Hay Castle

Part Norman, part Jacobean and part Victorian, Hay Castle has housed invaders, patriots, country gentry and a world-famous bookshop.

The building currently known as Hay Castle, pictured right, was not the first castle to be built in this borderland settlement.

Hay's first castle, circa 1100

The borderlands between England and Wales, the Welsh Marches, were a battleground for the two nations over the centuries following the departure of the Romans. In 784 the Anglo-Saxon King Offa of Mercia in the English Midlands marked the boundary between his territory and that of the Welsh by constructing the lengthy earthworks of Offa's Dyke. The Dyke remains today a close approximation of the present border between Wales and England.

After William of Normandy successfuly invaded England in 1066, the king rewarded his supporters with lands along the borders of Wales. These powerful Marcher Lords were permitted to seize land from the Welsh in the 12th century, and they built motte and bailey castles, firstly of earthworks topped by timber pallisades and later rebuilt in stone, to secure the conquered lands.

The land around Hay was taken by the Normans around 1100, when their first small castle on an artificial mound to the south-west of the present town centre was constructed. This original castle site, close to the parish church of St Mary, was abandoned around 1200 when it was replaced by a much larger stone castle built on high ground at the centre of the town.

Hay's second castle, circa 1200

The second castle at Hay, the remains of which overlook the present town, has had a long and troubled history, having been sacked by the Welsh and by the English over the years. From 1100 to 1500 the Marches went through many turbulent episodes as powerful Marcher Lords changed sides in the hope of advancing their own interests.

Much of the early history of Hay Castle was bound up in the fortunes of the dynasty of the mighty Barons de Breos until the mid 13th century. The castle was then held by the de Bohun family until early in the 15th century.

Hay Castle and much of the then town had, by some accounts, been totally destroyed by Owain Glyndwr and his forces in the early 15th century as he travelled south after his victory at the battle of Pilleth, near Presteigne. It is now believed that any damage in Hay was much less severe, possibly because of support for Glyndwr in the area at that time.

As recently as the early 1800s the dungeon of the original castle was still being used as the gaol for the town. But very little of the original castle has survived, other than the main gateway and part of the keep.

Castle House, the Jacobean mansion

A many-gabled mansion, which dominated the town below, was built alongside the castle remains in about 1660.

In its later years the mansion attached to the castle became a residence for the gentry. From 1825 until the turn of the century it served as a vicarage for the clergy of Hay, and the Reverend Francis Kilvert, the famous Victorian diarist who held the living in nearby Clyro for many years, was a frequent visitor.

The mansion was severely damaged by a disastrous fire in 1939, but was later substantially restored. Another fire in 1977 caused as much destruction as the first, and today much of the Jacobean building is little more than an empty shell open to the elements.

In the 1960s, the habitable part was bought by Richard Booth, founder of the second-hand book business for which the town is known all over the world.

New beginnings

In 2011, the site was purchased by the Hay Castle Trust, a registered charity set up to preserve the historic fabric. Hay Castle is set to be restored and regenerated as a major centre for culture, arts and education.

Visiting Hay Castle

How to get there

Hay Castle is in the centre of Hay-on-Wye. The main entrance is on Oxford Road. 


Hay Castle Trust, tel 01497 820079, www.haycastletrust.org