Many castles were built along the Wales-England border in the turbulent centuries after the Norman conquest. Hay Castle is one of very few which has never been left unoccupied since the late 11th century, when Lord William de Braose built the original structure. Prince Llywelyn, the last indigenous Prince of Wales, took and ravaged the castle in the 1230s, after which King Henry III funded its rebuilding.
The castle’s four-storey keep, dating from c.1200, survives as a ruin. A gateway from the 13th or 14th centuries still has one of its original timber gates.
Castle House, which dominates today’s view of the site from the town, was built alongside the keep in 1660 and took over the keep’s residential function. Remnants survive of formal gardens created in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Jacobean mansion was damaged by fire in 1939 and 1977.
In 1961 Hay Castle was bought by Richard Booth, an eccentric bookseller who proclaimed himself “King of Hay”. He opened a bookshop in Castle House to advance his goal of turning Hay into the world’s first book town. The number of bookshops, mostly selling secondhand volumes, increased to about 40 today. This laid the foundation for the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, held annually in May.
Another of Richard Booth’s innovations was an honesty bookshop (customers are trusted to deposit their payments in a cash box) in part of the castle grounds. A self-service, open-air bookshop in Wales’ damp climate might have seemed foolish, but over the decades countless people have browsed and found bargains here.
The castle and its grounds were bought for £2m in 2011 by the Hay Castle Trust, which was formed to preserve and restore the site for a variety of cultural, educational and community uses. In 2016 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £4.46m for the castle’s restoration, after which the castle will be open to the public for the first time in its long history.
Postcode: HR3 5DF