The Western Fells was published in April 1966 and was dedicated to:
“ALL WHO HAVE HELPED ME”
Wainwright finally completed his 13-year odyssey in December 1965, a week ahead of schedule. Compiling this body of work during his leisure time was a remarkable achievement. He mapped the entire Lake District whilst holding a critical civic post in Kendal. It is even more commendable that he travelled vast distances using public transport. Before the series was complete, the guides became essential reading for every fellwalker in Lakeland and remain so today.
By 1965, all guidebooks received a moderate price increase from 12/6 to 15/-. The Western Fells was the first book in the series to launch with the new 15/- price tag. It was the first price increase in ten years, so no one could complain.
Exploring this region was an enjoyable experience for Wainwright, but he was equally aware of the steady influx of tourists. 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 struggled to reach the more remote fells near Loweswater. 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.”
It was a vague comment, so I tracked down the previous owner of the letter, and it was confirmed that Wainwright referred to ‘paid’ taxis. It was still an incredible feat, no matter how he travelled—with the bus services limited in the Western Fells, the Borough Treasurer probably had no other option.
Under “Some personal notes in conclusion” at the back of the book, 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 was titled A Lakeland Sketchbook. Another title he had in mind was Fellwanderer. It 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, a collaborative effort.
With retirement from his day job now only a year away, Wainwright showed no signs of slowing down.
The Western Fells proved to be a huge seller. Looking at the series, it’s not easy to determine the most popular guide during the Gazette years because they were published individually over a long period. History would prove The Southern Fells to be the biggest seller. However, this doesn’t reveal the whole story.
After scrutinising each guide’s sales history, I have created a hypothetical scenario assuming they were all published simultaneously. Based on these rules, this would be the order of the bestselling guides:
- The Southern Fells
- The Western Fells
- The Central Fells
- The North Western Fells
- The Eastern Fells
- The Northern Fells
- The Far Eastern Fells
In this new scenario, The Western Fells almost shares the top spot with The Southern Fells. With regards to sales, there was very little in it. This level of detail has always intrigued me, and we can now see which regions were the most popular back in the day. My only surprise was The Far Eastern Fells sales figures, which were half of The Southern Fells sales. This highlighted that not everyone who purchased a Pictorial Guide acquired the complete collection.
A First Edition is identified by:
- Light green case with round corners and gold blocking
- 15/- price on the dust jacket
- No impression number
For the next 25 years, the book publication page within all seven guides will remain unchanged. Although, for some reason, before the end of 1966, Wainwright removed 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 a purpose or fit the tone here.
Instead of printing new jackets, the Gazette stickered over the 15/- price. The price increased to 18/-less than two years after publication. Decimalisation was almost upon us, so it was probably a waste of time and money printing new 18/- priced jackets.
The guides saw many physical changes during the Gazette years, 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
Throughout the 1970s, different case types were in short supply, and alternative cases were used. Many of the same impression numbers were bound using different case colours.
During the mid-1980s, the Gazette reduced production costs by removing the gold blocking from the front of the cases. By 1985, impression numbers were also withdrawn. Guides priced from £5.50 featured no impression numbers.
The final printed dust jacket prices were £3.00, and all jackets going forward featured stickers. The first stickered price was £3.45. The old prices were removed from the dust jacket negatives.
Below is the order for the final batch of three thousand The Western Fells required by the Gazette. They were ordered in February 1991, a fortnight after Wainwright’s death. It took three months for the guides to be printed and delivered. The General Printing and Book Publishing Manager, Andrew Nichol, signed off all book orders.
The publishing rights were transferred to Michael Joseph in 1992, and the guides continued to be printed by Titus Wilson in Kendal. The new launch was successful in the spring of that year. However, the second impressions were printed at Clays Ltd in Suffolk. It was a very disappointing outcome and against Wainwright’s wishes.
The guides returned to Kendal after being away for a decade. Michael Joseph stopped publishing the guides by 2003, and Frances Lincoln became the new publisher. It was great news, and the Gazette were one of the first to make a statement:
Frances Lincoln wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Eastern Fells and produced new guides from scans originating from Wainwright’s original artwork. Some original artwork was missing, so those pages were created digitally. Croppers of Burneside made the paper to match those of the earliest editions. Frances Lincoln also produced a Limited Edition Leather-Bound box set. The publication date was March 2005.
In 2006, after three years of being back at Kendal, book printing moved again. It was worse this time, as they left the country altogether.
From left to right:
The Western Fells – 50th Anniversary Edition, Frances Lincoln 2005
The Western Fells – 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Leather-Bound, Frances Lincoln 2005
In June 2023, the 50th Anniversary Editions were made available as paperbacks for the first time. They are only available as a box set. See the Wainwright Box Set Collection for details.
In addition to the 50th Anniversary Editions, 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 twelve guides over ten years.
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 Editions were replaced by the Readers Edition. The new guides were released one at a time over several years. They were printed in limited quantities, quickly becoming one of the hardest sets to complete. The Western Fells – Readers Edition in hardback is tough to find.
Chris Jesty’s revised guides were now out of date, and in 2014, Clive Hutchby succeeded him and began revising the guides from scratch. These were the Walkers Editions, bound in a new flexibound format.
The Western Fells – Walkers Edition was published in 2020. Unfortunately, they were all recalled due to multiple printing errors. They were reprinted, which delayed the official launch by a few weeks. Eventually, both Readers and Walkers Editions were printed as paperbacks.
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
The Western Fells – Walkers Edition paperback, Frances Lincoln 2022