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back to Book Reviews

Westmorland Heritage
A. Wainwright: Frances Lincoln
ISBN 07112 2419 6

When I spoke to AW during one Westmorland Heritageof my visits to him in 1986, I asked him what he considered to be his finest work.  I quite expected him to say the Pictorial Guides but was surprised when instead he said Westmorland Heritage

This book, originally published in 1974, was a limited edition of 1,000 copies, all of which were numbered and signed by AW.  These were snapped up within weeks of publication, although one or two were retained by organisations in Kendal, including the Kendal Library where I managed to see a copy.  By the time I started thinking about purchasing a copy in the late 1980s they were already changing hands for prices in excess of £300 (some thirty times the original purchase price of £10.50), which put it beyond my budget at the time.  Nowadays collectors are paying up to £1,000 per copy.

However, because of the beauty of this book, Frances Lincoln publishers, who are reviving many of the Wainwright titles, have republished this fabulous work so that AW's faithful followers can at last appreciate what he considered to be his best publication.  AW dedicated the book to 'those who have their roots in Westmorland' and certainly those of us who love this part of the country fall into that category.  The re-issued book is a masterpiece with itsfine printing and excellent paper, the latter having no show-through to the next page as happened with the Popular Edition that was published in 1988. Although the Popular Edition's jacket was printed in three colours, it was very plain with a pale green background, AW's signature and POPULAR EDITION printed in red, and a photograph of the author on the back. The new jacket is only printed in two colours but it is exceedingly smart with two beautiful reproductions on the front and back, and blue bands reminiscent of the Pictorial Guides.

The book contains details of the 110 civil and ecclesiastical parishes of the old county of Westmorland prior to the boundary changes on 1 April 1974 when it was incorporated into the new county of Cumbria.  This magnificent and celebrated portrait of the buildings, landmarks and scenery of the old county of Westmorland is illustrated with nearly 2,000 line drawings.  Every parish in the county is recorded in drawings and each is accompanied by cultural and historical notes, as well as anecdotes, that illuminate and explain notable features, characteristics, or associations.  The author's inimitable drawings and deep local knowledge of the county provide an authoritative and mesmerising guide.

Some of the chapters run to only one or two pages, as in the case of the smaller parishes such as Bolton, Cliburn, Nateby, Sleagill and Winton, whereas other chapters such as Kendal, the Langdales, Patterdale and Shap Rural have up to 20 pages devoted to them.  Whilst the latter three chapters contain sketches seen in both the Pictorial Guides and the Lakeland Sketchbooks, there are many I had not previously come across.

Endlessly fascinating, nostalgic and revealing, this is a book for anyone who loves or knows the familiar crags, lakes and landscapes of the Lake District, and also the remoter and less familiar regions of a county thought by many to be the most beautiful in England. The book gave me a great insight into many areas in the Far Eastern, Eastern and Central areas of the Lake District.  Having discovered, from the book, historical and cultural details unknown to me in some parishes that I had previously just driven through, I shall now be enthused to stop and investigate further – and what fun that will be!

To those of us who have followed AW's footsteps on the fells, this book gives us numerous other areas to visit when the fells are inaccessible due to bad weather. At 504 pages long and weighing over 3½ lbs., it is a book for the fireside table or bedside cabinet rather than one to be carried in the rucksack. But for any Wainwright devotees, it is an absolute must!

reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2