Alfred Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright at work. Photo: Cumbria Archive Centre, Kendal

Alfred Wainwright, who was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on 17 January 1907, was a guidebook author, British hillwalker and illustrator. He started as an office boy in Blackburn Borough Engineer’s Department at the age of 13 due to financial reasons. However, at the age of 23 he came to Windermere in The Lakes for a weeks’ holiday with his cousin and climbed Orrest Head and promptly fell in love with the countryside. He came back often to walk the hills. After several years of studying at night school, he became a municipal accountant after passing his accounting exams. He married his first wife, Ruth Holden, who was a local mill worker in 1931 and with whom he had a son, Peter.

Wainwright was able to move closer to the fells in 1941 when he was appointed a position in the Borough Treasurers Office in Kendal. He then started to explore, doing pen and ink drawings of the fells – this was to become his “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells”, which were all published by The Westmorland Gazette in Kendal. However, “Walks from Ratty” was published by the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. He served as Borough Treasurer from 1948 until he retired in 1967. Unfortunately, his first marriage ended when Ruth walked out on him three weeks before his retirement – they later divorced. He married Betty McNally in 1970, she became his walking companion and it was Betty who carried his ashes to Innominate Tarn at the top of Haystacks.

He gave most of the profits from his books to animal charities as he was a very strong supporter of animal rights. He became chairman of the recently founded Animal Rescue Cumbria in 1972 and donated enough money to enable the foundation in 1984 of Kapellan, a shelter for stray dogs and cats in Kendal. The society was renamed after his death to “Animal Rescue Cumbria – The Wainwright Shelter”.

There is a recreation in the Kendal Museum of National History of Wainwright’s office. He was also a honorary curator here for many years. The Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal published “Wainwright in Lakeland” in 1983 – this is a summary of all Wainwright’s work to this date together with samples from each of the books. This also has a large illustrated map of Westmorland. Wainwrights Yard was created in Kendal in May 2006. This consists of a number of retail units, supermarket, offices of the Westmorland Gazette and a public square. There are a number of slate slabs within this public square with reproductions on them of pages from Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.

Wainwright died on 20 January 1991 of a heart attack. St James Church in Buttermere has a stone tablet which is set into the window sill of a south window, which looks out to Haystacks – his favourite place to walk and where his ashes were scattered by Betty. He will always be fondly remembered for his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, which has inspired fell walkers for the past forty years.

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