Wainwright’s Friend

Article by Chris Butterfield

Alfred Wainwright, renowned for his detailed guidebooks to the Lakeland Fells, was known to have a limited circle of friends, preferring the company of animals to people. However, there were exceptions. One was Kenneth Shepherd, a distinguished photographer from Kendal who initially worked at the Westmorland Gazette before transitioning to a freelance career. His friendship with Wainwright spanned approximately forty years, marking a significant personal connection in Wainwright’s life. This relationship highlights a rare and meaningful bond, contrasting with his usual preference for solitude and less intimate associations.

In the winter of 1952, Wainwright embarked on creating his Pictorial Guides. Dissatisfied with the photographic results from a local chemist, he initially attributed it to his perceived lack of skill in photography. Seeking help, Wainwright turned to Ken, a neighbour living in Kendal, and gave him some film to develop. The outcomes were outstanding, significantly exceeding his expectations. This success alleviated Wainwright’s doubts about his photography skills and laid the foundation for a lasting friendship between him and Ken.

The Eastern Fells - First Edition Guidebook
Ken began developing the photos for Wainwright’s new guidebook project

As Ken neared his eightieth birthday, he undertook a project documenting his life’s experiences and memories on audio cassettes. In one of these recordings, made in late October 1988, Ken reflected on a specific aspect of his career: a collection of photographs of the Lake District during the 1930s and 1940s. He expressed a desire to share this compilation with his long-time friend, Alfred Wainwright. These photos, capturing the beauty and essence of the Lake District in that era, held significant personal value for Ken and potentially for Wainwright, who had dedicated much of his life to walking and documenting the same region.

Wainwright's Friend
Ken cuts into his 80th birthday cake at home with his family

“Recently, I have become more closely associated with Alfred Wainwright. The very well-known guidebook writer and my first thought was to take them along to him. Let him see them before his eyesight really went too bad for him to even see them, and, of course, he was delighted that I’d done this. I said, ‘Keep them as long as you like, and when you have finished, give me a ring, and I’ll come and collect them and put them back in my files’.

Well, lo and behold, a few days afterwards, the great man himself rang me up, which is an almost unheard-of thing to happen, and he said, ‘Look, I’ve passed these photographs on to the printing manager of the Westmorland Gazette, Andrew Nichol,’ and so, I said, ‘Well, what for?’ he said ‘He comes to see me twice a week, and the last time he came, I showed him these pictures. He said I think they are magnificent’.

Well, I was highly complimented over this, and he said he would like you to contact him with a view to some kind of publication. So, I did that, and the upshot was an interview with Andrew, who was extremely friendly and very interested in these photographs. He said, ‘Look, with your permission, we would like to make a book to come out next Easter, and it will be your book. I’ve got to try to find a good printer to do the job because we don’t do any printing anymore. We do publishing only, and mostly Mr. Wainwright’s books’.

Ken submitted all his photos to Andrew for his first book, Lakeland 50 Years ago, and Wainwright kindly agreed to write the foreword. Coincidentally, during this period, Wainwright had just completed his latest work, which was to be his final publication for the Gazette. The book was nearly complete, except for a suitable photograph for its front cover. Impressed by the quality and aesthetic of Ken’s photography, Andrew naturally turned to him to capture a photo of Wainwright for the cover. Feeling honoured by this request, Ken later recounted his involvement in this project and the significance of being chosen to photograph a figure as notable as Wainwright for publication.

The Westmorland Gazette Celebrates the Publication of Ken's First Book - Lakeland 50 Years Ago.
The Westmorland Gazette Celebrates the Publication of Ken’s First Book – Lakeland 50 Years Ago.

“Wainwright is now producing a new book. He’s calling it Fellwanderer with a Camera or With a Camera Among the Fells, something of that kind, and it was required that he and I should find some suitable venue for a new photograph of him because Andrew Nichol of the Gazette said whenever we get a photograph of Wainwright, he’s either always has his back to the camera or his side or is looking through binoculars or a camera or something of that kind. What we want is a good photograph of him, looking happy and bright and smiling, with a lovely background of hills.”

