Gentleman Jack

Discover more about the extraordinary Anne Lister, ‘Gentleman Jack’ of Shibden Hall; diarist, businesswoman, landowner, traveller and lesbian.

Image by Lookout Point

Anne Lister (1791 - 1840) of Shibden Hall

Anne Lister (1791 - 1840) of Shibden Hall, near Halifax, was a remarkable woman; a landowner, business woman, diarist, mountaineer, traveller and lesbian.

Throughout her life she kept diaries running to around five million words – three times the length of Samuel Pepys’.

According to her diary, Anne was tall, with a boyish figure. Her hair was arranged in tight curls on either side of her face. Anne chose to wear a black dress trimmed with a neck ruff, stout boots and in her black coat and round hat (rather than a feminine bonnet) she presented an unusual sight around Halifax. How she dressed and conducted herself led to her pejorative nickname “Gentleman Jack”.

Anne’s diary entries chronicle her daily life, including thoughts on the weather, social events, national events and her business interests. Approximately one sixth of the diaries are written in code. This clever combination of Greek letters and algebraic symbols, self-invented by Anne from her teenage years onwards, is referred to by Anne as her ‘crypt hand’

The crypt hand entries describe quite graphically Anne’s deepest emotions, her private affairs and relationships with a number of women, including the tactics she used for seduction. Anne Lister lived at Shibden Hall, which is located about 2 miles outside Halifax, from 1815 to her death in 1840. The estate produced income from its reserves of coal, water, stone and timber. In addition there was income from canal shares, turnpike road trusts, pew rents and rent from the farms and cottages on the estate. Anne fully took over management of the estate in 1836 after the death of her Father and Aunt and made great changes to both the Hall and Estate, adding to their size and grandeur.

Despite several relationships over the years, Anne was often left heartbroken, and continually searched for someone to live with her at Shibden Hall. In 1832 Anne met Ann Walker, a wealthy young woman who had inherited the nearby Crow Nest Estate. Their friendship developed rapidly, the two became lovers and Ann Walker came to live at Shibden Hall in 1834.

Anne Lister's story is being brought to our screens in a new eight part BBC production 'Gentleman Jack', starring Suranne Jones, written by Sally Wainwright and partially filmed on location at Shibden Hall.

Joining BAFTA award winner Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster, Save Me) as the remarkable Anne Lister will be Sophie Rundle (Bodyguard, Peaky Blinders) as Ann Walker. Gentleman Jack is a Lookout Point production for the BBC, co-produced with HBO. Gentleman Jack airs on HBO from April 22nd and on the BBC from 19th May.

Discover Calderdale's Museums