Former fire station, Hay-on-Wye

Former fire station, Castle Street, Hay-on-Wye

hay_fire_brigade_1940This building was once the town’s fire station. Later it was the first bookshop of Richard Booth, whose passion for printed material turned Hay-on-Wye into the world’s first “book town”.

The old fire station is part of a terrace of houses dating from the 18th century. Look up to see an old fireman’s helmet. The ground-floor window occupies what was the doorway for the fire engine to park inside. The photo on the right shows the firefighters outside the station in 1940, shortly before they went to Swansea to help during the blitz (see Footnotes below).

Hay’s fire brigade was formed in the 1890s. The photo below shows the firefighters and their water pump in 1913, at what was then their base (opposite the Baptist Chapel). Hay’s purpose-built fire station opened in 1957.

hay_fire_brigade_1913A plaque above the doorway here records that Richard Booth (1938-2019) opened his first bookshop here, in 1962. He grew up near Hay, on a farm which his dad had inherited, before graduating at Oxford. In 1961 he bought Hay Castle, where he set up another secondhand bookshop.

Other traders began to sell books, mostly secondhand. Within a decade there were so many bookshops in Hay that it became known as “the book town”, the first of dozens worldwide. This laid the foundation for the launch in 1988 of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, held annually in May.

Today the former fire station is home to Tŷ Tân Art, a gallery founded by painters and sculptors Menna Angharad and Jeremy Stiff. (Tŷ Tân is Welsh for “fire house”.) It includes space for workshops and other events.

With thanks to Tim and Eric Pugh

Postcode: HR3 5DF    View Location Map

Website of Tŷ Tân Art

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More about Hay fire brigade

In 1917 Hay’s fire station was equipped with a bell belonging to the local council, which had previously lent the bell to Cusop church room. The bell reputedly came from St John’s Chapel, founded in the 13th century for Hay’s guild of tradesmen.

According to Bill Pugh, a Hay firefighter from the 1920s to the 1940s, the water pump was drawn by horses belonging to the Crown Hotel. They grazed in a field on the far side of Hay Bridge and normally had the easy task of hauling the hotel’s carriage between the railway station and hotel. When uniformed firefighters turned up, the horses knew that hard work lay ahead and tried to evade being harnessed!

In the Second World War, Bill and colleagues had three-week stints in Swansea to help during the city’s aerial bombardment. Fire brigades at the time were organised according to church areas. Swansea was in the diocese of Brecon, and therefore fire brigades from various Breconshire towns took turns to help.