The Drawing That Made History

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Post by Chris Butterfield.

The natural barrier between Thirlmere and Ullswater contains one of the finest mountains in the whole of Lakeland, Helvellyn. Its allure seems to cast a spell on every would-be Lakeland traveller. The young Alfred Wainwright was no exception, and he too fell victim to the mountain’s call…

In the summer of 1930, the 23-year-old Wainwright took a week’s holiday with his cousin in the Lake District. Like most walkers, it was Striding Edge that piqued his curiosity. On the morning of day three, the intrepid adventurers set off from the village of Patterdale. As they approached the razor-sharp arête, the weather closed in and within seconds the daunting pinnacle was shrouded in mist. It didn’t deter these two brave souls, and they kept going. Despite low visibility and relentless rain, they reached the summit.

Wainwright was triumphant!

This introduction to the Lake District gave Wainwright purpose in life that would eventually secure his status as a Lakeland legend.

Nearly 70 years have passed since The Eastern Fells was first published, and no one has described the mountains better or made them more accessible. Little did we know, Wainwright and Helvellyn would make history again, but in an entirely different way.

Wainwright describes his first courageous ascent of Helvellyn in Ex-Fellwanderer.

In June 2020, One of Wainwright’s original pen and ink drawings of Striding Edge, which featured in A Second Lakeland Sketchbook, sold at auction for £10,200. This was a significant drawing and I tried to buy it. Later, I discovered a little bit about the eventual winner, and I’m pleased to confirm the drawing is in good hands. It is unlikely to become available again for the forseeable future.

Fortunately, Wainwright had produced another Striding Edge drawing which appeared in the first Lakeland Mountain Drawings book, but did his original still exist? I set myself the seemingly impossible task of tracking it down, but I was determined to find it.

Wainwright’s original Striding Edge drawing from Lakeland Mountain Drawings.

The Westmorland Gazette’s former book publishing manager Andrew Nichol dealt with a lot of Wainwright’s affairs, so he was my first port of call for advice. Years ago, Andrew acquired many signed books and original drawings from multiple sources and sold them to fans who requested them. Profits from the sales went to animal charities.

Luckily, Andrew retained details of all the sales that spanned decades. During one of my visits, I looked through his notes, and to my surprise I found the sale of an original Striding Edge drawing. Was it the same drawing that sold in auction recently, or the other one?

Andrew sold it 23 years ago to a gentleman from Bradford called Steve Meredith. During this period, Andrew met Steve and his wife Lesley several times and kept all the correspondence. Unfortunately, Steve no longer resided at the original address, and the trail went cold.

I decided to abandon the search for now and focus on my upcoming Wainwright website. Within a month of the site going live, I received an email via my website from none other than Steve Meredith! What were the chances of that?

Wainwright memorabilia sale history spanning nearly 40 years.

Steve was parting with several original drawings and was searching for a Wainwright enthusiast to give them a good home. The original Striding Edge drawing from the Lakeland Mountain Drawings book was amongst them. I was ecstatic. We met up a few weeks later and I acquired all his original drawings. We have since become friends through our mutual love for Wainwright’s work.

In the end it felt like everything had come full circle. Both Striding Edge drawings had been discovered within a short space of time and were in new hands. Research always pays dividends, but as the saying goes “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Maybe there is something in that.

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