Anne Lister
Shibden Hall


Her early life

Anne Lister was born in Halifax [3rd April 1791], the daughter of Rebecca and Jeremy Lister.

She spent much of her early life at the family estate at Skelfler, and in Ripon, York and the East Riding.

She was educated at home. At the age of 7, she was sent to Mrs Hague and Chettles' school at Agnesgate, Ripon, possibly because she was a difficult child. During her visits to Shibden Hall, she had lessons with the Misses Mellin.

In 1804, she went to Mr Lumley's Boarding School for Ladies at York, where she met Eliza Raine, Elizabeth Patchett, Isabella Norcliffe, Elizabeth Wadsworth, and Caroline Walker.

In 1806, when teachers found Anne and Eliza passing love-letters, Anne was expelled from school, left York, and went to live at Shibden Hall where she was educated by Rev Samuel Knight.

In 1808, her father left the Skelfler estate and brought the family to Halifax where they lived at St Helen's House, Halifax.

From 1809, Anne spent some time with Dr and Mrs William Duffin at Red House, York and the Norcliffes at Langton Hall, Malton.

In 1813, when her youngest brother, Samuel, died as a result of an accident, Anne became next in line to inherit the Shibden Hall estate.

In 1815 – at a time when Anne's parents were having financial problems – she went to live at Shibden Hall with her uncle James and aunt Anne.

She often indicated that she wished to make money by writing.

She was well-educated and studied many subjects including algebra, arithmetic, astronomy, drawing, French, geology, geometry, German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, mechanics, and rhetoric. She studied many of these subjects with Rev Samuel Knight.

She was fond of walking, riding and shooting, and she played the flute, having been taught by Dan Sugden.

She was well-read and her journals record her frequent visits to the library on Harrison Lane, Halifax.

Joshua Horner painted a portrait of Anne which hangs in Shibden Hall.

She was one of the subscribers to John Horner's book Buildings in the Town & Parish of Halifax [1835].

She was a staunch Conservative and disliked the radicalism which was spreading through the country at the beginning of the 19th century.

Her lifestyle

Her lesbian life style shocked 19th century Halifax. Her behaviour earned her the nickname Gentleman Jack.

There were several hoax marriage announcements about her and her acquaintances, for example

Marriages / Leeds Mercury / 10th January 1835

On Wednesday at the parish church Halifax, Captain Tom Lister of Shibden Hall near Halifax to Miss Ann Walker late of Lidgate near the same place


She received several anonymous – and signed – letters and verbal taunts about her proclivities.

In her journal for 28th June 1818, she writes

The people generally remark, as I pass along, how much I am like a man

She often rode around Halifax on her horse, Hotspur. In 1817, she made a conscious decision to wear only black clothes.

Her journals

Beginning at Boarding School in 1806 – when she was 15 – until her death in 1840, she kept a diary. Some of the early diaries have not survived.

In many instances, she wrote a draft on a slate and then transcribed this into her journal later. Her diaries and journals – extending to 27 volumes, 4,000,000 words with parts written in her own code – and around 1,850 letters reveal many details of her life and times, and of her travels around Britain, Europe, and the Middle East.

She inherits the Shibden Estate

When her uncle James died in 1826, and with no male heir, Anne inherited Shibden and the estate. In May 1826, she borrowed £2,000 to carry out work on the estate. She made many alterations to Shibden Hall and the estate. She had planned a great many further changes – including a plan to redesign Shibden Barn as the main entrance to Shibden Hall – but she died before these were implemented.

In the 1830s, Anne added the tower at Shibden Hall to house her books. The tower had a flushing WC.

She was an ambitious businesswoman and a social climber. She educated herself in estate management. She made money leasing or selling land, and mining and selling coal and stone from her mines and quarries.

The rivalry with Christopher Rawson

Her great business rivals were Christopher Rawson and his family.

Rawson disliked Anne because of her lifestyle and association with Ann Walker.

Anne recorded that Rawson was stealing coal from her Walker Pit.

Rawson raised a drunken mob to make effigies of Anne Lister and Ann Walker, and burn them in Halifax.

In 1836, Christopher Rawson had his men burn dung to smoke Joseph Mann out of the pit.

There was also a dispute over the Water Lane well.

Her loves

Her lovers, sexual liaisons and admirers included

She also wrote of her desires for other women, including Ellen Alexander and Caroline Greenwood.

She was also a friend of Sibella Maclean and Harriet Bagnold.

Her travels

In 1819, she travelled to Paris with her aunt, Anne Lister. The ladies subsequently visited Paris on several occasions.

Between 1819 and 1839, she visited London several times. On these occasions, she stayed at Webbs Hotel, 220 Piccadilly, and Warrens Hotel, Lower Regent Street.

In May 1838, she and Ann Walker travelled in Europe for the sake of Miss Walker's health, visiting Antwerp, Waterloo, Paris, Bordeaux, and the Pyrenees.

She lived in Paris for 18 months. Madame Galvani was a French tutor & friend to Anne

Her last journey

In June 1839, she and Ann Walker left for a tour of Europe and Russia, travelling through France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. After visiting St Petersburg and Moscow, they went on to Astrakhan and Georgia.

Her death

She died of the plague following a bite by a fever-carrying tick at Kutaisi [Koutais] near Tbilisi [Tiflis] in Georgia, Russia on 22nd September 1840.

Her body was taken to Moscow for embalming and burial. Her remains were brought back to England by way of Constantinople, and she was buried in Halifax Parish Church – 6 months later – on 29th April 1841.

She left her estate to Ann Walker, provided that she did not marry. In 1848, Ann was taken to an asylum near York. For the next 12 years, Shibden Hall was home to several families. When Ann Walker died in 1854, the heirs whom Anne had identified – Dr John Lister and his family – moved to Shibden

See Miss Lister's Mine, Shibden, Books about Anne Lister, Mr Etherington, Gentleman Jack, Godley Cutting, Mr Gray, Literary & Philosophical Society, John Harper, Ward Dyson Hitchen, James Holt, Horses of Anne Lister, New Church, Halifax, Northgate House, Old Church, Halifax, Mary Prescott and St James's Church

© Malcolm Bull 2020
Revised 14:35 /15th April 2020 / ww_9 / 18901

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