Article by Chris Butterfield
“Five cappuccinos coming right up, sir.”
The waitress had barely stepped away before a large brown folder was slowly pushed across the table towards me. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I looked up, seeking permission; a slight nod in my direction was enough. I gently lifted the flap and slid out the contents.
My eyes lit up! There was a pile of black-and-white photos with the Westmorland Gazette copyright stamp on the reverse, several Lakes & Lune annual reports, and a few leaflets. These were all early examples of work by guidebook author Alfred Wainwright, produced during the days when he worked in Kendal Borough Council’s Treasurer’s department, some years before he made his name as the author of Lakeland’s most revered walking guides. To many people, it might just be a collection of old pamphlets. However, this was a veritable treasure trove to Wainwright’s many devoted fans.
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.”
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 smiled at me. It felt like everyone was in on this. How could I thank Paul Duff enough for such beautiful pieces of Wainwright history? Five cappuccinos suddenly landed on the table… coffee had never tasted so good.
We were relaxing in a café in Kendal after a fabulous morning. Mike, Paul – the sons of Percy Duff, who succeeded Wainwright as Borough Treasurer – and Sandra kindly gave Priscilla and me a private tour of the Mayor’s parlour in the Town Hall, during which we learned much about the history of Kendal. In addition to climbing the clock tower, we held some of Kendal’s historical artefacts, including the Sovereign Sword. We also viewed Katherine Parr’s Book of Devotions and the original town charters. We spotted an original Wainwright drawing hung on the wall, which was very fitting. In addition to the tour of the Mayor’s parlour, this fabulous treasure trove was on the table in front of me.
The history behind the Kendal Holiday Week brochures is fascinating. They were produced a decade before Wainwright began his now-famous Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, and very few people have seen them in recent times. He was proud of this earlier work and always acknowledged what they did for him.
Wainwright was given free rein. He recruited the services of well-known local people when his social status rose. He formed committees to help prepare many activities, including dances, sporting events, competitions, concerts, and Punch and Judy shows. Wainwright designed the brochures and even adorned the front covers with some of his early drawings.
Wainwright moved from his hometown of Blackburn to Kendal in 1941 as an accountancy assistant at the Borough Treasurer’s office. In those days, people from outside Kendal were regarded as offcomers. However, Wainwright’s period as an offcomer was to be short-lived. In 1942, just a few months after his move, the council approached him to organise a Holidays at Home programme. Holidays at Home was a government scheme to discourage people from travelling and using scarce resources during the holiday season during the war years.
The Holidays at Home Week took place annually until the summer of 1944. Wainwright would often boast about the kudos these annual events gave him, and they played a part in his rise through the ranks to Borough Treasurer in 1948, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1967.
Percy Duff proved to be Alfred Wainwright’s natural successor. Born in Kendal in 1922, he was a junior clerk when Wainwright arrived in 1941 and became Wainwright’s trainee. Though friends, they were chalk and cheese when it came to hobbies. Wainwright liked walking, whereas Percy preferred motorcycles. Wainwright was a huge Blackburn Rovers supporter, and Percy was a rugby union fan who played for Kendal. They couldn’t have been more different. After a short time, Percy’s career was interrupted by war. He was called to serve as an anti-tank gunner with the Royal Artillery before returning to civilian life in 1946. He eventually became Wainwright’s chief assistant and next-in-line to the top job.
Before Wainwright left the Town Hall, he gave Percy many possessions when clearing his desk. Two sets of Wainwright’s Kendal Holiday Week brochures were among the items, which had remained in his drawer for years. His last tobacco tin was also handed over, and Percy would keep these items for the rest of his life.
As the decades rolled by, Wainwright did not forget the projects he had been involved in. One of his later books, published in 1987 to commemorate his eightieth birthday, was Ex-Fellwanderer. It was quite controversial: he was outspoken in his opinions of modern society but forbade anyone from changing his narrative. In one section, he spoke fondly of his love for the Holidays at Home project, which helped his status in Kendal.
In 1994, while working on the Wainwright biography, Hunter Davies interviewed Percy Duff about his relationship with Wainwright. Percy’s priceless contribution would feature in the biography, along with a scan of a Kendal Holiday Week brochure given to him by Wainwright.
Richard Else, the producer of the original Wainwright BBC TV series, remembers that Wainwright borrowed the brochures from Percy for a day during the first TV series production and was delighted when they were shown to him.
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.
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.Back to top of page