Programme News

*Who was the real Anne Lister?*

Anne Lister bookAnne Lister of Shibden Hall near Halifax was a landowner and traveller, a traditionalist & a maverick, a scholar & seducer of other women. She’s best known for her 4-5 million word diaries, one sixth of which is written in her own secret code, detailing her affairs with women.

Everyone approaching the diaries with a glint in their eye gets quickly defeated. Reading 4-5 million heavily abbreviated words plus deciphering the private coded sections is daunting. In 1990 feminist historian Jill Liddington, living in Halifax just a mile from Shibden, began work on Anne's 1830s diaries. Although people knew about the younger Anne Lister, they were startled by Jill's editions of the later journals, /Female Fortune/ (1998) & /Nature’s Domain/ (2003). As BBC1’s drama series, ‘Gentleman Jack’, shows, here was a woman who was politically active at elections, seduced neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, and in 1834, at the church communion rail in York, joined Ann Walker 'in my prayers', Anne Lister’s own ‘marriage’ ceremony.

So how did Anne Lister manage to do all she did? And, once Ann Walker moved into Shibden, how challenging was it to live a lesbian marriage?