To celebrate the launch of Jim Saunders’ new book, Hay – Landscape Literature and the Town of Books, here’s 10 amazing facts you may not known about the famous festival town.
1) Despite its Herefordshire postal address, Hay-on-Wye is actually in Wales, and its Welsh name is Y Gelli Gandryll. (But its Co-op supermarket is just over the border in England, where they still have free carrier bags.)
2) People have been living and building in the countryside around Hay since the Stone Age. In 1959 and 1960 the pupils of Clyro Court secondary school discovered over 2000 flint arrowheads dating from this period at Old Forest Farm in Clyro. Also dating from this period is a chambered tomb near the entrance of Clyro Court, and Arthur’s Tomb in Bredwardine.
3) According to legend, Maud Walbee built Hay castle in just one night with her bare hands, carrying the stones in her apron.
4) The world-famous Hay literature festival has been running for the past 27 years and was founded around a kitchen table in 1987 by Norman and Rhoda Florence.
5) Hay has no fewer than 21 bookshops and two bookbinders, all in a town with a population of 1,500. That’s one bookshop for every 71 residents
6) Richard Booth is credited with putting Hay on the map as ‘the town of books’ after opening his first bookshop in 1962. The bookshop is still thriving today.
7) In 1977, Richard Booth proclaimed Hay an independent kingdom and crowned himself king of Hay. He named his horse Prime Minister.
8) Welsh nationalist hero, Owain Glyndwr, is said to be buried in Herefordshire, just a few miles from Hay. There are four possible burial sites: Monnington-on-Wye, Monnington Court, Croft Castle and Kentchurch.
9) The town of Hay is twinned with Timbuktu in Mali.
10) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” has mysterious connections with Hay and the surrounding areas. the village of Clyro, just across the Wye from Hay. Clyro Court was built by local landowner Thomas Mynors Baskerville while his neighbours the Vaughans, of Clyro and Kington are associated with a spooky local legend. At Hergest Court in the 15th century lived Tomas ap Rosser, known as Black Vaughan. After he was killed at the battle of Banbury in 1469, local legend has it that his restless spirit tormented the townsfolk, taking numerous forms, including a black hound. What’s more, Tomas owned a black dog. The dog is said to have haunted generations of the Vaughan family, appearing before them to signify imminent death. Conan Doyle definitely knew Clyro, his first wife owned two farms there. Is this where his “savage, appalling, hellish” hound originated?