The photo above shows Ann Walker as portrayed by Sophie Rundle in the BBC/HBO television drama ‘Gentleman Jack.’ To date there sadly is no known likeness of the actual Ann Walker.
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Ann was a shy and withdrawn lady, who suffered bouts of anxiety and depression and was deemed to be suffering from religious melancholy – a recognised and common term at the time. Although she could lack confidence, Ann possessed the courage and strength to commit herself to a woman against societal and family opposition, after she met Anne ‘Gentleman Jack’ Lister of Shibden Hall.
Ann had good contacts with the established families in Halifax and met Anne Lister on numerous occasions through regular social calls between the two families before Anne Lister went traveling around Britain and Europe.
From 1832 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. 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 1832 “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, however on her return to Halifax, the two reconciled.
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.
While home in Halifax, Ann and Anne made the usual rounds of social calls on family and friends, as well running their estates. During the course of their marriage, they travelled extensively, both at home and abroad, exploring France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium, before their last trip through Europe to Russia. Anne Lister liked to climb mountains and Ann Walker would often go with her, sometimes on horseback. Ann loved to sketch everything from churches to furniture, and they both kept diaries. Anne’s diary mentions that Ann Walker’s mental health issues were challenging at times.
In addition to travelling, the couple used their combined wealth to renovate Shibden Hall 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, Anne Lister became ill, it is thought from fever brought on by an insect bite. Anne died on 22nd September 1840.
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 sister Elizabeth and her husband Captain Sutherland travelled to Halifax to visit her. However Ann had left Shibden Hall of her own accord, travelling to York under the direction of Doctor Belcombe, (although it’s uncertain if any coercion may have been involved).
Elizabeth and Captain Sutherland had to have the door to Ann’s Red Room at Shibden Hall removed from its hinges in order to gain access to it and retrieve some clothing for Ann. A memorandum by Robert Parker, Captain Sutherland’s solicitor from 9th September 1843 describes the scene:
“…after hearing all particulars of Miss Walker’s departure from Shibden Hall Mrs Sutherland and the Captain in order to obtain requisite wearing Apparel proceeded to Miss Walker’s Red Room which they found locked and not finding any key that would open the door they directed Jennings the Constable to open it which he did by taking it off the Hinges – the Room was in a most filthy condition, and at the side of the Bed were a Brace of loaded Pistols, a [pile] of Lucifer matches, the Bedclothes were turned down a little on one side, and had the appearance of a person having thrown herself down, and there were marks in the sheet as if she had laid down in her shoes – there was no nail or tooth brush, the shutters were closed. An old dirty candle stick was covered with tallow as if the candle has melted away in it. The furniture in the Room might not have been dusted for months. The room adjoining Miss Walker’s Red Room was as dirty as her Red Room. Papers were strewn about in complete confusion. In the Red Room were a many handkerchiefs spotted all over with blood.” – West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale: MAC: 73/26 Memorandum of Robert Parker, Shibden Hall, 9th-11th Sepember 1843. Transcription by Steve Crabtree
Ann travelled to a private asylum in York and was found to be of unsound mind on 28th November 1843. Ann was only in the asylum for about seven to eight months, after which she spent time with the Sutherlands in London.
Sadly, Ann’s sister Elizabeth died of tuberculosis in December 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?).
Ann returned to Shibden Hall around the 18th April 1845 and lived there with Captain Sutherland and his children. Captain Sutherland became responsible for the management of the Walker estate and co-trustee of Shibden Hall with William Gray. All finances and expenses for Ann’s estate went through the Chancery Court in London because of Ann’s ‘lunacy’.
However, things did not go well for the Captain at Shibden Hall. Tragically his oldest daughter Mary died in 1845 shortly after moving into Shibden Hall and the Captain died there two years later on 22nd April 1847.
Ann continued to live at Shibden Hall until she moved into Cliffe Hill after the death of her aunt Ann, staying there until her own 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
In October 2020 a travel journal belonging to Ann Walker was discovered at the West Yorkshire Archives. The blue marbled A6-ish sized notebook has about 78 completed pages and covers a period from 4th June 1884 to 19th February 1835. The notebook was catalogued as “Journal of Anne Lister, including travels in France and Switzerland with Ann Walker, ” but a researcher from the ‘In Search of Ann Walker’ project realised that the handwriting did not match that of Anne Lister but instead the signature of Ann Walker. Closer examination found an entry dated 9th January 1835 that talked of “Five years today since I lost my poor brother” which tallies with what is known about the death of Ann’s brother, John Walker. In October 2020 it was verified that the journal is that of Ann Walker and it has now been reclassifed as such in the West Yorkshire Archives.
You can now read Ann’s travel journal for yourself and compare her daily entries to those in Anne Lister’s diary! Discover Ann in her own words here.
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 has now finished filming and due to air in 2022.
In Search of Ann Walker
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.