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Alfred Wainwright
Writer and Illustrator of Pictorial Guides
to the Lakeland Fells



Homer Sykes

 

About Alfred Wainwright

Alfred ("A.W.") Wainwright MBE (17 January 1907 20 January 1991) was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator.

His seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955 and 1966 and consisting entirely of reproductions of his manuscript, has become the standard reference work to 214 of the fells of the English Lake District.

Each of the fells covered by the guides has its own chapter, which normally includes a map of the fell, comprehensive details and 3-dimensional drawings of ascent routes, ridge routes to other fells, routes of descent and a description of the summit.

Carefully annotated pen and ink drawings of ascents and views accompany the details of each fell.

Each book starts with a description of the geography of the area and ends with some personal notes in conclusion. 

 
 

 Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells

  First Published
 

The Eastern Fells

Book 1 1955
 

The Far Eastern Fells

Book 2 1957
 

The Central Fells

Book 3 1958
 

The Southern Fells

Book 4 1960
 

The Northern Fells

Book 5 1962
 

The North Western Fells

Book 6 1964
 

The Western Fells

Book 7 1966
 

Among his 40-odd other books is the first guide to the Coast to Coast Walk, a 192-mile long-distance footpath devised by Wainwright which remains popular today.

Alfred Wainwright was born in Blackburn, Lancashire into a family which was relatively poor, mostly due to his stonemason father's alcoholism.

He did very well at school (first in nearly every subject) although he left at the age of 13. While most of his classmates were obliged to find employment in the local mills, Wainwright started work as an office boy in Blackburn Borough Engineer's Department.

He spent several further years studying at night school, gaining qualifications in accountancy which enabled him to further his career at Blackburn Borough Council.

Even when a child Wainwright walked a great deal, up to 20 miles at a time; he also showed a great interest in drawing and cartography, producing his own maps of England and his local area.

In 1930, at the age of 23, Wainwright saved up enough money for a week's walking holiday in the Lake District with his cousin Eric Beardsall. They arrived in Windermere and climbed the nearby hill Orrest Head, where Wainwright saw his first view of the Lakeland fells.

This moment marked the start of what he would later describe as his love affair with the Lake District.

In 1931 he married his first wife, Ruth Holden, a local mill worker, with whom he had a son Peter. In 1941 Wainwright was able to move closer to the fells when he took a job (and with it a pay cut) at the Borough Treasurer's office in Kendal, Westmorland.

He lived and worked in the town for the rest of his life, serving as Borough Treasurer from 1948 until he retired in 1967.

His first marriage ended when Ruth walked out three weeks before he retired. They later divorced.

In 1970 he married Betty McNally (1922-2008), also a divorcee, who became his walking companion and who eventually carried his ashes to Innominate Tarn at the top of Haystacks.

Wainwright was a life-long Blackburn Rovers fan and indeed a founder member of the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club.

The Far Eastern Fells

Wainwright started work on the first page of his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells on 9 November 1952.

He planned the precise scope and content of the seven volumes from the start, and worked conscientiously and meticulously on the series for the next 13 years at an average rate of one page per evening.

According to Wainwright in his autobiography Fellwanderer, he initially planned the series for his own interest rather than with any intention of publication.

When he did come to publish his first book it was privately through a local printer, as he could not face the prospect of finding a publisher; however, his friend Henry Marshall, Chief Librarian of Kendal and Westmorland, took charge of publicity and administration and his name appears as publisher on the early editions.

This arrangement continued for the first editions of the next three books in the series, after which they were taken over by the local newspaper the Westmorland Gazette based in Kendal. Wainwright's books were in turn taken over by Michael Joseph in the 1990s.

When they ceased publication in 2003, the rights were bought by Frances Lincoln.

The Far Eastern Fells - Second Edition

The Pictorial Guides have now been updated, for the first time since their original publication, to take account of changed conditions on the fells.

The revisions have been made by Chris Jesty, who used an imitation of Wainwright's hand lettering to make the alterations look as unobtrusive as possible.

The most notable changes are that the covers of the revised books show photographs of the Lake District by Derry Brabbs, rather than the drawings that were on the covers of the originals, and the maps show the paths in red.

 

 

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