I have been a fan of Wainwright for several years now. My wife, Priscilla, and I completed his Coast to Coast walk back in 2015 and climbed many of his beloved fells. By early 2016 I owned all his coffee table books in mint condition, along with a set of his Lakeland Pictorial guides. Even at this early stage, I didn’t know where things would lead. Owning a single copy of each book was good enough for me and hunting down first editions wasn’t a priority of mine.
My obsession with collecting Wainwright memorabilia was a gradual process which happened over time. However, back in September 2016, my interest developed even more when Mitchell’s of Cockermouth held one of their regular Antiques & Fine Art auctions. This particular auction drew quite a crowd, as Hunter Davies was selling many of his personal possessions, including his Wainwright memorabilia. I successfully won over half of the items I bid for.
One of the other events that prompted me to become a serious collector, was when I was given the opportunity to own a magnificent ‘signed’ first edition of ‘The Eastern Fells’ book one. Well that was it. I just had to acquire the other six books, and for them to be in equally good condition or as close as possible. Whilst hunting for the other books, I noticed that there were so many differences to the physical appearance of the books. I had never seen such an impressive array and variation of the same titles. This intrigued me and started me off on a long journey to acquire everything Wainwright had written in all its different forms. I think I am, like Wainwright, quite obsessive by nature. If I set myself a task, I take it to the extreme. Most enthusiasts collect first editions, whereas I am trying to acquire the full publishing history of each book. The key thing above all else, is that I love what I am doing, and I am very passionate about my work and research.
Wainwright has been gone nearly thirty years now and his story has been told many times. Being late to the party, I felt like I have been on catch-up over the last few years. Everything still feels fresh to me, as though he is still around. In my search for more knowledge, I have knocked on the doors of many people who knew or worked with Wainwright. I wasn’t prying into his private life; I was simply researching his amazing body of work. During my journey I have unravelled many stories that have yet to be made public. This proved there is still more of his story to be told. I have made so many great friends within the Wainwright world, and I am so thankful to everyone for giving me their time.
With the primary focus of my work being the books, my attention turned to Wainwright’s former publisher, the Westmorland Gazette. Andrew Nichol was the book publishing manager of the W.G. for many years, and he also worked with Wainwright for almost a decade. Andrew has become a very good friend, and over the last two years he has been very encouraging with my research. He eventually introduced me to David Rigg, the former printer of the Wainwright books, and the owner of the well-established Kendal printers, Titus Wilson. How Titus Wilson took over the printing of the books is a blog for another time.
David, who also knew Wainwright, gave me a private tour of the works and demonstrated the full printing process from the raw materials to the finished book. This was so fascinating, but the day was about to get better. He revealed to me a sample of Wainwright’s 50th Anniversary guidebook printing positives. This was an incredible sight. Many years ago, Frances Lincoln offered to buy the original Westmorland Gazette printing negatives from David for a hefty sum, but he refused. He couldn’t risk these important pieces of Wainwright printing history being lost forever in another country.
Several months passed, and by this time I had made many visits to Titus Wilson and learned as much as I could about book printing from David. We were out having lunch one day and I was showing him my latest haul of Wainwright memorabilia. He was taken aback by how serious I was and how far I had come with my collecting. Then he hit me with it –
“Chris, I have been thinking, you should be the custodian of all the existing Wainwright book printing material. I will be retiring in a few years, and I can’t think of anyone else with the same passion to pass this on to. This material has been stored here for decades, but you are the only person who has ever come forward and shown interest in it”.
Well, as you can imagine, I was speechless. I didn’t expect anything like this. I certainly didn’t feel worthy, but I was so honoured and so very pleased that he would consider entrusting me to take care of this historical Cumbrian printing material. No one at Titus Wilson really knew just how much original Wainwright material existed. It was stored in the loft with decades’ worth of other printing material. The task of finding it all was not an easy one. There were no short cuts, and with the help of my wife, we had to pull out and examine every piece of printing material that Titus Wilson had ever produced.
Many months later I am still in the process of cataloguing everything. There is an incredible amount of material, including negatives, positives, artwork, blocking, dust jackets, cases, manuscripts, proofs and documentation. To store it all, my wife treated me to a brand new twelve-drawer plan chest to keep them perfectly preserved and locked up safely. Together with my ever-growing book collection, they form an historical archive of Wainwright’s publishing history that I hope to keep in good order for years to come. I am also investigating a way of allowing the public to view this material in the future.