Select Wainwright Miscellany

Here are some Wainwright stories and accounts over the years:

Wainwright's Folly in Halifax

A tower on Skircoat Green in Halifax had been built by the owner of a local dye works.  He had chosen the elevated site in order to obtain a strong draught for the fires. 

However, as a result of a dsisagreement with the owner of the land, Wainwright did not complete the work. Instead, he placed on the summit of the chimney a decorative pediment, intending the structure to mock and annoy the landowner.  The chimney's height is 240 feet and it cost £2,000 to build. 

Wainwrights in the 1881 British Census

The following were the numbers and distribution of Wainwrights in the 1881 census.

Numbers (000's)

The total number of Wainwrights was 6,300.  The largest clusters were in Leeds, Eccleshall, and Sheffield, plus Adlington in Cheshire.   Interestingly, the number one male occupation was as coal miner.

Scurrah Wainwright and His Love of Delphiniums

Leeds was a polluted place in the late 19th century.  Scurrah's father Richard had spotted the commercial possibilities that might follow from ameliorating the effects of unhealthy air.  He invented and marketed a gadget which earned him the title of "Leeds smoke king."

Scurrah himself had trained as a chartered accountant and was able to purchase a house in leafy suburbia.  He believed passionately in gardens.  He wrote the following in a letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1927:

"There are districts in the Leeds suburbs where the morning and evening walk to and from the tram is made full of interest and pleasure by a succession of open gardens with differing color schemes and well-cultivated flowers.  The owners of these gardens emulate and vie with each other, discuss and exchange until the whole neighborhood becomes 'garden proud.'"

Scurrah fell in love with one particular flower, the delphinium, and one particular delphinium species, the Millicent Blackmore.  In 1936 he bought a large Victorian villa called The Heath where he could showcase its beauty.  Before long national experts were treading a path to The Heath and declaring what they found there to be one of the loveliest gardens in the north of England.  Delphiniums grew in such profusion, it was almost like a maze.         

Ellen Wainwright of the First Fleet

Ellen Wainwright, believed to have been born Ellen Eccles in Preston, had been charged with stealing a scarlet woollen cloak, a blue stuff quilted petticoat, and a black silk hat.  She was 17 at the time and living in Rishton.  She was sentenced to seven years transportation and was with the First Fleet on the Prince of Wales to Australia in 1788.

Ellen gave birth to a daughter Mary Ann, born in 1789 at Port Jackson.  Mother and child then travelled to Norfolk Island where Ellen gave birth to Henry in 1791.  Both children soon died.  But another Mary Ann was born in 1795. 

Sometime before 1800, Ellen began to co-habit with Thomas Guy and presented him with three daughters. Thomas made an honest woman of her when he married her in 1812.  The marriage certificate showed the bride's name as being Ellen Wynwright.  Ellen was then aged 42.  She lived on another 27 years and died in Hobart in 1839.  There is a plaque to her memory that was affixed by the Fellowship of First Fleeters in 1988.

Daughter Mary Ann married Dennis McCarty in 1811 when she was 16.  David was another colorful character who had been sentenced to two years for smuggling liquor.  But his main claim to fame was that he had built the first road in Tasmania from Hobart to New Norfolk.  Dennis drowned in a boating accident in 1820, some have said under suspicious circumstances.  Mary Ann promptly remarried and, within five months, had given birth to a daughter.

AW Wainwright and His Beloved Fells of the Lake District

A Wainwright is the summit of what AW - as he preferred to be called - thought were true fell tops.  There are 214 "Wainwrights," which many walkers try to get to the top of or to "bag."

Wainwright's first view of the Lake District was in 1931 and he began the first of his seven pictorial guides to its fells in 1952.  The following are some quotations from these books:

"The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal.  Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits.  These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is yet time will be blessed both in mind and body."

"Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds.  For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure.”

"Time is intended to be spent, not saved.”

"Much of Lakeland’s appeal derives from the very lovely names of its mountains and valleys and lakes and rivers, which fit the scenery so well. These names were given by the earliest settlers, rough men, invaders and robbers: they were here long before Wordsworth – but they too, surely had poetry in their hearts?”

When AW died in 1991, his ashes were scattered by the quiet waters of Innominate Tarn on his favourite fell, Haystacks.

The Fractious Wainwrights

Many American families who have issues on the scale of the Wainwrights would spend most of their time and money on therapy.  This Wainwright tribe may have the money; what they lack is the time as they are far too busy writing about each other.  The 61-year-old patriarch, Loudon Wainwright III, has been doing it for decades, marking the ups and downs of domestic life in songs so frank they are literally breathtaking.  You really could hear the audiences gasp as he launched into the confessional Hitting You about the time he struck his daughter when she was a child.:"I was aiming for your buttock but I struck your outer thigh…"

This daughter, Martha Wainwright, is now in her thirties and has become a star in her own right.  So has her older brother Rufus, whose earliest feeding habits Loudon chronicled with a song called Rufus Is a Tit Man.  Not any more.  He now lives in New York with his boyfriend Jorn, a German arts administrator.  Both these siblings have made such an impact that if you tell anyone under forty that you are off to see Loudon Wainwright, they look uncertain and ask if he is anything to do with Rufus and Martha.  He sure is.

It's not only his singing talents they’ve inherited, but also his notions of what a song can say, and to whom. Rufus wrote a real stinger called Dinner At Eight, apparently inspired by a dreadful row he and Loudon had about which of the two could take the credit for their being on the cover of Rolling Stone.  Martha showed she could do forthrightness too, with a number about her father called Bloody Mother F****** Asshole.


Return to Top of Page
Return to Wainwright Main Page