Historical Queer Spotting! Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall

So I am on holiday this week, up north, and one of the things I did was visit Shibden Hall. It’s a historical house-museum. It was inhabited for about 500 years, and became a museum in 1934 after the death of John Lister. It has a fascinating history over that period, which I will not recount because it’s not really what I went there for. I went there because Anne Lister lived there. Anne Lister, noted diarist (she wrote over 4million words of journal) and lover of woman. I’m not certain if I should say lesbian, as I don’t know if she would have described herself that way, but she was exclusively interested in women when it came to romance and sexuality so had she lived now that is almost certainly how she would have been labelled.

I previously read some of the book The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister by Helena Whitbread (I had to give it back to the library before I was done), so I knew a bit about her. But I know a lot more now! I struggle with history, so I am always excited to find history I can relate to. People who aren’t straight and cis tend to get written out of things, so it is always a relief to find any of us!

Anyway, in my queer-spotting today I learned that:

  • Anne Lister was also a businesswoman, and opened a colliery among other things.
  • She could be a bit of a snob in terms of class (my opinion).
  • Pretty much entirely self-educated.
  • Travelled a lot.
  • Had quite a lot of lovers. One of them, Marianna Lawton, was married. And her husband knew and appeared to be fine with this.
  • Her lover, Ann Walker, eventually moved in with her and they had a civil ceremony in York.
  • After Anne Lister died (1840), aged 49 of a fever contracted while travelling, Ann Walker’s family (? I think) got her put in an asylum! Because of course. I can’t find out much about her beyond this, except that she died at her family home in 1854 and before that spent several years in the care of a Dr Belcombe. If anyone has more details, I would be interested.
  • Was referred to as Gentleman Jack. Was renowned for wearing black (white was the proper colour for an unmarried woman).
  • Did a lot of renovation work on Shibden Hall.

Anyway, there’s a lot out there about her and she’s quite an interesting character. The museum is fantastic – very affordable at a fiver, well laid out, fantastic staff, well-written information sheets. It’s set in the estate, so on a day with better weather I imagine it’s lovely. I had a really great time, and accidentally bought a book…

I don’t think Historical Queer Spotting is something that will be regular on this blog, but who knows? Certainly I’m happy to hear about any others you can think of. I am using “queer” because it can be difficult to tell how a historical figure would have identified themself (unless they wrote it down and we have it now), so it’s a good general word. It is also increasingly what I use for myself.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kevan Manwaring
    Apr 04, 2018 @ 18:37:09

    There’s got to be a book in all that. She sounds quite a character.


    • Meredith
      Apr 04, 2018 @ 19:39:13

      There are several books I think – the one I’ve got is The Secret Diaries of MissAnne Lister, which is an edited extract of her diaries. The two main writers seem to be Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington. And there’s a forthcoming series from the Beeb! Which I will definitely be watching!


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