Kendal Holiday Week

Article by Chris Butterfield

“Five cappuccinos coming right up, sir.”

The waitress had barely stepped away when a large brown folder was pushed across the table toward me. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I glanced up, and a slight nod signalled permission. Carefully, I opened the folder, revealing its contents.

Inside were black-and-white photos stamped with the Westmorland Gazette’s copyright, several Lakes & Lune annual reports, and a few pamphlets. These were early works of Alfred Wainwright, produced during his tenure at Kendal Borough Council’s Treasurer’s department, long before he became renowned for his Lakeland walking guides. It might seem like a mere collection of old documents to the uninitiated. But to fans of Wainwright, this was a priceless collection, offering a glimpse into the early career of a beloved guidebook author.

Then I spotted a small bag.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Open it up, and you’ll see,” I slid the contents out of the bag and into the palm of my hand. It was a Three Nuns Tobacco tin.

“Surely it’s not?”

“Yes, Chris. The very one. It was the last tobacco tin he used as Borough Treasurer before he retired in 1967.”

Wainwright’s final tobacco tin as Borough Treasurer

I was speechless, almost to the point that I wondered if I appeared rude. Then I spotted the final envelope. I tipped it up, and three small brochures popped out.

“Oh, my goodness,” was all I could say. These were the Holiday Week brochures I had read about from Kendal’s war years.

“Well, Chris, you are now the new custodian of all these items.”

My wife Priscilla, brothers Paul and Mike Duff and Mike’s wife Sandra all shared knowing smiles with me. It seemed everyone was in on this surprise. I was overwhelmed with gratitude towards Paul Duff for gifting me such remarkable pieces of Wainwright’s history. As if on cue, five cappuccinos arrived, and never had coffee tasted so delightful.

We were unwinding in a Kendal café, reflecting on a beautiful morning. Mike and Paul, sons of Percy Duff, who succeeded Wainwright as Borough Treasurer, along with Sandra, had generously offered Priscilla and me a private tour of the Mayor’s parlour in the Town Hall. This tour was rich in Kendal’s history, including climbing the clock tower and handling Kendal’s historical artefacts, such as the Sovereign Sword. We admired Katherine Parr’s Book of Devotions and original town charters. An original Wainwright drawing adorned the wall, perfectly complementing our experience. The tour and the treasure trove laid out before us were a historian’s dream.

The Kendal Holiday Week brochures, part of this collection, were produced a decade before Wainwright’s acclaimed Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. These brochures are rare, with few having seen them recently. Wainwright, proud of this early work, always recognised its significance in his career.

With increasing social status, Wainwright had the liberty to plan extensively. He involved well-known locals, forming committees for various activities like dances, sporting events, competitions, concerts, and even Punch and Judy shows. His contribution included designing the brochures and embellishing their covers with his early drawings.

Wainwright’s journey began when he moved from Blackburn to Kendal in 1941, taking up a position as an accountancy assistant in the Borough Treasurer’s office. Initially viewed as an outsider, his transition from an “offcomer” was swift. In 1942, just months after his arrival, he organised the Holidays at Home programme, a wartime initiative to discourage unnecessary travel and conserve resources.

The Holidays at Home Week, held annually until the summer of 1944, was a significant chapter in Wainwright’s life. He often reflected on how these events boosted his reputation, aiding his rise to Borough Treasurer in 1948. Wainwright held this prestigious position until his retirement in 1967, leaving a legacy far beyond his professional career.

Kendal Holiday Week Brochures
Wainwright’s first publications

Percy Duff, born in Kendal in 1922, began his career as a junior clerk and quickly became a protégé of Alfred Wainwright after Wainwright arrived in 1941. Despite their close professional relationship, their interests diverged significantly. Wainwright was an avid walker and a dedicated supporter of Blackburn Rovers, while Percy had a passion for motorcycles and rugby union, even playing for the Kendal team. Their contrasting hobbies highlighted their distinct personalities. World War II halted Percy’s career progression, as he served as an anti-tank gunner with the Royal Artillery. After returning to civilian life in 1946, he resumed his professional journey, eventually becoming Wainwright’s chief assistant and heir apparent to his position.

