Anne Lister of Shibden Hall

A new publication, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, has just been published by Calderdale Museums, with an introduction to Anne's life, diaries, Shibden Hall and her legacy. The books are available to buy at Bankfield Museum and online from Amazon here.

Whilst Shibden Hall is closed until March 2019 Anne Lister will feature in the Women Travellers exhibition at Bankfield Museum, Halifax, from the 25 November, including Anne's portrait, travel writing desk, travel notes and Russian passport.

Anne Lister (1791-1840)

Anne Lister was born in Halifax on the 3rd April 1791 and was brought up in Skelfler House, Market Weighton. She made frequent visits to her Aunt Anne and Uncle James who lived at Shibden Hall. In 1815 Anne moved in permanently with her Aunt and Uncle, and when her Uncle James died in 1826 Anne started to manage the estate. In 1836 when her Aunt and Father died Anne fully inherited Shibden Hall and Estate.

Anne wrote a detailed diary of her daily life and left behind twenty-six volumes of 7,722 pages, of an estimated five million words. The diaries give a great insight into Anne’s life as a landowner, business woman, intrepid traveller, mountaineer and lesbian. Anne was only interested in women and had ‘marriage’ ceremonies with Mariana Lawton and later Ann Walker, who would eventually move in with her at Shibden Hall. It is also clear that Anne was different from society’s expectations of a woman at the time. Anne not only did not wish to marry, but she also did not want to conform. She decided to only wear black, spent a great deal of time studying, managed her own estates and sought business opportunities, travelled widely and even climbed mountains. Anne was an avid walker and climber and undertook the first ascents of Mount Perdu in the Pyrenees in 1830 and Mount Vignemale in France in 1838. 

In addition to her diaries, Anne also left behind fourteen volumes of travel notes. The volumes of travel notes cover her overseas trips and travel within the United Kingdom to the Lake District, Scotland and North Wales, including a trip on the newly opened railway from Manchester to Liverpool in 1831. Anne had first travelled to Paris for three weeks with her Aunt in 1819 and over the coming years she made journeys to Switzerland and Italy in 1827, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1829, and lived in France and the Pyrenees from 1829 to 1830. In 1831 she travelled to Holland, visited friends in Hampshire and went to the Isle of Wight and Sussex. After the deaths of her Aunt and Father in 1836 she focussed on managing and improving Shibden Hall and Estate, leaving behind a great number of changes and developments which can still be seen by visitors today.

In 1839 Anne once again had the time and resources to travel. This time Ann travelled with her partner Ann Walker, a neighbouring heiress who had moved in with her at Shibden in 1834. The couple set off in June 1839 on a two-year expedition. Anne and Ann travelled via Dunkerque, Belgium, Germany, Copenhagen, through Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia into Astrakhan (now Georgia). However, Anne Lister tragically died in Koutais, Georgia on 22 September 1840. Ann Walker was left to travel back to Shibden accompanying Anne's body which was interred at Halifax Parish Church, now Halifax Minster on 29 April 1841. Ann Walker was left Shibden Hall and Estate but was focribly removed by her brother-in-law and taken to an asylum in York. She died at her family home of Cliffe Hill in 1854. 

Gentleman Jack TV series by Sally Wainwright

Anne Lister of Shibden Hall is the focus of the new BBC drama series 'Gentleman Jack' written and directed by Sally Wainwright for Lookout Point Productions. The series will explore Anne's life and those who lived in the Hall and Estate. The series was filmed during 2018 and will be aired on BBC and HBO in 2019. Suranne Jones plays the role of Anne Lister and Shibden Hall was used as a key filming location. Find out more from the BBC. To facilitate filming Shibden Hall has was closed to the public between the 14th May and 23rd July and again from the 3rd September to the 21st October in 2018. The Hall will re-open to visitors from the 2nd March 2019.

Anne Lister in the media

Anne has featured in a number of TV and radio dramas and documentaries over the years. Mary Cooper wrote a radio play based on Anne Lister called Such Sweet Possession for BBC Radio 4 in 2002, featuring Deborah McAndrew as Anne Lister. In 2009 Anne Lister was the subject of a Woman's Hour programme for BBC Radio 4.  In 2010, BBC2 showed a feature length drama based on Anne Lister, written by Jane English called The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister featuring Maxine Peake as Anne. The same year the BBC created a documentary about Anne Lister hosted by Sue Perkins.

More recently Shibden Hall featured in Historic England's Pride of Place project in 2016. You can find out more about Anne on their website.

