The Western Fells

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The Western Fells was published in April 1966 and Wainwright dedicated it to:


Wainwright finally completed his 13 year odyssey in December 1965, a week ahead of schedule. It was a remarkable achievement to compile this incredible body of work during his leisure time. Not only did he map the entire Lake District, but he also held a very important civic post in Kendal. It is even more commendable that he managed to travel vast distances, just by using public transport. Before the series was even complete, the guides became essential reading for every fellwalker in Lakeland and remain so to this day.

In 1965, all guidebooks received a moderate price increase from 12/6 to 15/-. This was the first price increase in ten years, so no one could complain. All existing 12/6 jackets were price clipped by the Westmorland Gazette. The new price was printed to the left of the cut on the front flap. The Western Fells was the first book in the series to launch with the new 15/- price tag. See The Far Eastern Fells for an example of a price clipped jacket.

Cumbria magazine April 1966.

By the spring of 1965, it was a race against time to complete this region before the end of the summer bus service. Wainwright gave himself an impossible task and he struggled to reach some of the more remote places. In a letter to a walking friend (a banker from Keswick), he said he’d completed the book “…but only after much shameful use of taxis.”

This was a vague comment, so I tracked down the previous owner of the letter and it was confirmed to me that Wainwright referred to ‘paid’ taxis. Short of camping on the fells for long periods of time, the Borough Treasurer had no other option. It was still an incredible feat no matter how he travelled. Exploring this region was an enjoyable experience for Wainwright, but he was equally aware of the steady influx of tourists. He blamed the motorcar.

Wainwright Letter 2
Part of Wainwright’s letter to his friend Mr. Kirkby, written December 1965.

At the back of the book, under “Some personal notes in conclusion“, Wainwright lists his favourite fells from the entire series. He then reveals that the proceeds from the guides will go towards building a fully equipped animal welfare centre in Kendal.

He concludes by announcing his plans to produce even more books. The first one simply titled, A Lakeland Sketchbook. Another title he had in mind was Fellwanderer. This would be a personal account of his time on the fells. Finally, he mentions his pledge to produce A Pictorial Guide to the Pennine Way, which would be a collaborative effort.

With retirement from his day job now only a year away, Wainwright showed no signs of slowing down.

The Westmorland Gazette 1966.

The Western Fells proved a hit with the fans and was a huge seller. Looking at the series as a whole, it’s difficult to determine which was the single most popular guide during the Gazette years. This is simply because they were published individually over a long period. History would prove The Southern Fells to be the biggest seller of them all…however, this doesn’t reveal the whole story.

After Scrutinising the sales history of each guide, I have created a hypothetical scenario assuming they were all published at the same time. Based on these rules, this would be the order of the bestselling guides:

  1. The Western Fells
  2. The Southern Fells
  3. The Central Fells
  4. The North Western Fells
  5. The Northern Fells
  6. The Eastern Fells
  7. The Far Eastern Fells

In this new scenario, The Western Fells (unofficially) comes out on top. This level of detail has always intrigued me, and we can now see which regions were the most popular back in the day.

First Edition is identified by:

  1. Light green case with round corners and gold blocking
  2. 15/- price on the dust jacket
  3. No impression number
This page can no longer help identify a First Edition.

For the next 25 years, the book publication page within all seven guides would remain unchanged. Although, for some reason before the end of 1966, Wainwright decided to remove one short passage in the text “…Besides, the author is getting too doddery to go over all the ground again…” Maybe he felt it no longer served any purpose, or quite fit the tone here.

The content from this ‘retired’ negative featured in all Lakeland Pictorial Guides for 25 years.

The Western Fells – First Edition with a light green case and gold blocking.

The Western Fells Case Blocking.

An order form for Wainwright’s upcoming Fellwanderer was tucked inside every First Edition and Second Impression.

The original Westmorland Gazette negatives.

Less than two years after publication, the price increased again to 18/-. Instead of printing new jackets, the Gazette stickered over the 15/- price. Decimalisation was almost upon us, so it was probably a waste of time and money printing new 18/- priced jackets.

The new guidebook price in 1968.

Decimalisation crossover.

During the Gazette years, the guides saw many physical changes, mainly the case colours. The Western Fells saw the least number of changes and apart from the odd impression, they remained green throughout most of their life. As with all the guides, they featured beautiful gold blocking on the front of the cases until the late 1970s

Case examples from the 1970s.

Throughout the 1970s, the different case types were in short supply, and alternative cases were used. Many of the same impression numbers were bound using different case colours.

Two identical impressions…
…with completely different case colours.

The 1980s had arrived, and the Gazette reduced their production costs by removing the gold blocking from the front of the cases. The books came with dust jackets, so it was decided the lettering was only required on the spine. By 1985, the impression numbers had also been removed. To help identify the guides with no impressions, they are priced £5.50 and above.

Case examples from the 1980s.

The Western Fells signed in the early 1980s.

The Western Fells dust jacket negatives from the 1970s.

