The Kingdom of Books - Atlas Obscura

The Kingdom of Books

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

In 1977, an eccentric book lover formed a micronation for book lovers. 


The small community of Hay-On-Wye (Or simply Hay, for short) is located in the middle of the Welsh countryside; it’s a beautiful location on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park with a castle and tall green hills. Its history is nearly a century old, but it’s only within the last few decades this place has made a name for itself.

In 1962, a local man by the name of Richard Booth, who was intrigued by books and had a passion for them, opened Hay’s first bookshop in the old fire station. A few years later, he bought the local Hay Castle and set it up as a secondhand bookshop. Guinness World Records later recognized the castle as the world’s largest second-hand bookshop, with over a million books stocked at any one time. 

Richard Booth’s passion for literature had gripped the community and in 1976, the Welsh Tourism Board listed Hay as a “Town of Books.” However, it wasn’t enough. Booth realized more needed to be done to sustain the area’s economy, and so on April 1, 1977, he did something that would define the community forever: he declared himself King.

Booth raised a new flag at his castle, placed a crown on his head, and fired a cannon from a gunboat (in reality: a small rowing boat) to mark the community’s independence. Although the independence was never officially recognized by the United Kingdom, other micronations supported Booth’s cause to raise awareness to support his community.

It could also be argued that Booth had formed one of the few micronations to have a king and fully-fledged castle.

Booth’s crazy idea seemed to work, as lots of publicity was generated around his declaration of independence. Everyone from journalists to tourists now wanted to visit the self-declared “Kingdom of Books.” In 1999, a university studied the economic efforts of book towns and found a direct correlation between Booth’s stunt and helping the economy not just of Hay, but the entirety of Wales.

Since then, Hay’s reputation for literature of all kinds has kept the community alive. To this day, there are multiple bookshops and festivals dedicated to books as well as philosophy and music.

The most notable event is the Hay Festival which started in 1988 and is dedicated to literature across 10 days in May and June. Although Booth wasn’t a fan of the festival as it focused more on new material than secondhand books, the festival has kept the spirit of enjoying literature and all works of art alive and the festival has even gone international. President Clinton even called the festival the “Woodstock of the Mind.”

As for Booth, he never stopped his eccentricity; he was awarded an MBE in 2004 for his services to tourism. His effigy was also beheaded in the town square by revolutionists as part of a publicity stunt (he and the lead revolutionists remained on good terms afterward). He sold his castle in 2011 to a trust, and in 2022, the castle was opened to the public. Booth sadly passed away in 2019, and his home was turned into a museum about the self-declared King of Hay. 

An article written in 2022 by Richard Collett about the town for the BBC summarises this micronation best: “Booth’s legacy is not a flag or kingdom, but a thriving, book-loving town.” Although Booth’s Kingdom of Hay may never officially be recognized, the spirit and idea certainly live on.

Know Before You Go

According to the Hay-on-Wye website, the main car park is located near Craft Centre and Tourist Bureau.

Camper parking is allowed.

Thursday is the community’s dedicated market day.

In partnership with KAYAK

Plan Your Trip

From Around the Web