The Southern Fells was published in April 1960 and was dedicated to:
“The hardiest of all fellwalkers THE SHEEP OF LAKELAND the truest lovers of the mountains, their natural homes and providers of their food and shelter”
Even before the book was released, it was highly anticipated to be his biggest selling Lakeland guide of all. Not surprisingly, as this area features many of Lakeland’s well-loved giants such as Bow Fell, Coniston Old Man, Glaramara, Rossett Pike (and Gill), Dow Crag, Wetherlam, and not forgetting Scafell and its Pike. Wainwright’s Fell knowledge and sense of humour is his latest guide is just as strong as ever. He describes this region as ‘a bit of heaven fallen upon the earth’.
During this time, The Eastern Fells was Wainwright’s best selling book. Everything was about to change with the publication of book four. This title would now dominate for decades to come, with book three not far behind.
A First Edition is identified by:
- Orange case with round corners and blue blocking
- 12/6 price on the dust jacket
- No impression number
- Book five listed as – in preparation
The Eastern Fells book sales were soon overtaken by The Southern Fells and book four would eventually become the bestselling pictorial guide of all time. The Central Fells was a close second. In the late 1980s A Coast to Coast Walk guide would dominate guidebook sales for the Westmorland Gazette, and became the biggest selling guide for a period, due the popularity of the BBC’s A Coast to Coast Walk series, featuring Alfred Wainwright and Eric Robson. Overall, The Southern Fells sold the most. However, this is an unfair comparison, as it had the advantage of being published thirteen years before A Coast to Coast Walk.
In 1958, Wainwright hinted at a price increase, due to the rise in printing costs. By 1966, the guides would be 15/- across the board. The next price hike would be 18/- before decimalisation in 1971 when all guides retailed at 90p. The early dust jackets for The Southern Fells were closer to brown. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that we would see the dust jacket take on a more orange colour to match the book more closely.
As with all the other guides, the cases would see some drastic changes throughout the 1970s. The limited availability of case colours meant the original orange colour would slowly be phased out. This decade would also be the final time gold blocking featured on the front of the cases. Wainwright gave his approval for any cost saving changes.
As the 1980s drew closer, the gold blocking was removed from the front, and all cases were various shades of green. They would retain this distinct bland look for the next twenty-five years. The case was hidden by a dust jacket, so did it really matter?
By 1985, the impression numbers would be phased out. The Central Fells and The Southern Fells had now breached the one-hundredth impression barrier, so they no longer served any purpose.
Some of the final impressions of The Southern Fells featured printers type. This goes against everything Wainwright set out to achieve with his guides. I wonder if Wainwright was aware printer’s type appeared in his guides.
Many years earlier, Wainwright had already written lists of numbers ahead of time for future impressions. When The Southern Fells hit the ‘one-hundred and fifteenth’ impression, the Westmorland Gazette didn’t have an old guide to copy the word ‘fifteenth’ from. If you think about it, they had gone round the clock and were starting again with the lower numbers. Unfortunately Wainwright’s eyesight was getting worse, so he couldn’t write the numbers neat enough to match the old ones. A decision was eventually made to use printer’s type for the final few impressions.
By 1991, the publishing rights were transferred to Michael Joseph ready for the new guidebook launch in the April of 1992. All subsequent impressions were printed at Clays Ltd in Bungay. Over a period of time, the print quality would see a downward slide. Something needed to be done to bring the books back to their original brilliance.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the guidebook sales were in decline. The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 affected agriculture and tourism in the UK, so this was probably a factor in the lack of sales. In 2003 Frances Lincoln took over the publishing rights, and to everyone’s delight, brought the guides back home to Kendal.
The launch in spring 2003 proved a success and Titus Wilson could barely keep up with the printing. The original Gazette negatives were utilized for the first time in twelve years, and the print quality was back on par with the original guides. All seven guides received two impressions. However, The Central Fells and The Southern Fells received a third impression. This was down to the popularity of those particular regions.
In 2005, Frances Lincoln published the 50th Anniversary Edition guides. The gold blocking would see a return for the first time in twenty five years. The new guides were primarily sold as box sets, but again, The Southern Fells dominated single book sales.
The Kendal printed The Southern Fells – 50th Anniversary Edition guides are very rare, and only a few remain via this link.
The Southern Fells – Second Edition guide was published in 2007. Chris Jesty was now only a couple of years away from completing his revisions for all seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. In 2009, Frances Lincoln published a special cloth-bound ten guide box set, which were based on the 50th Anniversary Edition guides. In 2011, Quarto bought Frances Lincoln.
After ten years, some of the second editions were now out of date and in 2014, Clive Hutchby succeeded Chris Jesty and began revising the guides from scratch. The new Walkers Editions were originally published in a flexibound case. They were discontinued in 2020 and will be replaced by paperbacks. The Southern Fells – Readers Edition was published in 2017. These editions will also adopt the new paperback style and will be available from in 2021.Back to top of page