• From Anne’s diary, 9th August 1818 (age 28)

    Mrs Page began talking about my getting married. Told me I had a good figure, good complexion, held myself well & was, she thought, good-tempered. That I should be good-looking if I dressed my hair with bows, as they do now, and with curls, etc. She is a vulgar, good sort of woman, fond of giving her opinions and advice. I took it all well, was amused, led her on & praised her &, I daresay, came off with flying colours.

My road to discovering Anne Lister: Fateful Encounter #1

There are certain days in a person’s life which can mark a change so dramatic that life is never quite the same again. Such a change happened to me in 1983, the day I walked into the archive department of the library in my home town of Halifax, in West Yorkshire.

For almost 200 years, the town had concealed a secret which was privy to a select group of people only. On that day I little realised I was about to discover the nature of that secret. Today, over 35 years later, “the murder is out”, as Anne would say.

The circumstances leading up to that fateful day can be traced back to two strange coincidences, many years apart but equally – shall I say – serendipitous. Each involved a young man, both of whom I had never seen before and have never seen since.

I left school at the age of 13 due to ill-health and had no educational qualifications, so as an adult my options were limited in finding work. This led to me, at the age of 35, married with four children and working as a barmaid at my local pub. However, I was an avid reader.

On one particular evening at the pub, I overheard a young student telling his friends that he was reading A Doll’s House by Chekhov. Without thinking, I murmured “Don’t you mean Ibsen?” The young man bristled at my correction and demanded to know how a barmaid would know about such things.

The following evening, the same young man returned and said he owed me an apology and a pint. He had realized I was correct, but asked me how I was familiar with the play. I told him I had read all the works of Chekhov and Ibsen. He asked me why, with such literary tastes, was I working as a barmaid?  I told him that I wasn’t clever and had had very little education. He assured me, if I was reading Norwegian and Russian playwrights, that I was certainly clever.

“Get up to the Technical College and finish your education,” he admonished me.

I took his advice. I spent three years in part-time study to gain sufficient qualifications to enter university, and then attended university where I graduated with a degree in politics and literature.

That brings us to the year 1983. I was 52 years old and in search of a post graduate research project. I had no idea that I was about to step into the world of a woman who lived in my home town over 200 years ago, and whose secret I was about to discover.

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