Anne Lister inherited Shibden Hall in 1836, having previously helped her uncle and aunt to run the estate. She was a scholar, an intrepid traveller both at home and abroad, a businesswoman and a diarist. She left 27 volumes of diaries and journals containing some four million words. 1,850 of her letters to and from friends, social acquaintances and business contacts survive. Her diaries record daily life, her travels, her farming and coal mining businesses, political interests and her social and personal life. Parts of the diaries, mainly those dealing with her personal relationships with women, were written in code. Her descendant, John Lister, “cracked the code” in about 1892, revealing her now accepted lesbianism.
Anne appears to have been a tomboy as a child and somewhat unruly, so she was sent, when seven, to boarding school in Ripon, where she recalls that she was often whipped. She later spent a year at the Manor School in York where many friendships were made. Her first diary started there in1806, relating early signs of her lesbianism. This was the start of her code to conceal her activities and emotions. The great love of her life, a young lady from York, was referred to as ‘M’ in the diaries. In York she participated in musical events, attended balls and stayed with wealthy friends. When ‘M’ married, as convention dictated, Anne was devastated. However, the friendship and relationship continued for many years. Anne finally courted Ann Walker (see talk of 26 January 2005), a local wealthy neighbour, to be her life partner and travelled extensively with her at home and abroad. Anne, whose mode of dress was unconventional, and was known locally as ‘Gentleman Jack’, died whilst travelling with Ann in Russia in 1840. Before she died she had, however, had the opportunity to carry out her plans to extend Shibden Hall and much of what we see today is largely due to her.