This year marks the 230th anniversary of the birthday of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. We’d like to join together and wish her a happy birthday and remember all the wonderful things her life meant not just for little old Halifax but far and beyond Calderdale.
The lady herself
Anne Lister was a remarkable, pioneering woman, ahead of her time. She had the courage to live an unapologetic life according to her choices, away from society’s expectations.
Her persona has received recognition due to the HBO acclaimed series Gentleman Jack based on her character and life.
Anne Lister was a prolific journalist. She had been keeping detailed diaries since very early in her life, a lot of it written in code. Those diaries provide valuable insight of life during her time in Halifax and places she visited, highlighting some of the issues around travelling, especially for women not escorted by male companions.
Most of her coded entries express her thoughts about her lesbianism, which she wholly accepts, even though she kept discreet. To this day, her journals are the source of much of the modern UK Gender Studies and Women’s History.
Anne Lister has the first confirmed same sex marriage. She had wed her wife, Ann Walker and had taken the sacrament with her in Yorkminster. An honourary blue plaque commemorating this is erected in her name in the Holy Trinity Church in York.
At a time when women had a secondary role in society, before they even had a vote, Anne Lister managed her own estate of Shibden Hall. She maintained the grounds and the buildings and financed them by running her own business.
Anne Lister held investments in the then singularly man-controlled markets of mining, canals and rail roads. A lot of her income came from rent from tenants of the Shibden estate and properties she held in Halifax.
Traveller / blogger
Anne Lister was also well known for her travels, far and wide in Europe and beyond. Her expeditions ranged from cosmopolitan cities of Europe to the challenging mountain ranges of the Pyrinees. She wrote extensive accounts of her travels, making her one of the earliest bloggers, long before the web or Youtube.
Some of her entries speak of profound loneliness and it may be believed that she felt alone and unappreciated. Perhaps she was disliked for her lifestyle choices or perhaps she was frowned upon as one of her lovers ended up becoming committed to a mental asylum, citing Anne Lister as the reason.
We must still acknowledge that she was a woman of formidable intellect, courageous and brave, who set the benchmark.
Though she may not have intentionally chosen to challenge the world, by being true to herself, she has paved the way forward instigating improvements and changes that we now take for granted.
One of her journal’s entries reads “How sweet the thought that there is (still) another & better & happier world than this.”
I wonder what would she think of our world, knowing that she has helped shaped it. In this day and age, she probably wouldn’t turn as many heads or raise as many eyebrows but if she had a Facebook page and a Youtube channel with her thoughts and travels, I expect she’d have a lot of subscribers.