Anne Lister's story was also featured in Channel 4's Britain's Great Gay Buildings in 2017. The programme was hosted by Stephen Fry and Mary Portas visited Shibden Hall to find out more about Anne Lister.

Collections Manager Angela Clare was interviewed recently by David Harper about Anne Lister for an episode of the BBC's Antiques Road Trip, which will be broadcast in January 2019.

Anne Lister's story at Shibden Hall

At Shibden Hall you can view the few remaining items that relate directly to Anne- her travel writing case, music book with signature, three portraits and her funeral hatchment. Unfortunately, very few of her possessions have survived. However, the Hall itself and grounds can reveal a great deal about Anne and her time living there and managing the Hall and Estate. Anne made considerable changes to the Hall and grounds which remain today. Lots of the furniture at Shibden was there during Anne's time, as well as the Lister Carriage, which is on display in the barn. Anne's diaries, travel notes and Shibden Hall's archives are all looked after by West Yorkshire Archives.

Shibden Hall has an interactive display of Anne Lister's diaries where you can see pages of the diaries, transcribed extracts, information about Anne the traveller, socialite, landowner, scholar and businesswoman and hear Anne's words. The unit was created by BlackBox AV as part of an Arts Council funded project, part of which was to refurbish some of the non-historically set rooms at Shibden and include more information for visitors in 2015.

In 2016 the Museum Service commissioned local film production company, Limehouse TV, to make a documentary about Anne Lister featuring biographer Helena Whitbread. A short version of which can be seen below. The full 25-minute film is shown at Shibden Hall. The same year, a new promotional film about Shibden Hall was commissioned and Aberration Films and again featured Anne Lister's story. Both these films can be seen on the Visit Shibden page.

Each year at Shibden there are a number of Anne Lister tours around the house and grounds- see our Events Page for details. In 2018 we celebrated Anne Lister's 228th birthday on the 3rd April with a birthday event with biographer Helena Whitbread, Sally Wainwright talking about her forthcoming TV series, and behind-the-scenes tours and a look at Anne Lister's collections with Collections Manager Angela Clare and Curator Elinor Camille-Wood. Sign up to our newsletter below for details and follow us on social media @ShibdenHall to hear about future events. 

Digitizing the diaries

In 2018 the diaries and travel notes of Anne Lister have been conserved and digitized by Calderdale Museums in conjunction with West Yorkshire Joint Archive Services, who house them, and Townsweb Archiving service, funded by Sally Wainwright from the Wellcome Trust Screenwriters Fellowship. Whilst work has been done transcribing certain sections of the diaries by Helena Whitbread, Jill Liddington and Anne Choma, amongst others, the job of fully transcribing, editing and making the diaries searchable is a long process. Also, a large amount of the diaries are in code (with no spacing or punctuation) which also slows the process. The conservation and digitization in 2018 are the first stages in trying to make the diaries as accessible as possible. The new scans will be an improvement on the early microfiche scans (available to view on Huddersfield University's archive catalogue here) and hopefully enable easier transcription- potentially some of it can be undertaken by computer software to speed up the process, but of course they will all still need reading, editing, foot notes and explaining etc. Digitizing the diaries also aims to help preserve them for the future, as researchers should not need to consult the originals when such high resolutions scans are available, and can even be enlarged for easier reading.

Where to find out more about Anne Lister

Key publications include:

  • Angela Clare (2018) Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. Calderdale Museums. (Available to buy at Shibden Hall, Bankfield Museum and online from Amazon here.)
  • Helena Whitbread (2010) The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. (An updated version of 1988, I Know My Own Heart).
  • Jill Liddington (2003) Nature’s Domain: Anne Lister and the Landscape of Desire. Pennine Pens.
  • Jill Liddington (1998) Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority. Rivers Oram.
  • Jill Liddington (1994) Presenting the Past: Anne Lister of Halifax 1791 – 1840. Pennine Pens.
  • Muriel Green, (1992) Miss Lister of Shibden Hall: Selected Letters (1800 -1840). The Book Guild.
  • Helena Whitbread, Ed. (1992). No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister from 1824 - 1826. Smith Settle.
  • Helena Whitbread, Ed., (1988). I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791- 1840. Virago, 1988, and New York University Press, 1990.

Online articles and information online:

A website about Anne by biographer Helena Whitbread

An article by Jeanette Winterson

An article in the Guardian by Emma Donoghue

Currently, scans of the diaries are available on the University of Huddersfield's archive site.

Introducing Anne Lister film:

This short film on Anne Lister is part of a longer interview with Helena Whitbread, commissioned by Calderdale Museums, which can be seen in Shibden Hall.