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Book towns? International Organisation of Book Towns? What’s that?

6 of the Most Intriguing Book Towns you’d love to visit

The concept of a book town first came into being in the 1960s, when the fortunes of Hay-on-Wye, a small market town on the Welsh/English border, were transformed by the power of books.

The opportunity to regenerate struggling villages and towns by opening up secondhand bookstores and welcoming literary events has since been embraced by many other locations around the world, creating a network of fascinating places to visit, all with books at their heart.


In 1961 entrepreneur Richard Booth opened a secondhand bookshop in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye (population: c. 1600).

The shop proved very popular and before long had grown to become one of Europe’s largest.

Soon many more specialist and secondhand bookshops popped up in the town, transforming the local economy and raising its bibliophile credentials. To crown Hay’s status as the world’s first book town, a literary festival was set up in 1987 and is now the foremost literary event in the UK, tempting in 250,000 book-loving visitors each year.


Bredevoort (population: c.1525), a small medieval town in the Netherlands, was designated a book town in 1993 because of its more than 20 secondhand and antiquarian bookshops.

Every third Saturday of the month, the town square hosts a book market, attracting book dealers from all over the country to sell English, German, and Dutch books.

Bredevoort is one of the founding members of the International Organisation of Book Towns, and hosts many literary events to support the local book economy.


In 1979, villager Noel Anselot returned from a trip to Hay-on-Wye inspired and decided to regenerate his own tiny village (pop: c. 500) in the beautiful Ardennes region of Belgium by attracting booksellers.

He wrote to many bookdealers across the region, inviting them to set up shop in some of the original village buildings (such as barns, houses, and sheds) to keep the look of the village intact.

The project was a success, and now 17 bookshops specializing in secondhand books and comics are based in the village.

Redu holds a number of book-related exhibitions and events every year, including a book night when the book shops stay open all night long.

The town was officially declared a book town in 1984 after holding its first book festival. To cement Redu’s reputation as the first book town in continental Europe, it is twinned with Hay-on-Wye.


In 1999 this lovely Catskills town (current population: c. 440) was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town. The only business was a rundown diner.

Local resident Don Dales saw an opportunity and began buying up empty stores. After noticing the success of one antiquarian bookshop, Dale himself opened up two more bookstores in 2004.

Today there are six bookshops, teeming with books on every subject from cookbooks to rare children’s books, as well as an annual Festival of Women Writers. It’s quickly become a tempting weekend destination for book-loving New Yorkers.


Fjaerland (population: c. 300) is located amidst the stunning fjords of Norway, making it one of the most remote book towns in the world—prior to 1994 when a road was built, Fjaerland could only be reached by boat.

The tiny village hosts its bookshops among abandoned village buildings, including a former stable, grocery store, post office, and ferry waiting room. Because of its isolated location and the vagaries of the Norwegian weather, the book town is only open to visitors from May to September.


Wigtown (population: c. 1000) has been Scotland’s designated national book town since 1998. After the town’s main employers, the creamery and whiskey distillery, closed, this remote Scottish town was in danger of becoming derelict.

Fortunately, its regeneration was secured when Wigtown won a national search (beating off stiff competition from five other towns) to create Scotland’s only book town. Booksellers quickly moved in, setting up over twenty bookshops and a very successful literary festival.

Police expect 30,000 new child abuse reports from Goddard inquiry

Exclusive: Extent of child sexual abuse in England and Wales begins to become clear as inquiry passes on 100 cases a month

The scale of child sexual abuse in England and Wales is being exposed by evidence from thousands of victims, with cases being passed to police at a rate of 100 a month by the public inquiry set up following the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Simon Bailey, head of the national coordinating unit Operation Hydrant, said his team was expecting to be given 30,000 reports of new child sexual offences by the end of the Goddard inquiry, and predicted the rate of referrals of allegations of abuse would increase.

