In Anne Lister's Footsteps
Here in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire we are proud of being the world’s premier lesbian tourist destination. So we’ve created a film that showcases and celebrates our LGBTQ+-friendly welcome, enabling you to enjoy the sights until you can visit again in person.
The HBO/BBC TV show ‘Gentleman Jack’, which tells the remarkable true story of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall in Halifax, has put the region firmly on the global tourism map. The series was written and directed by Calderdale local Sally Wainwright – the genius behind TV smash hits like ‘Happy Valley’, and ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, which were also filmed here. Anne Lister lived 1791-1840 and was a diarist, landowner, mountaineer, entrepreneur, traveller, scholar and lesbian.
This film follows ‘Gentleman Jack’ fans Terry and Emma Logan, the first two women to get legally married in a church in Calderdale, on their trip exploring the places that Anne Lister knew and loved. Their journey starts, of course, at Anne’s historic home of Shibden Hall, which dates back to 1420. Visit the house as Anne knew it, and view the extensive changes she made to its glorious grounds and Estate. Terry and Emma stroll past Walker Pit, a coal mine sunk as part of Anne’s business move into mining and named after her partner, wealthy local heiress Ann Walker. The pink umbrella Terry is carrying is from Harvey’s of Halifax , a friendly, family-owned department store and an important part of the local community.
In Halifax town centre, Terry and Emma visit the Central Library, with its magnificent rose window that was once part of Square Church. The Library is home to West Yorkshire Archive Service, custodians of Anne’s 5-million-word journals. Anne’s incredible diaries – at least a sixth of which were written in her secret code, or ‘crypthand’, and whose global significance is recognised by their inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register - have all been digitised.
Terry and Emma explore Halifax’s attractions, including the renowned heritage jewel that is The Piece Hall, a unique, Grade I-listed 18th Century cloth hall. This magnificent building dates back to 1779, and Anne knew it well. Its spectacular courtyard is now home to independent shops, bars, restaurants and a heritage centre. There, Terry and Emma visit The Book Corner, where they meet Anne Lister expert Dr Jill Liddington. Jill’s book ‘Female Fortune’ helped inspire the TV show, along with work by fellow experts Helena Whitbread and Anne Choma. Our couple dropped into Alibi Bar and Restaurant for a cup of tea and slice of cake. This gorgeous Georgian mansion was once the bank of Anne’s coal rival, Christopher Rawson. Terry and Emma also popped into the glorious Victorian Halifax Borough Market, making a trip to the legendary Toffee Smith’s sweet stall for some classic Yorkshire Mixture treats.
The pair visit atmospheric Halifax Minster, the 900-year-old church where Anne Lister worshipped and was buried. They see the font where Anne was baptised, pay respects at her gravestone and admire the altar rail’s balustrades - which perhaps provided Anne with some interior design inspiration for the Housebody at Shibden Hall. After their busy day, Terry and Emma retire to the 4-star Jacobean manor house hotel Holdsworth House. The hotel is independently owned by two sisters, and from 1804 to 1837 it was home to diarist Elizabeth Wadsworth, who was writing about her life in Halifax at the same time as Anne Lister.
Terry and Emma take a short trip along the valley to picturesque Hebden Bridge, a proudly progressive and uniquely independent community, home to a wealth of one-off shops, cafes, bakers and breweries. This bohemian town has long been known as ‘the UK’s lesbian capital’. Attracted by a colourful archway, they head in to Heart Gallery, settling on a beautiful print of Shibden Hall for a souvenir, from a painting by local artist Kate Lycett. Hebden is a hotbed of creativity – there are often fantastic musicians performing in the market square. On the day Terry and Emma visited, they enjoyed a performance by talented sitar player Peter Latham, who plays with the Moondalas.
A gentle stroll along the canal that runs through the Calder Valley is a great way to appreciate the breath-taking landscape around Calderdale’s market towns. Terry and Emma admire the canal boats, dodge the geese and take a break at The Stubbing Wharf pub, where Ted Hughes took Sylvia Plath, for a classic British treat of a locally-brewed pint and crisps.
After a fantastic weekend, Terry and Emma finish their trip at The Grayston Unity in Halifax - the UK’s smallest music venue as well as a characterful family-run bar. They enjoyed the ‘Gentleman Jack’ cocktail – a delicious blend of bourbon, dandelion & burdock, orange bitters and nutmeg.
We’re proud here in Calderdale of our authenticity and distinctiveness: we were keen to showcase the venues, shops and hospitality that you won’t find anywhere else, and we wanted to produce a tourism film with heart. It was important to us to have a real-life lesbian couple at its centre, and the film was shot by Sarah Mason, whose studio is in Hebden Bridge. Sarah lives nearby with her wife and daughter.
In addition to starring, Terry is a musician - the film’s soundtrack is ‘Torreon Rising’ by her band Logan and Manley, and its uplifting chorus of ‘Live In The Light’ is the perfect summary of the spirit we want visitors to feel when they visit the Calder Valley. As Happy Valley Pride says: Be Here, Be You, Be Proud.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you soon.