Mary Cicely Fair was a fascinating, multi-talented woman who was born in Manchester and lived in Eskdale, Cumbria throughout most of her adult life. A published photographer, writer and archaeologist, we are lucky to have a significant portion of her photographic output held in the Museum. With over 4000 original negatives and a significant number of her prints, notebooks and correspondence as well as archaeological finds residing here, her collection can provide valuable insight to Cumbrian life in the twentieth century.  The images used within these pages were all taken by Mary Fair in the 1920s within Cumbria, usually within a few miles of her home in Eskdale

While we have hundreds of images taken by her there are limited photographs of Mary herself, but she can be seen in the image below in the centre of the picture, carrying her beloved camera.

We thank the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society for the permission to reproduce the images included within these pages.

Mary was deeply involved in the Lake District and her parish of Eskdale, her photographic output and extensive notes filling numerous notebooks about Cumbrian history and culture being a testament to her love for the area. In tracking the history of Cumbria, a sense of regional identity begins to emerge within her research.

Cumbrian regional identity is largely connected to its landscape and wild environment, and the importance of Lakeland animals to the sport, culture and economy of the region throughout history is undoubtable. In particular, the hardy, charming sheep that graze throughout Cumbria are integral to the landscape and the symbolism of the Lake District. This seems to have resonated with Mary as sheep feature throughout her photography and at the most unexpected times. Some of her most candid and seemingly unplanned photographs are of sheep, grazing on the fells, crowding on the roads or peeking out over rocks and mounds to spot the camera as can be seen in the photograph above. Her interest in sheep is also present in the archive of notebooks and manuscripts held at the Museum, including a ripped out chapter on sheep-scoring by J. R. Witty and multiple handwritten notes on a range of sheep-related topics which suggests she was interested in establishing a history of Herdwick sheep in the Cumbria district.

Some would say that sheep, and especially the Herdwick breed native to the Lake District, have shaped the Lakes socially, physically and culturally, so it is no wonder that Mary snapped so many photographs of them. They have been affectionately described throughout history, capturing the heart of William Abbott of Coniston, who enthusiastically argued in the Shepherd’s Guide in 1879 “not a breed anywhere in the wide world [is] capable of taking the place of the Herdwick” and Beatrix Potter who noted to her friend “there is something very loveable about the silly sheep”. Mary herself wrote of the Herdwicks as being “very handsome animals” with “magnificent curling horns” which is displayed wonderfully by the smiley face framed by horns in the image above

Since sheep are such a cornerstone of Cumbrian history and identity, it is worth taking the time to reflect on them, and Mary Cicely Fair’s photographic collection allows us to do just that!

Click for the next section - Sheep Farming