Who was Ann Walker?
Image Above: Left- Ann Walker as portrayed by Sophie Rundle in the BBC/HBO television drama 'Gentleman Jack'. Right - a portrait though to be of Ann Walker (although this is the subject of debate).
Ann Walker was born on 20th May 1803 into a wealthy family - the Walkers owned a worsted mill and the grand mansion of Crow Nest. Ann’s parents, John Walker and his wife Mary Edwards, lived at Cliffe Hill in the village of Lightcliffe, where Ann was baptised and worshipped at St. Matthew’s Church.
John inherited Crow Nest from his unmarried elder brother when Ann was six years old and the family moved there whilst John's unmarried sisters, Ann's aunts, remained at Cliffe Hill.
Ann's brother William died shortly after birth, but she had two elder sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and a younger brother, John Junior - the heir.
By 1823, when Ann was 19, her sister Mary and both her parents had died. John Junior inherited the estate, while Ann and her remaining sister Elizabeth were left with a comfortable allowance.
In 1830, further tragedy struck when newly-married John Junior died on his honeymoon in Naples at the age of just 25. Although his wife was pregnant, her son was stillborn and John had not made a will, meaning no provision was made for his widow. As a result Ann Walker and her sister Elizabeth - who was married - became very wealthy co-heiresses.
Ann was a shy and withdrawn lady, prone to melancholy illness and suffering a deep lack of confidence. However she had good contacts with the established families in Halifax, which brought her to the attention of Anne ‘Gentleman Jack’ Lister of Shibden Hall.
Ann had met Lister on occasion, but the two generally moved in different circles and between 1826 and 1832 Lister had only spent a few weeks in Halifax, instead spending most of her time travelling around Britain and Europe.
From 1832 Lister became a regular visitor at Crow Nest and the pair became much better acquainted as Lister began to pursue Ann romantically, seeing her as a companion with the promise of hope, love and fortune. Some historians believe Lister pursued Walker for mostly cynical reasons - namely to access said fortune, much as male suitors would have done.
Lister wrote in her diary on 19th December 1832 of Ann that “she had everything to be wished for but the power of enjoying it” and at Christmas 1833 "I never saw such a hopeless person in my life. 'How miserable,' said I to myself, 'Thank God my own mind’s not like hers.’”
Nevertheless, the two grew closer and Lister invited Ann to move in and live with her at Shibden Hall. Ann was initially uncertain about the move, asking for six months to consider her decision after which she sent Lister a letter which said “I find it impossible to make up my mind”. A frustrated Lister travelled to Europe for several months, returning to find that Ann had turned down the offer of marriage from a man and was waiting for her.
The pair considered themselves married in Easter 1834 after taking Holy Communion together in Holy Trinity Church, York. Although same-sex unions were illegal at the time and the ceremony was not official, the pair took their ‘marriage’ seriously. Ann wore an onyx ring (the colour black being something of a Lister affectation) and Lister a gold band.
The couple spent three months on their honeymoon, travelling through France and Switzerland., with Ann moved into Shibden Hall on their return. Their marriage was not without its strains - Lister and Walker were of very different character and Lister remarks in her diaries about being tired of Ann’s behaviour and feeling hurt by her sometimes harsh language.
Ann would spend many days in apathy, resting on the sofa and doing nothing and also had also problems with her back. However Lister also comments that Ann would feel better when out travelling and the two travelled throughout Europe again in 1838.
The couple used the Walker fortune to renovate Shibden Hall, travelled widely together and remade their wills to leave a life tenancy to one another upon their deaths, at which point the properties would revert to the heirs recorded in their wills.
When the couple were travelling in Russia in 1840, 4,500 miles from home, Lister became ill, it is thought from fever brought on by an insect bite and died on 22nd September.
It took eight months, by ship and by coach, for Ann Walker to return Lister's embalmed body to Yorkshire, arriving back in Halifax on 24th April 1841. Ann returned to Shibden Hall having inherited a lifetime’s interest in the property from Lister’s will, provided that she did not marry and continued to live there.
Shortly after her return from Russia, Ann changed her will, leaving her estate to George Sackville Sutherland, the oldest son of Captain George Sutherland, the husband of Ann’s sister Elizabeth.
However, Ann’s health and mental state declined as she worked to maintain the two estates of Shibden and Crow Nest and matters came to a head on September 9th 1843. Ann's family travelled to Halifax and accompanied by a local constable, forcibly removed Ann from the locked ‘Red Room’ at Shibden Hall. In order to get to Ann, Captain Sutherland, her sister Elizabeth and the constable reportedly had to take the door to the room off its hinges, finding the room in disarray with a brace of pistols and bloody rags.
Ann was declared a “lunatic” and consigned to an asylum in York , where she resided for several years. Ann’s sister Elizabeth died of tuberculosis in 1844 (were the bloody rags reportedly found in the Red Room when Ann was removed a suggestion Ann may have been suffering from the same disease?) and Captain Sutherland took control over both the Lister and Walker properties. The Captain moved his family into Shibden Hall, despite that under the terms of Anne Lister’s will, in force until Ann Walker died, Ann had a life tenancy.
However, things did not go well for Captain Sutherland at Shibden Hall. His oldest daughter Mary died in 1845 shortly after moving into Shibden and the Captain died there two years later on 22nd April 1847.
Ann never returned to Shibden Hall, returning instead to Cliffe Hill shortly before her death on February 25th 1854, aged 51, from what may have been a stroke. Her death certificate reads “Effusion of the brain. Congestion.”
By the time of Ann’s death, George Sackville Sutherland, Captain Sutherland and Elizabeth’s eldest son and Ann's named heir, had also died and so Shibden Hall passed on to the couples’ only surviving son Evan Charles Sutherland.
Ann was buried in St Matthew's Church, Lightcliffe, according to her memorial plaque “under the pulpit”. The exact location of this pulpit is the subject of debate, as the church has since been demolished. A memorial stone has been placed on the spot where it is thought that Ann lies and a brass memorial plaque to her now hangs inside the tower. Ann’s plaque reads:
In memory of Ann Walker of Cliffe Hill who was born May 20th 1803 and died February 25th 1854
and is buried underneath the pulpit in this church.
And of her niece, Mary who died June 6th 1845 and is buried in this churchyard.
And of her nephews George Sackville (Sutherland) who died in 1843 aged 12,
John Walker who died in 1836 aged 1 year and are buried in Kirkmichael, Rosshire,
the children of George MacKay and Elizabeth Sutherland
Ann Walker and Anne Lister’s story is being brought to life in the BBC/HBO television drama ’Gentleman Jack; with Ann Walker played by Sophie Rundle and Anne Lister played by Suranne Jones. Season One aired in 2019 and Season two is due to start filming in 2020.
Lightcliffe & District Local History Society
The Yorkshire Post
Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion
Fragments: From the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840) blog
The Life and Loves of Anne Lister, BBC website.