The final printed dust jacket prices were £3.00, and all jackets going forward featured stickers. The old prices were painted out on all the printing negatives. The very first stickered price was £3.45.

Guidebook prices between 1966 and 1980.

Presented here is a purchase order for the final batch of 3,000 The Western Fells guides required by the Gazette. They were ordered in February 1991, a fortnight after Wainwright’s death. It took three months from the initial order raised, for them to be produced and delivered. Andrew Nichol signed off all book orders.

The final purchase order for The Western Fells, signed by Andrew Nichol.

Presented here is the invoice for the same purchase, which was paid during the summer of 1991. It also includes the cost of each book from the time.

Paid invoice for the final The Western Fells order.

The publishing rights were transferred to Michael Joseph in 1992, and the guides continued to be printed at Titus Wilson, in Kendal. The new launch was held in spring of that year and was a success. However, the second impressions were printed at Clays Ltd in Suffolk. This was very disappointing news and against Wainwright’s wishes.

Michael Joseph publications, and the dust jacket artwork from 1992.

The Western Fells Prelims produced for Michael Joseph by Chris Jesty.

In 2003, Michael Joseph ceased publication of the guides, and Frances Lincoln were now the new publishers. The guides returned to Kendal after being away for a decade. This was wonderful news, and the Gazette were one of the first to make a statement:

Two impressions of The Western Fells, from the Frances Lincoln 2003 launch.

The celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Eastern Fells in May 1955, the pages were reoriginated from Wainwright’s original artwork which is preserved in the Kendal Record Office. Some of the original artwork was missing, so those pages were produced digitally. The paper used was especially made by Croppers of Burneside to match those of the earliest editions. A limited-edition leather-bound box set was also produced. The publication date was March 2005.

Things were going great, but there were dark days ahead. In 2006, after three years being back at Kendal, the book printing was moved yet again. It was even worse this time…they left the country completely.

The Kendal printed The Western Fells – 50th Anniversary Edition guides are very rare, and only a few remain via this link.

From left to right:
The Western Fells – 50th Anniversary Edition. Frances Lincoln 2005.

The Western Fells – 50th Anniversary leather-bound. Frances Lincoln 2005

The 50th Anniversary Edition positives.

The 50th Anniversary Edition Kendal printed sheets. 

The masters for The Western Fells50th Anniversary Edition dust jacket.

The 50th Anniversary Edition guides were printed in various locations around the world: Italy, Singapore, Thailand and China.

Previously unsold Westmorland Gazette and Frances Lincoln stock.

In addition to the 50th Anniversary Edition guides, Frances Lincoln announced the revised editions for The Eastern Fells. For the first time a sensitive programme of revision and updating by Chris Jesty was underway. The author and cartographer from Kendal, delicately updated all 12 guides over a ten year period.

From left to right:
The Western Fells – Second Edition. Frances Lincoln 2009.
The Western Fells – Second Edition (later print). Frances Lincoln 2009
The Western Fells  50th Anniversary Edition ‘enlarged type’ (low gsm paper). Frances Lincoln 2009.
The Western Fells  50th Anniversary Edition ‘enlarged type’ (high gsm paper). Frances Lincoln 2009

Quarto bought out Frances Lincoln in 2011, and in 2015 the 50th Anniversary Edition guides were replaced by the Readers Edition. The new guides were released one at a time over several years. They were printed in limited quantities and quickly became one of the hardest sets to complete. The Western Fells – Readers Edition is especially difficult to find. The guides were eventually reprinted…but in paperback. This was a blow for the enthusiasts who were still pursuing the hardbacks.

Chris Jesty’s revised guides were now becoming out of date and in 2014, Clive Hutchby succeeded him and began revising the guides from scratch. They were renamed the Walkers Edition and were produced in a new flexibound format.

The Western Fells – Walkers Edition was published in 2020. Unfortunately, the book contained multiple printing errors, so they were all recalled. The official launch was delayed for several weeks until they had been reprinted. The flexibound format would eventually be discontinued, and the Walkers Edition would adopt the new paperback format.

From left to right:
The Western Fells  Readers Edition hardback. Frances Lincoln 2015.
The Western Fells – Readers Edition paperback. Frances Lincoln 2020.
The Western Fells  Walkers Edition flexibound. Frances Lincoln 2020.
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  • Robert Challoner says:

    Great historic round up of book seven Chris. It must feel you are on your way down from Starling Dodd.
    All the best. Rob

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Rob. It was a relief to finally get to the end. Still five more guides to go though. Coming down Startling Dodd is just the beginning lol.

  • Dave says:

    Very interesting. I’m particularly interested in the leather bound version. May start the hunt.
    Very well done.

  • Simon says:

    For the last WG impression, why were 3000 copies ordered, but only 2970 paid for and delivered? What happened to the other 30 copies I wonder…?

    • Chris says:

      Good question Simon. Maybe some of the books were faulty, or there wasn’t enough materials. I suppose with it being the final order for book 7, it didn’t really matter. Some of the previous orders were over by a few hundred books.

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