As Wainwright prepared to depart from the Town Hall, he bequeathed several personal items to Percy Duff. Two sets of Wainwright’s Kendal Holiday Week brochures were stored in his desk drawer for years. Additionally, Wainwright passed on his last tobacco tin to Percy. These possessions, carrying sentimental value and a connection to their shared history, were treasured by Percy for the remainder of his life.

Over the years, Alfred Wainwright remained deeply connected to his past projects and experiences. His book Ex-Fellwanderer, published in 1987 in celebration of his 80th birthday, is a testament to this enduring connection. The book gained attention for its controversial nature, as Wainwright expressed strong, unfiltered opinions about modern society, insisting that his narrative remain unaltered. Among the various topics he discussed, Wainwright fondly recalled the Holidays at Home project. This particular project was significant for its impact on the community and how it enhanced his reputation and standing in Kendal.

In 1994, while researching his biography of Alfred Wainwright, author Hunter Davies interviewed Percy Duff. This interview was crucial, as Percy provided invaluable insights into his relationship with Wainwright. Additionally, the biography included a scan of one of the Kendal Holiday Week brochures, a memento originally given to Percy by Wainwright.

Richard Else, the producer of the original Wainwright BBC TV series, recalled a memorable instance involving these brochures. Wainwright had once borrowed them from Percy for a day during the production of the first TV series. Wainwright’s delight upon seeing these brochures on the show highlighted their sentimental value and significance in his life.

Percy died in 2011 after a successful career. A proud and respected resident of Kendal, he was awarded an MBE in the 1986 New Year Honours for his voluntary work with The Mayor Of Kendal’s Fund For The Aged And Infirm. He was the only surviving Honorary Citizen of the town. As well as being a Treasurer to many local charities and an author of four books, he was the president of the Westmorland Motor Club and honorary vice-life president of the Northern Centre Auto-Cycle Union. Percy and his late wife, Margaret, also held an extensive library of Kendal and the district photographs, which formed the basis of many articles in the Gazette.

Percy Duff passed away in 2011, leaving behind a legacy of success and respect in Kendal. His contributions to the community were deeply impactful. In recognition of his extensive voluntary work, particularly with The Mayor Of Kendal’s Fund For The Aged And Infirm, Percy was honoured with an MBE in the 1986 New Year Honours. This distinction highlighted his commitment to serving the community and improving the lives of others.

Percy held the unique title of being the only surviving Honorary Citizen of Kendal, a testament to his significant role within the town. His involvement extended beyond public service; he actively participated in various local organisations. As a Treasurer for numerous local charities, he demonstrated his financial acumen and dedication to philanthropy.

Percy’s passion for motoring was evident in his roles as the president of the Westmorland Motor Club and the honorary vice-life president of the Northern Centre Auto-Cycle Union. These positions reflected his deep involvement in the motorsports community.

Percy was also an author, having written four books. Alongside his late wife, Margaret, Percy also amassed an extensive library of photographs of Kendal and the surrounding district. This collection was a valuable historical resource and formed the basis of many articles in the Gazette, showcasing their dedication to preserving and sharing the history and beauty of their locality.

Percy Duff was made Honorary Citizen for 60 years of service to Kendal


Mike and Paul Duff inherited their father’s possessions, including several unpublished pen and ink drawings produced by Wainwright as wedding presents for Percy and Margaret. Among all the items were the Kendal holiday week brochures. Everything was equally split between Mike and Paul; each had a set of brochures.

While researching Wainwright’s story, I discovered that Percy, Paul and Mike had accompanied Wainwright’s wife, Betty, to Haystacks to lay his ashes to rest beside Innominate Tarn in 1991. I contacted the brothers, who were happy to speak with me and share many stories about Percy and Wainwright’s lives, including their meetings with Wainwright. A good friendship developed, and I am grateful to them for teaching me so much about Percy Duff and Alfred Wainwright during those early years in Kendal.

Photos courtesy of the Duff family.

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