Mytholmroyd Historical Society met on Friday evening the 11th March in St. Michael’s Church Hall at 7.30pm for the 7th of their Winter programme of 8 lectures. The Speaker was Christine Booth who gave a very interesting talk on Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. Christine is a volunteer at Shibden Hall and she gave us some interesting insights into Ann Lister now better known as “Gentleman Jack” following the TV series on her and which has led to a threefold increase in visitors to Shibden Hall.
The story of Anne Lister should now be quite well known by local people so as stated rather than provide a history of Anne Lister and Shibden Hall she gave instead some interesting insights into her behaviour.
Briefly Anne Lister was born in in 1791 and died at a relatively young age from a disease she picked up on her foreign travels in 1840. She was one of eight sibling born to a relatively wealthy family and because of the death of many she became via her Uncle who was very wealthy and with whom as a youngster had lived there for a while, she became the heiress to Shibden Hall.
She could be described as perhaps a “Tom Boy” in her very young days and which evolved due to her nature to now being described as “the first modern lesbian”. She could too, now be described as a very successful woman entrepreneur and landowner.
Her lesbian nature given that time in history where it was totally viewed as unacceptable led to her writing much of her extensive diaries (which were over four million words) in code regarding her sexual exploits.
The diary reveals her many sexual affairs with other women throughout her life and it shows the network of relationships between women of the gentry and aristocracy in the early 19th century.
Due to the wealth of her clothier father she attended a Boarding School near York for a period in her ‘teens and met there Eliza Raine who it is believed was her first sexual relationship. Despite her formal education she was not switched on by her schooling and was largely self-educated and maintained this throughout her life with her various interests in languages, the arts and travel.
By her twenties, Anne was involved in a number of sexual affairs including the love of her life Marianna Belcombe. She referred to their passionate relationship in code referring to orgasms as “kisses” or by a cross in the margin. She also increasingly adopted dark masculine appearing clothes and “gentlemanly” manners towards women which has given rise to her being called “Gentleman Jack”
Marianna was soon to become betrothed but soon by chance a new love came into her life when Anne Walker was to visit Shibden Hall via her wealthy family. She was to strike up eventually a long lasting sexual relationship with Anne Lister and despite periods of acute depression went with Anne Lister on her many European travels. Meanwhile at home, Anne through death of her Uncle’s sibling acquired Shibden Hall and carried out the many renovations to the building that we now see today. She began to expand her entrepreneurial abilities and opened coal mines and quarries and small farmsteads on her lands.
Her foreign travel in Europe was eventually to lead to her death for she acquired a fever from an insect bite in the Caucasian region from which she never recovered and Anne Walker with whom she was travelling was to see her brought home and buried in Halifax in 1840.
There is much to read on the internet for those interested.
Mytholmroyd Historical Society meets the second Friday of each month at 7.30pm at St. Michael’s Church Hall, New Road, Mytholmroyd for our Winter programme of illustrated lectures from September to April. All are welcome but non- members pay £3.00 entrance for each visit or £10 annual subscription to become a member.