In 1977, Richard Booth declared himself “king” of Hay-on-Wye in order to save the Welsh border town from economic ruin. Now, the famed spot is celebrating his legacy.

The bookseller’s bold bid for independence revived the fortunes of an ailing town. “A lot of small towns were in decline at the time,” explained Dr Reg Clark, who worked as Booth’s publicist in the 1970s and became the Kingdom of Hay’s “Minister for Technology”. “The decline was happening in small Welsh towns everywhere. People in rural areas would get an education, but then they would move out and get jobs elsewhere”. Booth’s marketing ploy brought an influx of curious tourists and bibliophiles to Hay-on-Wye, allowing the second-hand book market to flourish. With a population of just 1,500, the town remains home to some 20-plus bookshops and hosts the United Kingdom’s largest literary event, the annual Hay Festival.

Forty five years after his declaration of independence, Booth’s crumbling castle – where he lived and ruled – has been transformed into a museum by the Hay Castle Trust…