• From Anne’s diary, Friday 10th August 1832 (age 42)

    [The first time that Anne Lister put her thoughts in writing about the possibility of courting Ann Walker, the young heiress who lived at Lidgate in the neighbourhood of Shibden.]

    ‘… Thought I, as I have several times done of late, shall I try & make up to her?’

  • From Anne’s diary, Sunday 5th January 1834 (age 43)

    [After eighteen months of an on-and-off courtship, Anne was unsure about whether or not there could be a permanent relationship between them.]

    ‘…Miss W[alker] talks as if she would be glad to take me – then if I say anything decisive she hesitates to. I tell her it is all her money which is in the way. The fact is, she is as she was before [i.e. indecisive], but determined to get away from the Sutherlands and feels the want of me. But [I need to] take someone with more mind and less money. Steph [Belcombe – i.e. Mariana’s brother] is right: she would be a great pother [sic]. [I] have nothing serious to say to her – she wants better manning than I can manage.’

    [See also Jill Liddington’s Female Fortune. Rivers Oram Press. 1998. p.85.]

Anne’s world—society in Halifax

Although Anne loved Shibden, ‘the little spot where my ancestors had lived for centuries’, she had no fondness for Halifax, dismissing it as merely “our market and post town”. In her journals, written two centuries ago, Anne Lister’s depiction of Halifax resembles a cross between Cranford and a Jane Austen novel. 

Wielding her pen in the seclusion of Shibden Hall she gives us a rare and intimate glimpse into the lives and homes of the emergent middle-class of the town yet, in the Georgian era, Halifax was a town of stark contrasts. It was also a town in transition – from a cottage industry to the mechanised factory system of production.

In 1815 the population numbered around 9,000. By the early 1820s it had risen to 12,000. Oil-lamps were the only form of lighting and that only in the main streets in the centre of the town. The labouring classes dwelt in mean little houses in narrow twisting streets at the bottom of the town, with the constant threat of the debtor’s prison in Gaol-lane, or the prison in Dungeon Street for other misdemeanours, hanging over them.

Menial crimes, such as blasphemy or brawling in the streets, were punished by public whippings or being placed in the stocks. Unsurprisingly, radicalism flourished within the ranks of this class of men, but poverty, insufficient organisation and the effects of repressive legislation kept Halifax radicalism reasonably contained.

At the other extreme, commercially and socially, the town was run by a handful of men who had risen up on the crest of the Industrial Revolution. Using the wealth they had made from the lucrative woollen trade, they had built their Georgian mansions on the peripheries of the town. Place-names in Halifax indicate the way in which the town was influenced by these ‘new men’ – Rawson Street, Waterhouse Street, Swires Road, Prescott Street and Edwards Road all bear witness to the influential families who combined to run the town’s affairs in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was amongst these families that Anne Lister formed her social life, the depiction of which is so well-documented in her journals.