The Northern Fells was published in April 1962 and was dedicated to:
“Those who travel alone THE SOLITARY WANDERERS ON THE FELLS who find contentment in the companionship of the mountains and of the creatures of the mountains”
The fifth book in the series was expected to be the biggest seller yet. Keswick was a popular holiday destination, and most of the routes are based on Keswick and its buses. This new guide features Skiddaw, the “affable and friendly giant”. Its neighbour, Blencathra, has 36 pages in total. More than any other mountain-even Scafell Pike.
During this period, the better-known fells were now overcrowded, and the northern region was relatively untouched. If you wanted solitude, this was the place to go. Wainwright himself wasn’t familiar with this area until he mapped it, and during his time on the fells, he rarely saw anyone. This region may not have the same grandeur as the more southerly areas, but Skiddaw and Blencathara raise the profile of this region and make it one of the finest in the district.
Several fells featured in this guide have raised questions. Why did Wainwright include Mungrisdale Common? Some say the Skiddaw section contained too much padding. Maybe. Wainwright’s initial fell count for this region was less than 24. This has been the centre of debate for some time, and no doubt people will theorise how Wainwright devised The Northern Fells guide for years to come.
This would be the final book in the series published by Henry Marshall. By 1963, guidebook sales had exceeded expectations, and all invoicing and distribution was being taken care of by Henry. Suddenly, without warning, Wainwright transferred all publishing rights to the Westmorland Gazette. He sold all remaining books to them for £753. The Gazette then placed a sticker over Henry Marshall’s name on every book. Essentially erasing him from history. When Henry heard the news, it must have been heart-breaking for him. To this day, no one knows the true reason why Wainwright did this without informing Henry of his intentions.
Henry wrote to Wainwright (his letter features in Hunter Davies’s Wainwright biography), and you can feel Henry’s devastation as you read it. The letter is a sad one. Wainwright, like the rest of us, wasn’t perfect. He could have handled the situation better and reading Henry’s response confirms this. Maybe it was Wainwright’s lack of empathy towards other people? If he were on the ‘spectrum’, it would explain a lot. With everything we now know, I think most would agree, this wasn’t Wainwright’s finest hour. Henry died a year later in 1964. During a trip to the Lakes, I went to Haystacks and St Cuthbert’s Church in Kentmere, to pay my respects to both Wainwright and Henry Marshall.
To end this chapter on a positive note, if Wainwright hadn’t been this obsessive character we all knew him to be, we wouldn’t have the books we all know and love today.
A First Edition is identified by:
- Maroon case with round corners and silver lettering
- 12/6 price on the dust jacket
- No impression number
- Book six listed as – in preparation
History proved The Northern Fells to be a success. During the Gazette years, it sold roughly the same as The North Western Fells. It’s unfair to compare it with the earlier guides as they were more established. The Northern Fells outsold The Far Eastern Fells, which was a huge achievement.
By the mid-1960s, all guides retailed at 15/-, and the first decimalisation price after 1971 was 90p.
The 1970s were an exciting time for the books. Many changes took place throughout this decade. The case corners were squared, and due to limited case supplies from Manchester, there were so many varieties used for the guides. Some of the same impressions used multiple case types. Years on, I am still discovering different cases. All guidebook posts on the website will be updated as more are found. I came across a red leopard skin type rexine that was used on a limited number of The Central Fells guides. I was surprised to come across the same case type on The Northern Fells. How many more guides used it? It’s hard to say, but it was only used for a select few guides during a short period when there was no alternative material.
The majority of readers won’t have noticed these changes. Most people purchased a single set of guides and that was it. They wouldn’t be aware, nor care about the different versions available throughout the decade. In 1979, we would also say goodbye to the gold blocking on the front of all cases. Production costs increased, so removing it saved time and money. The book had a dust jacket so the gold blocking wasn’t required, but I still think it should have been left on. The cases throughout the 1980s were very bland and uninspiring. You would only see three different case types throughout this whole decade.
The Gazette’s manager of general printing and book publishing, Andrew Nichol took early retirement in 1992 and appointed Michael Joseph, who were also part of the Pearson empire, as the new publisher of the guidebooks. Andrew changed the course of history for the books. If he had not retired early, the Gazette would have continued publishing the books throughout the 1990s.
Titus Wilson held the Gazette’s guidebook negatives, and they were used to print Michael Joseph’s 1992 new launch. This kept the print quality on par with the original guides. From 1993, the guides were printed in Suffolk. This was the first time Wainwright’s famous guides left Kendal. Titus Wilson wisely held onto the original negatives and a duplicate, second generation, set were given to Michael Joseph.
In 2001, sales had seen a decline and two years later, Michael Joseph officially ceased publication of Wainwright’s guides. Several publishers showed interest in the guides, but it was Frances Lincoln who won the bid and in February 2003, they were announced as the new publishers. The guides returned home to Kendal and the new launch was the spring of 2003. The guides were produced from the original negatives that had been in storage for ten years. The Northern Fells guide proved popular and reached its second impression within a year.
In 2004, the managing director of Frances Lincoln, John Nicholl was aware that the 50th anniversary of The Eastern Fells guide was looming, and he wanted to mark the occasion. The original guidebook negatives were retired, and Frances Lincoln scanned all Wainwright’s original pages. Titus Wilson produced a new set of positives from the scans and in 2005, a brand-new set of 50th Anniversary Edition guides were published. The gold blocking would see a return for the first time in twenty-five years. The new guides were primarily sold as box sets. Limited-edition leather-bound box sets were also produced. Only 200 sets were produced and retailed at £250.
Rising production costs forced the books out of Kendal for the second time. Titus Wilson could no longer print the books and make a profit. From 2006, the books were printed in various locations around the world, until they settled in China. Titus Wilson would retain all the original printing materials and the guides would be printed digitally.
Frances Lincoln faced another problem. The original guides were outdated and could not be relied upon to keep people safe on the fells. It was still a priority to keep Wainwright’s original ‘works of art’ in print, so a project to revise the guides was underway. Chris Jesty was chosen for the task which would consume the next ten years of his life. He had made minor revisions to the guides in the past, so he was perfect for the job. The Northern Fells – Second Edition was published in 2008, and in 2009 some additional revisions were made. In the same year, Frances Lincoln published a special cloth-bound ten guide box set, which were based on the 50th Anniversary Edition guides.
Quarto bought Frances Lincoln in 2011, and after a few years their name would appear in the guides as publisher. A few of the second edition guides were printed by Quarto at a much later date. Having only found two titles printed by the new publisher, The Northern Fells and The Western Fells, it is not certain whether they printed the full set. The later second edition prints are identified by a £14.99 price tag. The earlier guides were £12.99 and £13.99 respectively.
By 2014, nearly ten years had passed since Chris Jesty began revising the guides, and some of his earlier revisions were out of date. Clive Hutchby succeeded Chris, and began revising the guides from scratch. The Northern Fells – Walkers Edition was originally published in a flexibound case. In 2020 this case type was discontinued and replaced by paperback. The Northern Fells – Readers Edition was published in 2018. These editions will eventually adopt the new paperback format and will be available throughout 2021.Back to top of page