The day Wainwright's Yorkshire born archivist received the author's first publications

Alfred Wainwright’s Yorkshire archivist, Chris Butterfield, recalls the day he received the author’s first publications.

Alfred Wainwright is pictured in the middle with Percy Duff seated on his left.

The waitress had barely stepped away before a large brown folder was slowly being pushed across the table towards me. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife as I gently lifted the flap and slid out the contents.

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.

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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. To Wainwright’s many devoted fans, however, this was a veritable treasure trove. 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. In fact, it was the very last tobacco tin he used as borough treasurer before he retired in 1967.”

I was speechless. I then 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 Kendal holiday week brochures I had read all about. I was now the new custodian of all these items, wonderful pieces of Wainwright history.

We were in a café in Kendal after a fabulous morning. Mike and Paul – the sons of Percy Duff, who succeeded Wainwright as Borough Treasurer – and Mike’s wife, Sandra had given Priscilla and I a private tour of the mayor’s parlour in the town hall during which we learned much about the history of Kendal and seen the original drawing of Wainwright hung on the wall.

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 he always acknowledged what they did for him.

Wainwright moved from his hometown of Blackburn to Kendal in 1941 as an accountancy assistant. 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, he was approached by the council to organise a Holidays at Home programme.

Holidays at Home was a government scheme to discourage people from travelling and from using scarce resources in the holiday season during the war period.

Wainwright was given free rein. He formed committees to help prepare a multitude of activities, including dances, sporting events, competitions, concerts and Punch and Judy shows.

He recruited the services of well-known local people, and that’s when his social status started to rise. He prepared the brochures and even adorned the front covers with some of his very early drawings.

The Holidays at Home week took place every year until the summer of 1944. Wainwright would often boast about the kudos these annual events gave him, and they obviously played a part in his rise through the ranks to the 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. Before Wainwright left the town hall, clearing out his desk, he gave Percy many of his possessions. Among the items were two sets of Wainwright’s Kendal holiday week brochures, 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 had not forgotten the projects he had been involved in.

One of his later books, published in 1987 to commemorate his 80th 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 of his love for the Holidays at Home project.

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, producer of the original Wainwright BBC TV series, remembers that Wainwright borrowed the brochures from Percy for a day, during the production of the first TV series, 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 1986 and 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.

Mike and Paul Duff inherited all 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.

While researching Wainwright’s story, I discovered that Percy, Paul and Mike had accompanied Wainwrights wife, Betty, to Haystacks to lay his ashes to rest beside Innominate Tarn in 1991.

I contacted the brothers, who were more than 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.

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