Todmorden Antiquarians: The life of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall, Halifax
Shibden Hall, Halifax

Todmorden Antiquarian Chairman, Catherine Emberson, introduced Pat Osborne to talk about Anne Lister of Shibden Hall.

Pat began by recounting the history of Shibden owners from early 15th century when a sheep-farming family lived in a simple single-storey dwelling. Successive Savile and Waterhouse families made various architectural improvements until 1619. Then the Lister family, wealthy cloth merchants of Halifax, bought and managed the Shibden estate during the next 300 years.

Anne Lister was the daughter of Captain Jeremy Lister. In 1804 Anne Lister was sent to Manor House School in York where Anne met her first love, Eliza Raine, an illegitimate Anglo-Indian. She devised an intricate code whereby she could record her innermost feelings towards women without fear of discovery. Throughout her life she kept diaries containing over 4 million words chronicling her daily life.

Anne took up residence with her Uncle James and Aunt Anne in 1815. Her mother had died and her father was fighting in America. Anne showed great interest in the estate and inherited Shibden Hall on her Aunt’s death in 1836.

She supervised building work, dealt with tenants, the farming and developed coal mining on her land. Pat said that Anne joined in local cultural and intellectual activities, becoming the first woman elected to Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society. Education was also important to her. Anne is described as of complex character, of masculine appearance dressed entirely in black, and known locally as ‘gentleman Jack’.

Pat recounted Anne’s various liaisons until the last affair with wealthy Ann Walker of Lightcliffe from 1832.

They ‘married’ in 1834, but this was not legally recognized. Ann Lister was the first woman to ascend Mont Perdu in the Pyrenees in 1830 and returned in 1838 with Ann Walker to climb Vignemale.

Their final journey to Russia culminated with Anne’s death aged 49 from a virulent virus after an insect bite. It took Ann Walker 7 months to bring the body home to Shibden for eventual internment in Halifax Parish Church. Lister had endowed Walker a life interest in Shibden Hall, but paternal relatives claimed it and Ann Walker was put into an asylum.

John Lister from the Isle of Wight inherited Shibden and it was his son John (1847 – 1933) who found Anne’s 27 hidden diaries, deciphered the coding and duly shocked by Anne Lister’s intimate revelations. But Anne’s diaries remain important social history records and are internationally renowned. In 1923 John’s bank called in his mortgage and thereafter Shibden Estate went to the Borough of Halifax.

Pat concluded that nowadays, Shibden Hall and Parklands provide great family outings and provide excellent work with visiting school parties.