Anne Lister

1791 - 1840

Marlene OliveiraPublished on 10 May 2022  · Last updated on 10 May 2022
Cover image:  Kiwihug

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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.

Anne Lister's portrait, attributed to Joshua Horner. Image courtesy of Calderdale Museums.

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

Physical Attributes

Eye color: Blue

Hair color: Brown

Height: 5 ft. 5 in. (roughly 1.65 m)

Anne Lister's signature, commonly found in more formal letters. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service Calderdale (CN:103/4/23).
Anne Lister's abbreviated signature, commonly found in letters to family and friends. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service Calderdale (SH:7/ML/569).

Notable achievements

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



Anne Lister's wax seals

The pelican seal. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/149).
The Lister coat of arms. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/MISC/2).

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.

The Lister coat of arms, as seen on the ceiling of the Halifax Parish Church. Photo by Steph Gallaway.

Shibden Hall. Photo by Lívia Labate.

Notable family members, friends, and acquaintances

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)

Anne Lister in the archives

Anne Lister in media


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