A Chapel, a Diarist and a Book Town: a visit to Hay On Wye and its Environs

On Monday I arrived in Wales for a few days’ visit with a friend and former colleague who returned to her home country after spending most of her adult life in Leeds. I’m having a very relaxing few days interspersed with an expedition each day. Tuesday was most glorious. The sun came out and the temperatures rose and spring seemed definitely in the air. We managed a couple of short walks in “Waterfall Country”.

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan, Neath Valley

St Mary's Church, Ystradfellte

St Mary’s Church, Ystradfellte

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, near Ystradfellte

By yesterday spring was over and it was winter again – misty, wet and cold. No problem, we thought, for today we have the pleasures of Hay-on-Wye, Wales’s own Book Town, in store.

On our journey to Hay we took two very short detours. The first was to visit the Maesyronnen Chapel. Fortuitously, the adjoining former minister’s house is now a Landmark Trust property.


Here is an extract from the History page from the LT’s webpage for Maesyronnen Chapel:

“A Chapel Founded just after The Act of Toleration

Here we have taken on the neat and tiny cottage, built before 1750 onto the end of one of Wales’s shrines of Nonconformity, the Maesyronnen chapel. This chapel, converted from a barn in 1696, dates from Nonconformity’s earliest days, when any suitable building was made use of for enthusiastic worship. It was probably used for secret meetings even before the Act of Toleration legalised such gatherings in 1689, which explains its isolated position. Services are still held in the chapel, which is cared for by Trustees, who asked for our help. By taking a lease on the cottage we hope we have helped give both buildings a future.”

Kilvert Memorial Clyro

Francis Kilvert Memorial in Clyro Parish Church

St Michael's Clyro

St Michael’s Church, Clyro

From Maesyronnen it was a short drive to Clyro and the former home of the Reverend Francis Kilvert famous for diaries recording his daily life and walks in the area. Kilvert was curate at Clyro when he began writing his diaries but he only lived there between 1865 and 1872. He lived at Ashbrook House which, until recently, had been an art gallery but currently the garden looks rather overgrown and unloved. Two plaques on the wall of the house record the fact that Kilvert lived here.

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Kilvert lived here 1

Kilvert lived here 2

Read an interesting article here about Kilvert, the man, and his diaries.

It ends : “Sadly, it’s difficult to find copies of Kilvert in bookshops today. The one-volume abridgement, published by Penguin, and subsequently by Pimlico, has fallen out of print, while Plomer’s three-volume edition has long been unavailable. To celebrate the 70th anniversary, Cape should consider authorising a critical edition of the diary, drawing on the surviving manuscripts, as well as on the background information amassed by the Kilvert Society in the years since its foundation in 1948. That way we might have the opportunity to gaze afresh on the radiant, picturesque world of the Rev Kilvert.”

Kilvert's diary 2

Kilvert's diary

Well, all that has changed and we saw several versions of the diaries in Hay book shops in the full 3 volume format (for around £130+) as well as reissues of the abridged version, above.

Baskerville Arms, Clyro

Clyro is also the location of the Jacobean-style mansion built by Sir Thomas Mynors Baskerville a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who borrowed his friend’s name when writing The Hound of the Baskervilles. The house is now a hotel and needless to say there is also a pub of the same name.

Prep for Hay

And so on to Hay itself. Despite planning in advance which shops to visit and preparing lists and so on I found that I was rather overwhelmed with choice. I realised that I am so dedicated a library user these days that I have less and less need to actually own books. It also seemed to me that in each shop we visited the value of each book was known and there was very little chance of a real bargain. However, that said, it’s an extremely pleasant way of spending a cold, damp Wednesday afternoon in March.

Hay Castle

Hay Castle

Richard Booth's Hay

Richard Booth’s Books

Inside Addyman's Hay

Inside Addyman’s Books at Hay on Wye

Honesty Bookshop Hay

The Honesty Bookshop, Hay

I bought only one title and that was from the Honesty Book Shop in the Castle precincts – all hardbacks £1 and all paperbacks 50p. It is a hardback copy of The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp. It’s in pretty good condition and I’m pleased with it.


6 comments on “A Chapel, a Diarist and a Book Town: a visit to Hay On Wye and its Environs

  1. Nilly says:

    Libraries are great Barbara but – Books Do Furnish A Room!
    (“Not when they’re left in teetering piles”, I tell Mr N.)

    • Well, our rooms are well and truly furnished, Nilly, as you can imagine. I just enjoy the hunt and finding a treasure at a bargain price. The internet has generally removed that challenge in book shops. And I still buy books, have no fear, despite the library membership.

  2. Fran says:

    Must pull out my Penguin edition of Kilvert’s Diary again. Interesting to see where he lived.
    I went to Hay in the eighties; sure it has changed since then!

    • Well worth another visit, Fran. I imagine it’s much smarter and tidier now and besides book shops there seemed to be a number of dress and other shops too. Don’t know when I will get around to reading even an abridged edition!

  3. I love Hay-On-Wye and visited each time I came to the UK. Just strolling through the town and inhaling the scent of all those books! I made lots of purchases and mailed them back to the USA when I had my own used & rare bookshop in Bordentown, New Jersey. So many of those books just cannot be found in the States except on rare occasions. I always stayed in lovely B & Bs in town and enjoyed the pubs & restaurants.

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