Britain’s singular book-loving ‘state’

Britain’s singular book-loving ‘state’

(picture credit: Richard Collette,

In 1977, Richard Sales space proclaimed himself the “King” of Hay-on-Wye to save lots of the Welsh border city from financial damage. Now, the well-known place is celebrating his legacy.


On 1 April 1977, second-hand bookstore proprietor Richard Sales space donned a home crown, marched via the streets of Hay-on-Wye and out of doors the gates of a Norman-era citadel within the Welsh city. Declared himself the “King of O”.

Holding a royal scepter manufactured from brass plumbing and with the freshly stitched inexperienced and white flag of the brand new “Kingdom of Hay” flying behind it, Sales space knowledgeable the confused residents and himself as “King”, United Pressed with independence from the Kingdom. Will encourage tourism and revive the declining economic system of town.

Sales space issued passports, stamps and forex for his new “nation”, his “cupboard minister” was elected after too many drinks on the native pub, and he later appointed his horse, Goldie, as prime minister. He gave citizenship and respect to his supporters and admirers, and he’ll rule his self-proclaimed kingdom from the ramparts of Hay Fort till his demise in 2019.

“Sales space was a showman and a businessman,” stated Mari Forday, a neighborhood historian who works for the Hay Fort Belief. “He noticed any alternative for propaganda. The Declaration of Independence was a part of that deep sense of propaganda, his singular and symbolic streak, and his love of meditation.”

The bookseller’s daring bid for freedom revives the fortunes of an ailing city. “On the time quite a lot of small cities have been in decline,” defined Dr. Reg Clark, who served as Sales space’s evangelist within the Seventies and have become Hey’s “minister of expertise.” “The decline was occurring in all places in small Welsh cities. Individuals in rural areas would get an schooling, however then they’d transfer out and discover jobs elsewhere”. Sales space’s advertising ploy introduced an inflow of curious vacationers and bibliographers to Hay-on-Wye, permitting the second-hand guide market to flourish. With a inhabitants of simply 1,500, town stays residence to some 20-plus bookstores and hosts the annual Hay Competition, the biggest literary occasion in the UK.

Richard Booth proclaimed himself King of the Welsh border town on 1 April 1977(Credit: Alex Ramsay/Alamy)

Richard Sales space proclaimed himself King of the Welsh border city on 1 April 1977(Credit score: Alex Ramsay/Alamy)

Forty-five years after the Declaration of Independence, Sales space’s crumbling citadel – the place he lived and dominated – has been transformed right into a museum by the Hay Fort Belief. I discovered myself in Hay-on-Wye on the day of the museum’s opening in Might 2022, as Hay Fort opened to the general public for the primary time in its 900-year historical past.

The Twelfth-century Norman maintain of Hay Fort, half-fallen, rises above a meadow within the heart of the city. Within the outdated moat of the citadel, I used to be absorbed within the cabinets of an outside “honesty bookstore” (the place each guide prices £1, and cash is paid in an honesty field), novels, histories, journey tales, classics. , was filled with homicide mysteries. Biographies, recipe books and extra.

The Honesty Bookshop’s out of doors area in the midst of Hay Competition doubles as a avenue meals market, and pageant buffs get pleasure from loads of falafel and tacos as they learn their newest purchases within the shadow of Hay Fort. There have been extra pop-up meals stands and market stalls within the surrounding streets, whereas the primary avenue in entrance of the palace was lined with outdated bookstores, vintage retailers, and an enthralling map store promoting cartographic oddities.

The town remains home to some over 20 bookstores and hosts the annual Hay Festival(Credit: Richard Collette)

The city stays residence to some over 20 bookstores and hosts the annual Hay Competition(Credit score: Richard Collette)

From the “Crow’s Nest” viewing platform on the high of the citadel’s tower, I glimpsed the river flowing west via the Welsh countryside, whereas to the south, the Black Mountains rose to type a dramatic border with England. An data board knowledgeable me that these are “The Welsh Marches”, the chaotic border land between England and Wales that was beset by battle and rogue “Marcher Lords” through the Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Medieval and Tudor eras. was ruled by.

Sales space was like an evil Marcher Lord in fashionable guise, and little doubt He-on-Wai’s location on this hazy frontier fueled his want for autonomy. “I prefer to suppose that Hey-on-Wye has an id of its personal,” Forday later informed me. “It has spent a lot time being neither Welsh nor English and nonetheless identifies as a border city as an alternative.”

Born in 1938, the king-bearer moved to a rural property close to Hay-on-Wai when he was younger. In his autobiography, My Kingdom of Books (written by Sales space and his stepdaughter Lucia Stuart), Sales space recounts how his dad and mom by no means made him succeed within the monetary profession he established in London. As a substitute, his ardour for books led him into the second-hand guide commerce, and he opened Hay-on-Wye’s first bookstore in 1962, after buying Outdated Hearth Station.

In 1964, Sales space forcefully bought Hay Fort when it hit the market, renovating the historic construction right into a bookstore, residence and venue for a lot of of his events. He then took over the city’s outdated Agricultural Corridor—which stays “Richard Sales space’s Bookstore” to at the present time—and by 1978, the shop was listed within the Guinness Guide of Information because the world’s largest secondhand bookshop. with a inventory of over a million books. at anybody time.

