Long Live the King (of Hay) - Katherine Roberts
|'King of Hay' memorial
Royalty is very much on my mind lately, with this post publishing just two days after the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. We now have a new monarch, King Charles III. But this post is not about him. I'd like to introduce you to a slightly lesser-known monarch... meet Richard Booth (1938-2019), bookseller extraordinaire and self-proclaimed King of Hay!
If you've ever visited Hay-on-Wye on the border between England and Wales, you'll already know its fame as a "town of books". It seems every historic street contains a bookshop of some description, many of them selling second-hand volumes that will keep your average book lover (me!) happy for hours browsing the shelves for rare copies of magazines and bargain paperbacks of every conceivable genre. The Hay Literary Festival has become big business, celebrity authors rubbing shoulders with debut novelists as they give talks and interviews to packed marquees on the Festival site. I can remember going to see JK Rowling back in the days when children's authors were still confined to the local school hall - there was standing room only that year and a queue around the block for signed copies of her Harry Potter books. It seems King Richard of Hay was responsible for putting the town on the literary map, after opening his first secondhand bookshop there in 1962 and filling it with books shipped over from America.
These days, I prefer to visit Hay during non-Festival weeks to avoid the crowds, and my latest visit happily coincided with the reopening to the public of Hay Castle, once the stately home of Richard Booth. Living in the castle obviously gave him grand ideas. In 1977 (Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee year), Richard declared himself 'King of Hay' and the town of Hay-on-Wye to be an independent kingdom.
|Hay Castle today
With a nod to the Roman Emperor Caligula (who, according to legend, named his favourite racehorse a Consul of Rome), King Richard promptly appointed his own horse - Goldie - as his Prime Minister.
|The horse on this poster in town is not Goldie.
It's a Shire horse called Honest Tom - but that's another story!
Hay Castle has suffered two fires in its history, the second one towards the end of 1977 that destroyed the roof and some of the original features. When Richard Booth sold the castle in 2011, the Hay Castle Trust took over and began a programme of restoration.
|Part of the castle is still ruined, where you can look down on the pigeons that come to roost and catch some wonderful views of the town.
Katherine Roberts writes historical and fantasy fiction for young readers.
Her novel about Emperor Caligula's racehorse Incitatus combines the pampered stallion's viewpoint with chariot racing and gladiatorial battles in ancient Rome, and is suitable for readers aged 10 to adult.
Discover more of Katherine's books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk