Alfred Wainwright is widely known for his A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells book series. This 13 year project began in 1952, and is comprised of seven detailed books on 214 fells in the Lake District. They are all handwritten and contain no printer’s type. Decades later, they are still considered the definitive guides to the Lakeland fells. Wainwright would continue to produce over 50 more books and would cement himself as a Lakeland legend.
Wainwright, the son of a stonemason, was born on the 17th January 1907 into a relatively poor working-class family in Blackburn. His mother washed clothes for the neighbours just to make ends meet. He was the youngest of four, and like most children during this period, he was destined for the cotton mill. This was not for Wainwright, so he studied hard at school and came first in nearly every subject. At the age of 13, he was a successful applicant for an office boy at Blackburn’s Borough Engineer’s Department. He eventually transferred to the Borough Treasurer’s office, and after years of studying during the evenings, qualified as an accountant.
As a child he loved to write and draw. He became obsessed with maps and explored much of Blackburn. In 1930, at the age of 23, Wainwright saved up five pounds and took a week’s holiday in the Lake District with his cousin Eric Beardsall. They arrived in Windermere and, doing as everybody told him, climbed to Orrest Head. At the top, he surveyed the spectacular panorama before him and could not believe that such beauty existed. That day changed Alfred Wainwright’s life forever. He knew this was the place he wanted to be.
In 1931 he married Ruth Holden (1909 – 1985), a mill worker, and they had a son Peter. Wainwright’s deep desire to live in the Lake District never left him and, in 1941, he applied for a position as an accountancy assistant at Kendal Borough Treasurer’s office. He got the job and eventually went on to become Borough Treasurer in 1948, remaining in this position until he retired in 1967. The marriage to Ruth collapsed shortly before he retired and they soon divorced. Three years later he married Betty McNally (1922–2008), with whom he found love for the first time. She became his companion until his death at 84 on the 20th January 1991. She fulfilled his final wish by scattering his ashes by Innominate Tarn on Haystacks.