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This old town is fully booked.

A BID to turn round the fortunes of a run-down former industrial town began yesterday with the simultaneous opening of 10 secondhand bookshops.

Blaenavon, in Gwent, is set to become a 'booktown' like the world-famous Hay-on-Wye just 28 miles up the road.

Self-styled 'King of Hay' Richard Booth, who opened Hay's first bookshop in 1961, and his American business partner James Hanna opened the stores in an effort to revitalise the town.

Blaenavon's rich industrial past earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000, but its population has dwindled and boarded up shops now line its main street.

Just 6,000 people live in Blaenavon now, compared with 25,000 in its heyday.

Torfaen County Council and Mr Hanna, from Booktowns International, hope the bookshops will regenerate the town and turn it into a new literary Mecca.

Council leader Brian Smith said: 'I am quite excited. I think it should add to the attraction of the area.

'I have every confidence it will do well and I am very hopeful this is a step in the right direction for Blaenavon.'

The opening of the bookshops coincided with World Heritage Day, and the town had attractions including music, crafts and people dressed as literary characters from the past and present.

Blaenavon boasts some of Europe's best-preserved 18th century ironworks, which put it at the cutting edge of the new technology when they were built in 1788.

It was the setting for Alexander Cordell's Rape of the Fair Country, the 1959 novel documenting the exploitation of the ironworkers.

There are currently around 50 booktowns around the world, but Blaenavon will be the first one to be 'fertilised' rather than to grow organically.

Hay-on-Wye has 39 bookshops and attracts some 70,000 visitors and speakers as renowned as Bill Clinton to its literary festival.
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 29, 2003
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