When Gentleman Jack aired, I had little interest assuming, wrongly, it was going to be message laden and grim. I read in the study instead, occasionally coming out to refresh a drink and catching the bravura performance of Suranne Jones in the title role. The way she strode over those moors, like Heathcliff on speed. To my surprise I became gradually hooked but refused to admit the fact and so missed most of the series.
A few weeks back we had a short Yorkshire break and visited Shibden Hall, the ancestral home of Anne Lister, aka Gentleman Jack and I fell in love with the woman—admittedly a cul-de-sac since Anne Lister is dead and even if that was not the case she would have little interest in me.
She was born in 1791 and had her first full-blown affair as a schoolgirl in West Yorkshire. From 1806, she kept a detailed diary amounting in the end to over five million words. There are exhaustive entries on the political situation in Prussia, canal tolls and toenail cutting, but sandwiched in-between and carefully coded are detailed accounts of her sexual conquests, all of them women. Many years later, John Lister discovered the twenty-six volumes and decoded the ‘interesting’ bits. Despite being gay himself, he was so shocked he promptly hid them again where they remained undiscovered until 1933 when Halifax Corporation took full ownership of the hall.
The Dining Room
The Kitchen. The Blunderbuss over the door was to deter rodents.
The kitchen was small, the spit and fire large so that the heat was unbearable in the room directly above.
Anne Lister's view from her bedroom. It wouldn't have been so prettily formal in 1839
The back of Shibden Hall.
Walking around the house, I came upon the portrait of Anne’s father, Jeremy Lister. In the series he was played by that stalwart of costume drama, Timothy West and portrayed as an aging, benevolent nonentity. It was good to read about him in his prime as a young ensign in the American War of Independence. In 1770 he sailed for Canada with the 10th Regiment of Foot and saw action at Lexington and Concord where his right elbow was smashed. Despite this he lived on to the ripe old age of 86 —Anne Lister inheriting Shibden Hall and estate in 1836. (Although she’d been actually running things for the previous ten years)
In addition to the diaries she also left behind fourteen travel journals detailing her several mountaineering exploits and extensive travels across Europe. In 1839 she set off for the last time with her lover, a local heiress, Ann Walker. They got as far as Astrakhan (modern day Georgia) where, in 1840, Anne Lister died from an insect bite. Ann Walker brought the body back home where it was buried in Halifax Parish Church in 1841.
The story darkens further. Ann Walker inherited Shibden Hall but was forcibly removed by her brother-in-law and taken to an asylum in York. She died in 1854.
The diaries tell their story.