1791 - 1840
A brief introduction to Anne Lister's life
Anne Lister was born in Halifax on the 3rd of April 1791. She was the first daughter of Rebecca Battle and Captain Jeremy Lister. From a young age, Anne’s thirst for knowledge was a force that drove her lifelong quest to seek information about various topics. Naturally curious about the world that surrounded her, Anne went from being tutored to attending school in York. Later, she became the pupil of local vicars and, eventually, travelled to Paris to study natural sciences under some of the most eminent French scientists of her time. Books were a constant in Anne's life and she acquired a sizable library, with topics ranging from travels to classics, and the occasional romance novel.
During most of her life, Anne kept a journal, which became her most constant confidant. In this journal, Anne included details about her day to day, her travels, social and historical events, the weather, her health and that of her friends, family history and news and details about her relationships with other women. Part of Anne’s journal is written in what she called her ‘crypt-hand’, a code meant to obfuscate information Anne meant to keep private (Whitbread 2010, XX).
Anne's first known romantic relationship was with Eliza Raine (1791 - 1860), who was her schoolmate at the Manor in York (Roulston 2022). Though Anne was fond of Eliza, this relationship didn't last long and Anne moved on. Perhaps the most influential romantic relationship in Anne's life is with Mariana Lawton, née Belcombe, (1788 - 1868), which went on and off for over 21 years and impacted both quite deeply. Anne enjoyed several other relationships, such as very sexual relationships with Maria Barlow (1786 - 1847), Madame de Rosny (1789 - 1872), and Mary Vallance (1790 - 1875). A relationship developed mostly via correspondence with Sibbella Maclean (1784 - 1830), a relationship with longtime friend Isabella Norcliffe (1785 - 1846), and a failed courtship of Vere Cameron, née Hobart, (1803 - 1888) were among Anne’s other romantic relationships. Unexpectedly, it was Ann Walker (1803 - 1854), a neighbouring heiress from Lightcliffe who was 12 years Anne’s junior, who would be the one committing to becoming Anne Lister's wife. The two enjoyed a close partnership, with all the ups and downs it entailed, and lived and travelled together from 1834 until Anne's death in 1840.
Anne was involved in local politics (usually supporting the Tory candidate), local institutions (the only female member of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society), and made several charitable contributions (subscriber to fund the Museum and the Dispensary, among others). Aside from this, Anne managed the Shibden Hall estate, which she inherited from her uncle James Lister. Anne developed her estate’s coal and stone mines, converted Northgate House into a hotel and casino, and undertook comprehensive renovations and alterations to Shibden Hall and its grounds.
Ever the intrepid traveller and adventurer, Anne Lister climbed several mountains in the British Isles and France, and also undertook many hikes and scrambles. Anne is known in mountaineering circles as the first tourist to climb Mt. Vignemale in the French Pyrenees.
Anne’s passion for travel and seeing new places ensured that she explored many locations in Europe, going as far as the Caucasus. It was during a tour of the Russian Empire and the Caucasus that Anne Lister became ill and eventually died from a violent fever. She was 49 years old. Anne's remains were repatriated by sea (Court of Chancery 1846) and she was laid to rest, in 1841, at the Halifax Parish Church.
Also known as: Welly, Pevvy, Fred, Pony, Dearest
Life companion: Ann Walker
Basic information about Anne Lister
Birth: 3 April 1791, Halifax
Death: 22 September 1840, Kutaisi, Georgia
Burial place: Halifax Parish Church
Eye color: Blue
Hair color: Brown
Height: 5 ft. 5 in. (roughly 1.65 m)
Authored a series of journals that span most of her adult life, amounting to 26 volumes and a bundle of loose pages (estimated near 5 million words), and offering what is likely one of the most comprehensive accounts of life in the 19th century.
The first tourist to reach the summit of Mt. Vignemale.
Climbed several other peaks in the British Isles and France. Examples include Ben Nevis and Mont Perdu, among others.
Responsible for several renovations and improvements at Shibden Hall, including the addition of the West Tower and the construction of a gatehouse, a cascade, and a lake on the grounds.
Anne's blue plaques
The blue plaque commemorating Anne Lister in Market Weighton. Photo by Lynn Shouls.
Anne Lister's blue plaque at Shibden Hall. Photo by Marlene Oliveira.
The blue plaque celebrating Anne's and Ann's union at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. Photo by Marlene Oliveira.
Anne Lister in her own words
“A woman tête-à-tête is a dangerous animal to me.”
Anne Lister - 28 December 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/8/0107)
“I am not a person of many words, especially written ones: but regard does not live by words alone; and you will not estimate its vitality by so unjust a measure”
Anne Lister - 14 February 1823 (SH:7/ML/E/6/0092)
"What is there like gaining knowledge? [...] All else here below is indeed but vanity and vexation of spirit – I am happy among my books – I am not happy without them"
Anne Lister - 2 May 1829 (SH:7/ML/E/12/0013)
"The stillness and monotony of home contrasts strongly with the bustle and constant variety of travel - perhaps when the heart is uninterested, the mind is restless, and the body feels a want of moving - thus am I fond of travelling."
Anne Lister - 25 October 1829 (SH:7/ML/TR/4/0051)
Anne Lister's likes and dislikes
Exercise (walking and climbing mountains, for example)
Writing in her journal
Corresponding with friends
Anne Lister's wax seals
The Listers of Shibden Hall
The Listers of Shibden Hall are one of the oldest landowning families in Halifax. Anne Lister's father, Captain Jeremy Lister, was the third son of Jeremiah Lister and Anne Hall. Jeremy married Rebecca Battle at Welton in 1788. The couple had seven children (four boys and three girls), some of which died in infancy.
