On 9th November 1952, Alfred Wainwright began an obsessive thirteen-year project, producing seven Pictorial Guides to the Lake District fells. The guides incorporated 214 fells in total. Book one, The Eastern Fells was two years in the making and was published in May 1955. Wainwright dedicated it to:
“THE MEN OF THE ORDNANCE SURVEY whose maps of Lakeland have given me much pleasure both on the fells and by my fireside”
Every page had been meticulously written and hand-drawn with no printer’s type. The engravings were produced in Manchester and the book was printed by Bateman & Hewitson in Kendal, who had just been taken over by the Westmorland Gazette. Henry Marshall, a local librarian, was the publisher.
Wainwright, Henry and Harry Firth, the Gazette‘s Printing Manager, visited all the major Lake District towns to sell the books. Leaflets were also produced to encourage more orders. June’s Cumbria Magazine featured a hand-drawn advertisement for the book. He wouldn’t reveal his full name again in any of his publications until 1984. Despite slow sales for a few months, The Eastern Fells was a success, and all 2,000 copies sold before the Spring of 1956.
The jacketless pocket-sized book retailed at 12s 6d and contained over 300 pages with no less than 500 beautiful illustrations. It features round corners on both the case and pages for easy removal from your pocket. Attractive gold blocking featured on both the front and spine.
A First Edition is identified by:
- Dark green case with round corners and gold blocking
- 12/6 price on the dust jacket
- No impression number
- Book two listed as – in preparation
The second impression rolled out at Easter 1956, and came with a dust jacket. First edition owners could request a free jacket from the Gazette. However, the early jackets weren’t laminated, so if it wasn’t protected with clear film, the paper would eventually absorb the gold blocking from the front of the guide.
in preparation helps identify a First Edition.
The book to the right has been damaged by the dust jacket.
The dust jacket reveals the absorbed gold blocking.
Throughout the years The Eastern Fells has seen many physical changes and new editions from multiple publishers. Decimalisation was introduced to the UK in 1971 and the first decimal guide price was 90p. The round corners would soon become squared, which made the cases cheaper to produce. A couple of years later, the case colours were in limited supply, due to oil shortages in the Middle East. Instead of the original seven book colours, the cases would now include various shades of yellow, grey, burgundy, and blue.
During the mid-1970s the case availability was still a problem, and the Gazette, with Wainwright’s consent, decided to use the same green coloured faux leather for every guide. In the late 1970s, some impressions were in strangely coloured cases. This was down to colour availability at the time, but the cases would be green for the most part.
By the late 1970s, the old letterpress printing method was slowly being phased out. The Gazette had now invested in lithographic printing technology. This meant they could produce their own printing plates. The impression numbers that adorned the guides for many years would also be shortly removed. Some books were on their 100th impression so the number wasn’t as relevant as it once was. It also meant there was one less plate to produce with every new impression.
In the latter half of 1980, the gold blocking on the front of the cases was removed. The guides came with dust jackets, so it was decided that the title on the front of the case wasn’t required. This move would also slightly reduce production costs. Two years later, the printed price on the dust jackets were removed, and replaced with stickers. This was due to continuous prices increases. Many jackets in stock retained older prices and had to be thrown away.
During the 1980s, the faux leather cases were now less textured when compared to the mid to late 1970s, when the faux leather was quite appealing. With experience, you can identify the printing date from the case type used. By 1988, Titus Wilson acquired a four-year contract to print the Wainwright guides until 1991. The Gazette still retained the publishing rights. Guides from this period are easily identified by the new printer’s name in the books.
When Wainwright passed away, both the publishing and copyright were transferred to Michael Joseph. The new guides launched in April 1992 and were very successful. The first impression was printed in Kendal by Titus Wilson, and retailed at £8.99 per guide. All subsequent impressions were printed by Clays Ltd, Bungay. This was the first time the guides had left Kendal since 1955. Wainwright would not have approved.
The guides would continue to be printed in the South of England for the next ten years. Shortly after the new millennium, the copyright was transferred to Betty Wainwright. Her name would adorn a few of the final impressions before Michael Joseph ceased publication of the guides.
This was the first time Wainwright’s famous guides were out of print in nearly 50 years. The sadness was short lived, as the Gazette announced Frances Lincoln as the new publishers. In addition, the guides would be returning to their rightful home in Kendal. The new launch was in April 2003 and the guides retailed at £11.99 each. The launch was a huge success, and nearly half of the guides were sold by Easter. Almost immediately, Frances Lincoln were planning their next major book launch.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first guide by Wainwright in May 1955, Frances Lincoln published new editions. They were reproduced from Wainwright’s original pages. Some of the original pages were missing, so scans from pages of older guides were used to fill the gaps. The paper was sourced from James Cropper of Burneside to match the first editions. The binding material also matched that of the original guides.
The Kendal printed The Eastern Fells – 50th Anniversary Edition guides are very rare, and only a few remain via this link.
In addition, there were 200 leather-bound limited-edition box sets available for £250. The 50th Anniversary Edition guides were printed in Kendal. They still retailed at £11.99 on launch, but would soon increase to £12.99. In 2006, the books would again leave their spiritual home of Kendal, and were printed in multiple regions including Italy, Singapore and Thailand until they finally settled in China, with a price increase to £13.99.
The original books are without a doubt, a work of art and masterpieces of their time. By 2005, they were also out of date and not good for planning a walk. A new set were produced as a separate series that could be used on the fells. Chris Jesty, a cartographer from Kendal, was chosen to take on this delicate task which would consume ten years of his life. One of the priorities was to keep each page as faithful as possible, to Wainwright’s originals.
The Eastern Fells – Second Edition was published June 2005 priced £12.99. Additional amendments were made in 2007. The guides were printed in Singapore, Thailand and finally China, along with a price increase to £13.99. I have since found a couple of later reprints priced at £14.99, but I have yet to find evidence that all seven guides were reprinted at this price. It may have been individual titles that were low in stock.
Initially, the second editions weren’t distinguishable enough from the original series, so after book two, the dust jackets were scrapped and replaced with jackets featuring photographs of Lakeland scenes by Derry Brabbs. A special cloth-bound ten guide box set was published in January 2009. The Complete Pictorial Guides – A Reader’s Edition featured enlarged type and drawings; ten percent bigger than the originals. They were based on the 50th Anniversary Edition guides. The original RRP was £159.99.
In 2011, Quarto bought children’s and horticultural publisher Frances Lincoln for £4.5m. Managing director John Nicoll stayed in charge during the transitional period and then worked as a consultant.
It had been nearly ten years since Chris Jesty started revising the guides, and some of his routes were already out of date. It was time for someone else to take up the mantle. Clive Hutchby, a resident of Keswick continued Chris’s work. Clive had worked in the newspaper industry for many years and was a keen walker.
Whereas Chris Jesty took on the task alone to revise the guides, the latest revisions were a team effort, with route contributions from several people. Clive kindly acknowledged everyone’s work within the guides. Also, for the first time in the guides history, Wainwright’s original hand written text was replaced throughout by the new ‘Lakeland’ font. These guides were also the first to be produced in flexibound format. This was supposedly to keep the weight to a minimum when using them on the fells. However, there is only a few grams between them and the hardbacks. The Eastern Fells – Walkers Edition was published March 2015, initially priced £12.99. It now retails at £14.99.
In 2015, The 50th Anniversary Edition guides were renamed to Readers Edition. These new guides were published individually, but in random order priced £14.99. The Eastern Fells – Readers Edition was published in December 2017. This series is the latest version of the original guides.Back to top of page