“I do not suppose there was any curiosity in books earlier than Richard,” Ford stated. “He noticed a enterprise alternative and took it. He timed his transfer into books very well, as many libraries have been eliminating their books on the time. That meant that they had inventory very cheaply and They might have been stored increased.”

Hay Castle recently opened to the public for the first time in its 900-year history(Credit: Adrian Seal/Alami)

Hay Fort just lately opened to the general public for the primary time in its 900-year historical past(Credit score: Adrian Seal/Alami)

By 1976, Hay-on-Wye was marketed by the Welsh Tourism Board because the world’s first “metropolis of books”, as there have been bookstores on each avenue nook. “There are sales space branches and retailers throughout city,” Clark stated. “Many individuals got here to Hay to work for Richard, and he modified the diaspora and nature of town. He skilled many locals, who went on to arrange store on their very own.”

However the financial actuality was powerful, as Clarke defined. “Their main subject was lack of funds. With outdated bookstores, issues have been at all times transferring from one catastrophe to a different. That is simply the character of that type of enterprise.” More and more disillusioned, Sales space believed that authorities insurance policies have been abandoning rural market city economies in favor of newer and bigger supermarkets and out-of-town buying facilities.

As Sales space’s private monetary scenario grew to become extra precarious, he determined it was time for drastic motion, so in 1977 Sales space knowledgeable a visiting reporter he met on the pub, “Hey Britain goes to be unbiased! “.

“I shall be ‘Richard Coeur de Livre’,” wrote Sales space, “the emperor with the larger variety of pages.”

1 April 1977 was an uncommon day in Hay-on-Wye. Cannon fireplace from Micronation’s “gunboat” (really, a small oar-powered dinghy on the River Wye) marks the Declaration of Independence; A flag was unveiled in entrance of Hay Fort; And because the new nationwide anthem was performed, Sales space was topped “King of Hay”.

The announcement could have been made on April Fools’ Day, however as Forday informed me, the political causes behind the stunt have been severe. “Personally, I do not suppose Sales space needed to be king in any literal sense,” she defined. “I’d say that he needed to be king within the sense that he needed to be heard and brought severely, as a result of he had robust opinions about how the agricultural economic system may survive within the second half of the twentieth century.”

Richard Booth's crown jewels are on display at Hay Castle along with the Independence Flag and other Empire of Hay memorabilia(Credit: Richard Collette)

Richard Sales space’s crown jewels are on show at Hay Fort together with the Independence Flag and different Empire of Hay memorabilia(Credit score: Richard Collette)

Whereas visiting Sales space’s former residence, now a museum, I started exploring the newly opened galleries devoted to the centuries-old historical past of Hay Fort. I used to be instantly drawn into the room on the highest flooring, which homes the “Richard Sales space Assortment.”

The sales space’s Crown Jewels are protected by a glass cupboard; The unique independence flag hangs on the wall; And on show are the Kingdom of Hay stamp, forex and passport. Though the UK by no means acknowledged Sales space’s bid for independence, he acquired ambassadorship and help from different micronations, together with the Principality of the Hutt River, a self-declared micronation in Western Australia, and the Free Unbiased Republic of Frestonia, a The micronation was fashioned (additionally included) in 1977 to oppose the demolition of native properties in London.

Reporters and the press flocked to Hey’s kingdom, and publicity reinvigorated Hey-on-Wai’s economic system as hordes of vacationers gathered to go to the quaint “City of Books” dominated by a king. However not everybody was proud of the sales space in Hay-on-Wye. “Once they declared independence, it did not essentially go effectively with all of the native folks,” Clark stated. “The sales space was a darling of the Wales Tourism Board, however that someway fell out with them. Hay City Council gave a discover that they’d don’t have anything to do with the Kingdom of Hay, and Hay-on-Wye was a United Kingdom Integral.”

In 1988, Sales space additionally picked up a battle with the just lately established Hay Competition, believing that the pageant’s deal with newly launched books was a disservice to town’s older bookstores. Even with out the preliminary blessing of the King of Hay, nonetheless, the Hay Competition was successful. It’s now the biggest literary occasion of its form within the UK, and its return in 2022 after a Covid-19 hiatus noticed almost 500 occasions staged over two weeks, with 600 audio system and 200,000 ticket gross sales.

By 1978, Richard Booth's bookstore was the largest vintage bookstore in the world(Credit: Richard Collette)

By 1978, Richard Sales space’s bookstore was the biggest classic bookstore on the earth(Credit score: Richard Collette)

Sales space died on 20 August 2019, however the “Kingdom of Hay” continues. “There is a lineage to the king,” Forday stated. “In 2018, Richard Sales space introduced his succession, and Ollie Cook dinner is his successor. Town nonetheless has a flag and there have been a number of Independence Weekends – though Covid means we’ve not had one since 2019. “

Sales space’s actual legacy is not a flag or perhaps a state, however a thriving, book-loving metropolis. “As his stepdaughter Lucia as soon as informed me, he was one of many final nice British freaks,” Clark stated. “As his pal, I knew Richard cherished Hay and needed the most effective for it. Not as a result of it was his kingdom, however as a result of he cherished the group. He did a lot for Hay.” did, and he introduced it out of obscurity.”


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