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John Lister

John Lister (1847 – 1933) of Shibden Hall was the son of Dr John Lister (1802-1867) who inherited Shibden after Ann Walker’s death. Anne Lister (1791-1840) had named him as the heir to the estate; he was the descendant of a brother of Anne Lister’s paternal grandfather.

Dr John Lister had married Louisa Grant (daughter of an army officer in the West Indies) in 1844 and they had three children, John (b. 1847), Charles (b.1849) and Anne (b. 1852). They were living in the Isle of Wight when he inherited, and the family moved to Shibden in the 1850s. Dr John died in August 1867 and John inherited from his father when he was twenty years old.

John Lister studied at Winchester and then at Brasenose College, Oxford. He also qualified as a barrister. His brother Charles studied at Cambridge and became a surgeon. Sadly, he died in Bolivia in 1889. Their mother died in 1892. Anne remained living at Shibden her entire life and little is known about her.

John served on the Halifax School Board from 1874-1883, created an Industrial School at Shibden, was elected to the West Riding Council in 1889 until 1897, and was a member of the Fabian Society. He also served as trustee of the Infirmary from 1887, as well as a governor of the Technical School from 1896 and Hipperholme Grammar School from 1894.

His political interests saw him become a founder of the Halifax Labour Union in 1892 and in 1893 he became the first national treasurer for the Independent Labour Party. He stood as Labour candidate for Halifax in 1893 and again in 1895 but was unsuccessful both times.

John’s passion was history and he spent his life researching and recording Shibden’s history, as well as a range of topics including medieval architecture and the woollen trade and wrote several biographies and accounts of local history. He was a vice president of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society from 1882 and president in 1917. He was also a member of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society for 64 years and helped form the Halifax Antiquarian Society in 1900 and was the president until his death. He published many papers and also extracts from his ancestor Anne Lister’s diaries. He shared many articles in the local paper under the heading ‘Social Life in Halifax: Some extracts from the diary of a Halifax lady’ until he and a friend cracked Anne’s secret code, in which a considerable amount of the diaries are written. Having discovered Anne’s sexuality, detailed in the coded sections, John Lister then never published any more from her diaries, but kept them within the family archive.

Unfortunately, he never seemed to have enough money for all his endeavours. He purchased property from his mother and several pits in the area, gaining ever more mortgages. In 1875 he was listed as owner of Lower Shibden and Shibden Hall collieries. He had also always given generously to local charities and endeavours.

In 1923 a friend of John’s, Arthur McCrae purchased the Shibden estate and gave it to the public of Halifax, with the condition that John could use the house and gardens for the rest of his life. Shibden Park opened to the public in 1926 and John hosted the Prince of Wales when he came to open what had been his private lands as the public park. The Halifax Corporation then purchased the furniture, library and Shibden archive.

Anne died in 1929 and John died on 12 October 1933. Shibden Hall then came under ownership of the Halifax Corporation. There were obituaries for John in the local and national papers and Shibden soon opened as a museum and the archives were moved to the local library and later Calderdale Archives.