The Yorkshire engineer who became the archivist and curator of Alfred Wainwright's legacy

A lifelong love of the outdoors and the walks of Alfred Wainwright has led to a Yorkshire-born engineer becoming the famous author’s archivist and curator.

Chris Butterfield has become Alfred Wainwright's archivist and curator

Christopher Butterfield said he has been an outdoor enthusiast since leaving school, spending most of his early years exploring the countryside around his home in Bradford.

“In my late teens I moved to Mytholmroyd near Halifax. This is where I discovered the rugged, but equally beautiful South Pennines. One afternoon I stumbled across a trail called the Pennine Way.

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“I was intrigued and did some research using a second-hand copy of Wainwright on the Pennine Way. I had no idea know who this Wainwright fella was, but as far as I was concerned, he had written an excellent book.

“The walk was nearly 270 miles long but being a student, I didn’t see how I could find the time and money to take on a trail of that magnitude. It was a challenge I had to shelve until later.”

Mr Butterfield built up a successful career in engineering which eventually took him away from his home county but he did fulfil his ambition to walk the Pennine Way in 2013 accompanied by his wife, Priscilla.

“We completed this mammoth trail in 19 consecutive days of glorious sunshine and it was a life-changing experience for us both,” he said.

“There were many highlights during the walk, but my favourite time was spent in my beloved Yorkshire. We didn’t see a soul for days, but it mattered not, the Dales were our faithful companions. After a few days, the North Pennines were looming ever closer and I remember dragging my heels,” he said.

The couple decided to take on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast in 2015 and Mr Butterfield described the route as “pure genius” prompting him to look further into Wainwright’s work. Discovering his A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series sealed his fascination with the fell walker and author.

“I was amazed at how he had managed to accomplish this amazing body of detailed work decades earlier and was determined I would discover everything there was to know about Wainwright.”

Mr Butterfield’s collection of books slowly increased and he attended an auction of memorabilia from Wainwright’s biographer, Hunter Davies, as well as a later opportunity to own a signed copy of The Eastern Fells from 1955. “I noticed there were many editions and physical variations of the same books and for a new collector, this was a minefield.

“There was no resource to make sense of it all, so I decided to do it myself. Most enthusiasts collect first editions, whereas I am acquiring the full printing history of each book. Something that has never been done before,” Mr Butterfield explained.

But he said one of his greatest acquisitions was the complete manuscript to Wainwright’s final book published by the Westmorland Gazette in 1988, Fellwalking with a Camera. And with his primary focus on Wainwright’s books, Mr Butterfield got in touch with Andrew Nichol former book publishing manager for the Westmorland Gazette who worked directly with Wainwright.

Through this connection he was introduced to David Rigg, the owner of Titus Wilson printers which handled the Wainwright books.

Impressed by Mr Butterfield’s dedication, Mr Rigg said he wanted him to become the custodian of all the existing Wainwright book printing material.

“I was speechless,” Mr Butterfield said. “It was an honour to be chosen to take care of this historical Cumbrian printing material.”

He and his wife spent weeks sorting through the original material which had been lying in a loft for decades. “The task of finding it all was not an easy one, we had to pull out and examine every piece of printing material Titus Wilson had ever produced.”

But the couple now have what is probably the biggest collection of Wainwright material in private ownership and it continues to grow.

“I am still in the process of cataloguing everything. The material includes negatives, positives, artwork, blocking, dust jackets, cases, manuscripts, proofs, documentation and more.

“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. Maybe in the future, there can be a way of displaying this work for the public to see.”

In addition to a growing social media following, Mr Butterfield will soon be launching a website dedicated to Wainwright and he is the official Wainwright blogger on TV presenter Julia Bradbury’s The Outdoor Guide website.

“Although Alfred Wainwright has been gone nearly 30 years, everything still feels fresh to me, as though he is still around. Through Wainwright’s writing, I discovered the natural beauty of both Yorkshire and the Lake District. If I can encourage just one person to discover Wainwright and the places he loved, then my work has been worthwhile.”