James and Rebecca's first son, John, was born at Welton in 1789 and died a few months later while he was under the care of his nurse (Lister and Lister, n.d.). Anne was the second child of the Listers, followed by Samuel, both born at Halifax (Ibid). Samuel survived to adulthood, but he drowned in Fermoy while serving in the 84th Regiment. The other children of the Listers, John and Marian, were both born at Welton. John died at 15, but Marian survived to adulthood and outlived all her siblings. She died in her 80s. There is another Lister sibling, a girl stillborn, who was born in 1806 and was buried at the Halifax Parish Church.
Anne Lister was also very close to her aunt Anne and uncle James Lister, who was the heir of Shibden Hall. Anne moved to Shibden Hall in 1815 to live there permanently. Anne Lister senior was Anne's godmother and took a keen interest in her from an early age. She was likely the most consequential motherly figure in Anne Lister's life and Anne's a close confidant. Together, the pair travelled extensively together and enjoyed many adventures in the British Isles and France. James Lister was also an important figure in Anne's life and he bequeathed the estate to her. James also included Anne in the management of the estate and relied on Anne's skills to make some decisions regarding the management of the estate before his death in 1826.
Since Anne Lister died without producing an heir, as did Marian, this branch of the Lister family was extinct and the estate passed to their cousins, the Listers of Wales. Per the terms of Anne's will, Dr. John Lister inherited the Shibden Hall estate and it was then passed along to his oldest son, John Lister MA, after his father's unexpected death.
John Lister MA was a reputed antiquarian whose work contributed to a better understanding of local history, particularly when it came to the history of Shibden Hall itself. He was the first to publish extracts from Anne Lister's journals and, together with Arthur Burrell, he cracked Anne's code (Liddington 1994, 15). Which journal passage Lister and Burrell read for sure isn't known but it warranted a strong reaction. Per Burrell's recollection, Lister was shocked. Burrell advised him to destroy the journals, but Lister refused. Instead, he placed the volumes behind a panel at Shibden Hall, where they were discovered after his death (Ibid, 16). John Lister was also a converted catholic and a member of the Labour party. He was a member of several societies, including the Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Society, and he was the founding president of the Halifax Antiquarian Society. Despite inheriting the Shibden Hall estate, John Lister fell into hard times and ultimately sold the estate to his friend Arthur McRea, who allowed him to live at Shibden for as long as he should live. Lister died without an heir in 1933 and the estate was donated to the Halifax corporation.
The branch of the Lister family that includes the Listers of Shibden Hall was thus extinct.
Shibden Hall. Photo by Lívia Labate.
Notable family members, friends, and acquaintances
Lady Vere Cameron
Lady Stuart de Rothesay
Jean Victor Audouin
William Gray Jr.
John Lister, MA
Interested in learning more about the people Anne knew or mentioned in her journals? Check out our People Tracker.
A timeline of Anne Lister's life
Anne Lister lived a full life during extraordinary times, so what better way to explore the events that moulded Anne than by looking at her very own interactive timeline? Explore Anne Lister's timeline below, or open in a new window.
Anne Lister in other people's words
“She has a great mind, and a good heart, and they have been taught to submit to all the dispensations of Providence.”
Eliza Raine - 2 July 1813 (SH:7/ML/A/71)
"You are indeed altogether cast in a different mould from every other human being I know, and have drawn me irresistibly to you. Perhaps your being an oddity has done this"
Sibbella Maclean - 9 July 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/8/0015)
“If any further proof had been wanting in addition to those I had previously received of your fidelity and real goodness of heart, there could not be one more decided than is given in the truly kind letter I received on Saturday, which I trust I shall never forget -”
Ann Walker - 13 May 1833 (SH:7/ML/678)
Research about Anne Lister's life and times
Packed with Potential’s research articles about Anne Lister, including
A variety of trackers, including
Anne Lister in the archives
The Shibden Hall manuscripts (SH) are held at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale and include the biggest collection of Anne Lister’s papers (reference SH:7/ML). In this collection are included Anne’s journals, travel journals, letters, account books, and other papers connected to her family and estate.
A small number of Anne's letters are part of Lady Vere Cameron's correspondence (L/CL/B/13/1/4).
Anne's will can be obtained from the Borthwick Institute, the National Archives, and the Manchester Central Library. Another copy of Anne Lister's will and some legal papers connected to the Shibden Hall estate can be seen at the New York Public Library.
Anne Lister in media
Anne Lister is played by Maxine Peake in the 2010 TV movie "The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister".
In “Such Sweet Possession: The Life and Loves of Anne Lister” (2019), Anne is voiced by Deborah McAndrew.
In "Gentleman Jack" (2019), Anne is portrayed by Suranne Jones.
If you'd like to explore more about Anne Lister, here's a list of resources with useful information:
Treasures of West Yorkshire Archive Service - The Diaries of Anne Lister
Court of Chancery. 1846. Walker v Gray, Answers document connected to this case. The National Archives, C 14/619/W106.
Liddington, Jill. 1994. Presenting the past: Anne Lister of Halifax, 1791-1840. N.p.: Pennine Pens.
Lister, Anne, and James Lister. n.d. Miscellaneous notes on the Lister family and pedigree, The family pedigree and other notes. SH:7/ML/B/30. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale.
Roulston, Chris. 2022. “Interpreting the Thin Archive: Anne Lister, Eliza Raine, and Telling School Tales.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 55 2 (2022):191-213. 10.1353/ecs.2022.0002.
Whitbread, Helena, ed. 2010. The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. London: Little Brown.