Mostlymaps: partners Kemeys and Sally Forwood

Brief overview:

Kemeys Forwood was born in Chiswick,  London, the eldest of six children.  He had an idyllic early childhood roaming free in London on his bike with various siblings and his beloved sheep dog. Formal education was not to his liking however and eventually he was asked to leave Eton at the age of 17 and given a one way ticket on a cargo ship to Australia by his parents. He spent two years there variously gold mining then steel erecting in the North West Territories. On his return to Britain he worked on the oil rigs in the North Sea as a roustabout. Having met Sally in Ireland whilst he completed an engineering HND at Bolton Street College, he had organised a course to become a deep sea diver. Just before this was to begin he took her to Hay-on-Wye for the weekend to show her where he spent his childhood holidays and it was there that they met Richard Booth. They had both already been interested in antiquarian books and the sight of so much interesting and fascinating material caused them to load up Kemeys’ old Jaguar (with its Irish number plates) with odd volumes of Illustrated London News and other, very heavy, treasures.

On returning to his sister’s house in Twickenham the booty was carried into the house and then, some hours later, the house was over run by the bomb squad and all its occupants subjected to in-depth searches as over zealous neighbours had called the police at the sight of this shifty looking couple with the Irish number plates unloading heavy boxes! Richard Booth offered them both a job on that first weekend and Kemeys gave up his place on the deep sea diving course for two eventful years as book buyer-in-chief for Richard Booth’s empire involving many extraordinary experiences and much travel, particularly to America.

Sally - hard at work in the galleryIn 1978 Sally and Kemeys opened their first bookshop in Hay, bought from Richard Booth, complete with stock and April Ashley (famous for being one of the first people to have a sex change) as a sitting tenant. April helped price the books and open the shop and the shop was a roaring success. After two other shops, Sally and Kemeys moved, twenty years ago, to their present premises in 2 Castle Street. Here they brought up their two daughters Daisy and Lily. They gradually changed from books, to prints, then prints and maps and then, finally some 8 years ago to mostly maps and so Mostlymaps was born. This website is their fourth one and it is hoped that you will find it easier to use and that it will make it clearer for you to see some of the outstanding rarities that are on offer here and also that, with the benefit of the latest technology, your browsing experience will approximate closely to that experienced in their physical gallery in Hay-on-Wye (there is no classical music playing online though!)

Sally Forwood had a peripatetic childhood, born in Berkshire, moving to Northumberland, Somerset, Ireland and Cheshire. Unlike Kemeys, Sally was and is a conformist and was a school prefect and Head of House. She began collecting antique and second hand books at the age of eight and enjoyed many happy hours whilst at school in Bristol in the Wise Owl Bookshop and Georges in Park Street. She particularly liked to buy books on a Thursday to cheer herself up after games. She met Kemeys in 1974 when her parents moved to Ireland and their fathers met again in extraordinary circumstances having previously done business together in London.  

Sally hard at work againSince May 1974 her fortunes have been tied to Kemeys’. In June 1974 she went up to Oxford with an Exhibition in English Language and Literature to St Anne’s College. Kemeys and she were married in Pembroke College, Oxford in 1976 with a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury and from then on she commuted to Oxford from Hay-on-Wye. Nancy Trenamen the Principal of St Anne’s was horrified at the lack of career planning that Sally showed in the final interview they had together before she left St Anne’s. She suggested that Sally become a tax inspector if she insisted on living in such an outlandish place. Since Sally was virtually innumerate, that suggestion did not take root. It did take some time for the business aspects necessary to keep alive in the harsh world of retailing to gain ground and a long course of the Emyth, an American business course for small business owners helped here. Both Sally and Kemeys find antique maps deeply fascinating as, the more you know, the more you realise that there is to know and reading about one map maker or researching one map often opens up other vistas and avenues of knowledge that were previously unknown (variously history, geography, exploration, the techniques of  engraving or surveying etc). As it is observed by Robert Louis Stevenson in The Art of Writing : (Maps are) ‘an inexhaustible fund of interest for any man with eyes to see or two pence worth of imagination to understand with’.