Ken reached out to Wainwright to discuss the details. Wainwright, agreeing to the photoshoot, suggested Hallow Bank near the head of Kentmere as the ideal location. This spot, known for its stunning views, would provide a fitting backdrop, capturing the essence of the Lake District.

Wainwright's Friend
Ken and Wainwright relaxing at Hallow Bank, Kentmere

On Thursday, 6 October 1988, Ken picked up Wainwright from his home, driving him to the location in his car, which he affectionately referred to as his “old bus.” Upon their arrival at Hallow Bank, they were greeted by a breathtaking panorama. The vista included the Kentmere mountains, showcasing prominent peaks such as Rainsborrow Crag, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Craig, and High Street. For Ken, a seasoned photographer, this location was ideal. The natural beauty of these mountains provided the perfect backdrop for the photograph.

“The light was just in the right place, making our side of the fells dark while I got him sat on a wall with my camera, which is the identical camera that he used to use for his own photographs, at least an identical twin, because his camera now, reposes in the Ruskin Museum at Coniston. I so happened to have a duplicate camera of the same. So, I got a picture of him holding this camera and looking across to Raven Crag just before Ill Bell, holding the camera in his hand, turning and looking at me, and smiling. It really has turned out an exceptionally good picture.”

Alternative Shot of Wainwright
An alternative photo to the one used for the front cover of Fellwalking with a Camera

Ken rapidly processed the negatives and gave the selected photo to a delighted Andrew Nichol. The book Fellwalking with a Camera was released two months later, in December 1988. Wainwright dedicated a touching tribute to Ken, expressing gratitude for their enduring friendship and Ken’s substantial contributions to his work over the years.

Fellwalking With a Camera and Wainwright's Original Manuscript
Wainwright’s original Fellwalking with a Camera manuscript

During my six years as an archivist, I’ve connected with numerous individuals acquainted with Wainwright. Although I never met Ken Shepherd, who passed away in 1999, I was thrilled to eventually locate his daughter, Rosemary Gutteridge, and her husband, David. They eagerly assisted in my research, sharing numerous stories. I felt privileged to be entrusted with safeguarding Ken’s legacy by digitising his extensive collection of old photographic plates, which the family retained. These materials chronicle decades of Lake District social history.

Amidst the collection, Rosemary unearthed all the original negatives Ken had captured of Wainwright during their photo sessions in the late 1980s. Remarkably, most of these images had never been seen before. We found over seventy photographs taken with various cameras. Both Rosemary and I were ecstatic about this extraordinary discovery!

Several of Ken’s original photo negatives featuring Wainwright

Understanding the risk of negatives deteriorating over time, Rosemary generously allowed me to scan each one at the highest resolution, ensuring their preservation for future generations. To accomplish this, I sought the expertise of Steve Barber, a local professional photographer. Steve had collaborated with Ken Shepherd and had the privilege of photographing Wainwright in Shap for the Westmorland Gazette in 1989.

“I was working for the Gazette at the time and was asked to meet up with AW, Eric Robson, and the film crew at Shap Abbey, where they were filming the Coast to Coast TV programme. I only had a very short time to get my pictures, but Mr Wainwright did send a message to my editor, John Lannaghan, to say I was a charming young man.”

Eric Robson and Wainwright
Steve Barber captures Eric Robson and Wainwright at Shap Abbey

Under Steve’s guidance, I obtained the appropriate digital scanner and software for the task. He trained me in techniques to achieve optimal results, and the high quality of the images is a testament to Steve’s knowledge.

Three decades after his passing, the emergence of Wainwright-related materials continually astonishes me. These remarkable photos, coupled with Ken’s extensive audio diaries from the late 1980s—graciously shared by Rosemary—have vividly brought to life the first of many enduring stories shared between Ken and Wainwright.


Listen to Kenneth Shepherd’s original 1988 recording about his friendship with Wainwright, alongside all the photographs taken from Hallow Bank, Kentmere, at Chris Butterfield’s first Wainwright event of 2024 at the Village Hall, Grasmere, on Saturday, 27 April.

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