19 May 2016

Reports of child abuse to forces across the country are continuing to rise, said Bailey, who is the chief constable of Norfolk. He calculated that the continuing increase would mean that by 2020 police across the country would be investigating 200,000 cases of child sexual abuse.

Bailey added: “It is fair to say I am surprised by the extent of abuse being exposed, it is shocking. In trying to get a message across to the public about the scale of this, it is important to remember that behind each of these figures there is a victim.

“We are seeing a significant rise in the number of referrals each month from the Goddard inquiry, and these allegations relate to abuse in a range of institutions from the church, to schools, the scouts and hospitals.”

Simon Bailey, head of the coordinating unit Operation Hydrant.
Simon Bailey, head of the coordinating unit Operation Hydrant. Photograph: Martin Godwin

Justice Lowell Goddard is running 13 investigations into institutional abuse, which include inquiries concerning Westminster, the Catholic Church, Church of England, and Lambeth borough, and concerning grooming and sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Devon, Cornwall, Oxford and Rotherham, and at the Medomsley detention centre in Durham.

Another 12 investigations will be pursued during the inquiry. Most of these 25 investigations will lead to public hearings.

Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive officer for the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “We have lifted the lid on a hidden problem, now survivors are coming forward in large numbers. These people were failed by institutions in childhood. They deserve to be heard now. Why were signs of child abuse ignored, unrecognised or unreported?

The insight survivors have is vital in shaping how our institutions protect children in future.”

On Thursday, the Goddard inquiry opened new offices in Manchester as part of its nationwide “truth project”, which invites victims of abuse to give detailed testimony of their experiences. In many cases these experiences have stayed unspoken about for decades.

Two thousand victims have already contacted the inquiry to give details about experiences of child sexual abuse, and about 600 have already indicated that they would give their full testimony to the truth project.

In Australia where a royal commission into child abuse is being held, the numbers of people who have come forward has surpassed predictions. Bailey said that the same would be true of the Goddard hearings.

Referrals to Bailey’s team on Operation Hydrant stem from allegations made by victims contacting the inquiry and through the investigations being carried out by the inquiry team.

“These referrals are allegations which are new to the police,” said Bailey. “Where there are criminal investigations they will be passed to the relevant police force.

What we are seeing is that the face of crime has fundamentally changed and it means we have had to move our resources to crimes against the vulnerable [and concerning] child abuse, adult abuse and rape.”

The huge increase in reports of child abuse to the police – a rise of 80% between 2012 and 2015 – was continuing, Bailey added. At this rate of increase, police will be investigating 200,000 cases by 2020, he predicted.

Police forces across England and Wales investigated 70,000 cases of child sexual abuse last year and 25% of the investigations were into non-recent abuse.

The chief constable said that the rise in investigations was due Not just to increased reporting but to more children being abused, with the internet acting as a facilitator for paedophiles to contact children. He has commissioned research in an attempt to establish whether this is correct.

The enormous draw on police resources of these investigations comes as a severe spending squeeze on police budgets continues.

Last week Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, issued new guidance to remind police that her lawyers would not make charging decisions in relation to dead perpetrators, implying that police were not aware of the ruling that the dead could not be charged with criminal offences.

Bailey defended the police from criticism.

“It is vital that the police investigate allegations of child sexual abuse thoroughly and proportionately, whether the alleged crimes took place last week or many years ago,” he said. “Victims who report abuse by someone who is now dead have the same expectation that their allegations will be taken seriously and that they will have recourse to justice.

Police also need to determine whether the alleged offender may have worked with others who are still alive and could pose a risk today.”

He added that age was no bar to people committing child abuse, citing examples of cases in which men in their 90s were under investigation for abuse.

This week, Theresa May, the home secretary, spoke out against those who said police should only concentrate on current crimes.

“Perpetrators must never be allowed to think that their horrific acts will go overlooked or go unpunished … Victims and survivors … deserve to be heard now, just as they should have been years ago, and they deserve justice, just as they did then,” she said.




March 2023

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