without knowing it – and Mr Booth also saw the opportunity for some quirky publicity by declaring it independent and proclaiming himself King of Hay. Knighthoods, passports and sundry royal appointments soon followed. This ‘Passport to Pimlico’ style fun captured the imagination and added to the town’s attractions.

The genius of Richard Booth in coming up with the idea of a town of bookshops and making it work can be measured certainly enough. No other book town, created without his enthusiasm and inspiration, has had half the success of Hay. And if you visit other towns of similar size in mid Wales it is easy to see the decline that can set in unless there is a strong draw for visitors and a lively high street.

Although his own bookselling career had its vicissitudes, Hay is still a thriving and characterful place today. There are now curio shops, craft galleries, cafes and other relishable places too, but over twenty bookshops continue and new ones are still being opened. The prosperity of the town and the delight it gives thousands of visitors are all because of the original vision of Richard Booth.


1 comment:

  1. What a legacy. Hay is wonderful, spent a couple of days there during an Offa's Dyke trek a few years back. The "Murder and Mayhem" store was my fav, where I found an obscure Lady Asquith volume.