In this LGBTQ+ History Month, we celebrate the life and love of one of Yorkshire’s greats, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall and the first person in the Yorkshire area to have a same-sex wedding ceremony in 1834.
Anne Lister (1791-1840) was part of the famous mill owning Lister family of Bradford and as such was related to Samuel Cunliffe Lister of Manningham Mills. Anne, however, lived at Shibden Hall, Halifax where that branch of the Lister family had lived since 1615.
Anne was not born at Shibden but moved there as a child to live with her aunt and uncle. She became co-owner in 1826 and, following the death of her brother, inherited the estate in 1836. She became a keen businesswoman, undaunted by the sometimes openly hostile male chauvinism in her local business and political world, and was an adventurous traveller abroad. She was also the only woman co-founder of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society.
Anne Lister assiduously wrote diaries and journals, 24 in number. They listed her daily social, political and business life and travelling exploits but at least one sixth of them were handwritten in code. This coded text later revealed the extent of Anne’s romantic affairs and sexual encounters with women, when they were finally decoded from a mixture of Greek letters, numbers and symbols. Apparently, it was not until the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s that it was felt that uncensored editions of her sometimes explicit diaries could be published (Gentleman Jack: a biography of Anne Lister by Angela Steidele, p.Xi)
Diary extracts and samples of code can be viewed on the excellent web pages of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, that hosts a full exhibition about this remarkable woman, please follow this link:
In 1832, Anne Lister struck up more than her earlier acquaintance with Anne Walker (1803-1854) who, through inheritance with her sisters, had become joint owner of the neighbouring substantial Crow Nest Estate in Halifax. The two Annes became lovers and exchanged rings on 27 February 1834. However, it was on Easter Sunday, 30th March 1834 that they sealed their union when they took communion together in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. This building now displays a commemorative rainbow plaque.
Anne Walker and Anne Lister lived together as a married couple at Shibden Hall and also travelled a great deal. It was on one of their journeys in Georgia in 1840 that Anne Lister died. She was only 49 years old. Sadly, Anne Walker, who had always suffered with mental health problems had a severe relapse and was removed to York from Shibden Hall in 1843 having been declared of ‘unsound mind’. Although she returned to Shibden, she later moved back to her family’s estate Cliffe Hall in Lightcliffe, where she had been born. She died there in 1854.
There is a wealth of material online about Anne Lister, her life and diaries, Anne Walker, Shibden Hall and about the making of the most recent television series Gentleman Jack, filmed in Halifax and using Bradford popular film locations, and now into the filming of a second series. Bradford Council also has a number of events to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month. Please follow the links below.
Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies
Events in Bradford this month:
To borrow (hard copy or ebook) the acclaimed book that the TV series inspired, Gentleman Jack A Biography of Anne Lister: Regency Landowner, Seducer & Secret Diarist by Angela Steidele, translated by Katy Derbyshire (Serpent’s Tail, 2019)
Filming the series in Yorkshire: