Fact Checker

All historical research is prone to inaccuracies and errors due to lack of detail at the time of writing, which may be rectified or clarified when new information comes to light.

The following are statements known to have issues, omissions or cause controversy, and are sometimes found in research references or commonly pop up in online discussions about Anne Lister. The goal is to highlight inaccuracies or problems from dubious interpretation while promoting verifiable sources.

Note: sometimes printing mistakes or typos happen. See Errata at the bottom of this page for those.

Do you have something you haven't been able to figure out with help from the references? Maybe we can help:

The known source or sources of the statement and the issue(s) it may contain are noted along with a reference to a historical document or other concrete evidence of correct or corroborating information. As is the case with all other content presented on this site, as new information emerges, entries may be updated.

The following indicators serve as a short-hand assessment of the extent to which the statement can be considered truthful:


The statement can’t be confirmed or refuted due to lack of reliable source of factual information.


The statement is not accurate relative to a verifiable and reliable source of facts.
Partially true


The statement is partly accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.


The statement is accurate relative to a verifiable and reliable source of facts and no significant detail is missing.
Partially true

Anne Lister started to dress in black to mourn Mariana Belcombe’s marriage

This statement is partially true.

In the television series Gentleman Jack, the Queen of Denmark asks Anne “Do you always wear black?” to which she replies that she began this practice after an engagement went awry, and that person married someone else. The implication is that this would be referring to Anne’s former lover Mariana (née Belcombe) Lawton who is also portrayed in the series. [1]

At one point Anne Lister did document her intentions to always wear black. On 2 September 1817 (more than a year after Mariana’s marriage on 17 August 1816) she wrote about beginning this trend.

“as soon as I was dressed went to drink tea with the Miss Walkers of Cliff-hill – went in black silk – the 1st time (to an evening visit) I have entered upon my plan of always wearing black ” [2]

In 1821, she explained the practice to Miss Hall:

"one of Mrs. Milne’s frills stuck on over my cravat, for she told them I should look better with one – thanked her for being thus interested about me – said what a bad figure I had and explained a little my difficulties in dressing myself to look at all well – told her for this reason I always wore black" [3]

Her choice was well known by friends, as Sibbella Maclean commented on Anne’s style of dress when making recommendations for what to bring on a visit in 1828:

“Lately, in Edinburgh, the dress of ladies is absurdly extravagant. Come as you chose. Steamboats destroy any good dress, therefore bring your worst for that. As you say you are to come in your garb of former days. I would recommend you bring one morning and one evening gown. As you wear nothing but black this will be quite sufficient.” [4]

And when questioned by Comtesse Zamoyska about whether she wore black in mourning , Anne wrote:

“no! but I had worn black 15 or 16 years - ah! comme vous êtes constante [ah! how constant you are]”[5]

However, Anne didn’t strictly wear black. There are examples, like the Queen of Denmark’s birthday ball (as also presented in episode 8 of Gentleman Jack) where she was obliged to ‘throw off’ the black to suit the occasion.

Eugenie making me a white satin for the Queen’s birthday ball on Wednesday – impossible to go to a birthday in black merely throw it off for the night” [6]

Additionally, there are mentions of some items of clothing she wore which would have been patterned or had some color in addition to black.

“A-[Ann] and I sat out of doors, she mending my Maclean tartan cloak" [7]

“asked for nightcaps – A-[Ann] bought 1 for Captain Sutherland white with red horizontal stripes 2/20 and I a black with ditto ditto 2/50 both cotton" [8]

Therefore, it is true that Anne Lister did wear mostly black for a significant portion of her life. However there is no evidence to date that this decision was motivated by grief over Mariana Belcombe’s marriage to Charles Lawton.

[1] Gentleman Jack (2018) Episode 8, “Are You Still Talking?”

[2] Anne Lister’s journal, 2 September 1817 (SH:7/ML/E/1/0036)

[3] Anne Lister’s journal, 29 September 1821 (SH:7/ML/E/5/0067)

[4] Letter from Sibbella Maclean, 7 May 1828 (SH:7/ML/251)

[5] Anne Lister’s journal, 17 November 1829 (SH:7/ML/E/12/0119)

[6] Anne Lister’s journal, 26 October 1833 (SH:7/ML/E/16/0127)

[7] Anne Lister’s journal, 3 September 1838 (SH:7/ML/E/22/0010)

[8] Anne Lister’s journal, 5 March 1840 (SH:7/ML/E/24/0033)

Fact check by Steph Gallaway, Marlene Oliveira, and Amanda Pryce. Updated on 23 December 2020


Anne asked for her part of her father's inheritance to be given to Marian

This statement is true.

Per Jeremy Lister’s will, dated of December 1823, he bequeathed all his Estate to Marian. Per his will [1], this was done at Anne Lister’s request.

“I Jeremy Lister of Halifax in the West Riding of the County of York do make this my Last Will and Testament in manner following, that is to say, at the particular request and desire of my Daughter Anne Lister I do give and bequeath to my Daughter Marian Lister her Heirs Executors Administrators or Assigns for ever all my Estates (...)”

On 8 March 1824, Anne writes:

“Wrote over again my note to Mr. D– [Duffin] and with considerable additions made a letter of it, 3 pages and the ends – Mentioned to Mr. D – [Duffin] – my father’s having made a will at my request, and left all to Marian.” [2]

Anne repeated this to Mrs. William Priestley, and received confirmation that Jeremy had done so in a letter from Mr. Squibb later in March of 1824.

“Said Marian would have nothing to do with Shibden nor had she more to expect from my uncle or aunt than a small legacy of fifty pounds from each, that I had persuade[d] my father to make a will and leave her all he had.” [3]

“My letter from Squibb – My father had made his will at my request, and left Marian all he had – etc” [4]

Thus, it is true that Jeremy Lister left all his to Marian after Anne’s request that her part of the inheritance be given to her sister.

[1] Jeremy Lister’s will (DDBD/93/140)

[2] Anne Lister’s diary 8 March 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/7/0110)

[3] Anne Lister’s journal 11 March 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/7/0111)

[4] Anne Lister’s journal 18 March 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/7/0113)

Fact check by Marlene Oliveira. Updated on 23 December 2020

The Miss Walkers of Cliff Hill are Ann and Elizabeth Walker

This statement is false.

Reading excerpts from Anne Lister’s diaries written pre-1832, it’s easy to assume that the Miss Walkers of Cliff Hill are Ann and Elizabeth visiting their Aunt Ann. In fact, the ladies Anne is referring to are none other than Ann’s aunts, Miss Ann Walker and Miss Mary Walker.

Here’s Anne having tea with them in September 1817:

Spent the whole of the morning in vamping up a pair of old black chamois shoes & getting my things ready to go & drink tea at Cliff-hill. As soon as I was dressed, went to drink tea with the Miss Walkers of Cliff-hill. Went in black silk, the 1st time to an evening visit. I have entered upon my plan of always wearing black.” [1]

Another example from September 1819:

“From Lightcliffe to Cliff-hill. Sat ½ hour with the 2 Miss Walkers. I half promised to go & drink tea some time soon in a free way as I do at Lightcliffe.” [1]

Ann’s father, John Walker, moved with his family to Crow Nest after he inherited the estate from his brother [2], Mr. William Walker. Thus, both Ann and Elizabeth would be known as “Miss Walker of Crow Nest”. Anne makes this distinction in her diary.

Here’s an example from May 1820:

“All sitting quietly downstairs when (a few minutes before 10) we were roused by a loud rapping & screaming of female voices at the door. In came Mrs Walker of Crow Nest & her 2 daughters, the former almost fainting, & all ½ dead with fright, having just been overturned into the field in taking the sharp turn at the top of the lane.” [1]

After Miss Mary Walker of Cliff Hill died, there would be only one Miss Walker of Cliff Hill (Mrs. Ann Walker). Later in her life, Ann would also be referred to as “Miss Walker from Cliff Hill”. Here’s an example from March 1840:

“Madame Lister de Shibden Hall dans la Conté de York d’Angleterre, et Mademoiselle Walker de Cliff Hill dans la même Conté, rendent mille grâces à Monsieur le Prince Cerbedjab, Prince Souverain des Calmoucs de Tumen” (Translation: Mrs. Lister of Shibden Hall in the County of York England, and Miss Walker of Cliff Hill in the same County, give a thousand thanks to Mr. Prince Cerbedjab, Sovereign Prince of the Calmoucs of Tumen.)[3]

All things considered, it’s safe to say that when Anne mentions the Misses Walker of Cliff Hill in earlier years, she’s very likely referring to Ann’s aunts and not Ann and her sister.

[1] Lister, Anne. The Secret Diaries Of Miss Anne Lister: Vol. 1: I Know My Own Heart: The Inspiration for Gentleman Jack (pp. 24, 115, 138). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle edition.

[2] Lister, Anne, and Jill Liddington. Female fortune: land, gender, and authority: the Anne Lister diaries and other writings, 1833-36. Rivers Oram Pr, 1998.

[3] Lister, Anne. Anne Lister’s diary. Vol. 24. (SH:7/ML/E/24/0043)

Fact check by Marlene Oliveira. Updated on 23 December 2020

Anne, Tib, & Mariana were school friends at the Manor School in York.

This statement is unverifiable.

In her book, The Early Life of Miss Anne Lister and the Curious Tale of Miss Eliza Raine (2014), Patricia Hughes states that Tib, Mariana, and Anne were school friends at the Manor School in York. However, there is no known evidence as of yet that the three women would have attended school together. The letters referenced in the book do not point to letters that contain any mention of the women attending school together. The age difference between the three women make it highly unlikely that they would have attended the Manor School in York at the same time.

According to a letter from Tib to Anne dated August 7, 1810, Anne had not yet met Mariana (SH:7/ML/31). If they had not met by 1810, they could not have been school friends on or before 1805.

“I had a letter this morning from my darling & utmost adored Mariana, who is quite well, & is enjoying herself very much; most sincerely do I wish you knew more of her; in my opinion it would be impossible for you not to like her”.

In 1805, Anne Lister is listed as a pupil at the Manor School in York (SH:7/ML/13) and by 1807 she has left the Manor School and is tutored by Mr. Knight in Halifax (SH:7/ML/E/26/1). In 1805 Anne would have been 14, Mariana 17, and Tib 20 years of age.

Tib Born 9 November 1785

Mariana Born 5 February 1788

Anne Born 3 April 1791

Monday 5th July, 1819 Anne writes that Tib and her sisters had a governess in the past, Miss Fryer. A governess served as a live-in tutor for children whose family could afford such a luxury. Although not impossible that they would have attended the Manor School at some point , it is unlikely without verification.

“Isabel, having seen in the Leeds Intelligenc[ier?] the advertisement of Kean’s performing there in 4 of his principal characters. Determined to go to [Leeds?] for the time to Miss Fryer, who has a flourishing school there, and was formerly governess to Isabel, [Charlotte?] and Mary.”

Fact check by Shantel Smith. Updated on 23 December 2020

The door of the Red Room was taken down to remove Ann from Shibden Hall.

This statement is false. This quote implies Ann Walker locked herself in the room to avoid removal and that she was forcibly removed after the doors were taken down from the hinges. There is no evidence of either occurrence, so where does this idea come from?

In her 2017 book, Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele states:

“On 9 September 1843, the Sutherlands, the doctor and the lawyer broke into Shibden Hall along with the constable of Halifax. Ann fled to the Red Room on the top floor, locking the door behind her. Stephen Belcombe and Rober Parker told the constable to open it which he did by taking it off the Hinges [...]”

This statement is not consistent with the documented evidence of how Ann Walker was removed from Shibden Hall, which exists in the form of letters and memoranda from Robert Parker, the Halifax solicitor employed by Captain Sutherland.

According to his memorandum (transcript) dated 9 September 1843 describing what he witnessed at Shibden Hall, Ann Walker had already left when he arrived at 10:30 in the morning with Captain Sutherland.

Captain Sutherland wished me to accompany him as his Solicitor to Shibden Hall – We took a fly and arrived there about half past Ten o’clock [...] I found from Mr. Short the surgeon that Miss Walker had been removed that morning in a carriage to the neighbourhood of York under the direction of Dr. Belcombe.

Captain Sutherland left Shibden for Pye Nest and returned with his wife Elizabeth (Ann’s sister). After hearing about Ann's removal earlier in the day, they decided to enter the Red Room (Ann’s room). Most rooms in the house were locked (including Ann's room) so they asked Jennings, the constable of Southowram, to remove the hinges, which he did.

Found every room in the house locked except the little dining room, the hall, the kitchen, and butler’s pantrys. [...] Captain Sutherland after waiting about half an hour took the fly for Mrs. Sutherland to Pye Nest, who returned with him to Shibden Hall – that after hearing all particulars of Miss Walker’s departure from Shibden Mrs. Sutherland and the Captain in order to obtain requisite [wearing] Apparel proceeded to Miss Walker’s Red Room which they found locked, and 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.

In conclusion, no doors were taken down to remove Ann Walker away from her home. While doors needed to be taken down at Shibden Hall to access locked rooms for which keys were not available, both events are unrelated.

Fact check by Livia Labate and Marlene Oliveira. Updated on 18 May 2020

Ann Walker was taken to Dr Belcombe’s asylum after she was removed from Shibden Hall.

This statement is false.

In her 2017 book, Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele writes:

“With Ann requiring urgent medical attention, as he allegedly saw it, she was put straight into Stephen Belcombe’s asylum.”

There is no evidence that Ann Walker was taken to Dr. Belcombe’s asylum, Clifton House (or Clifton Green as it is often referred to). There is evidence, however, of her whereabouts at different points in time and clues as to where she might have been. Let’s take a look:

Ann had been at Shibden Hall, Halifax until 9 September 1843, when she was taken to York in the morning, as Robert Parker confirms in his memorandum (transcription).

Doctor Belcombe had written a letter (transcript) to Parker a week prior informing the lawyer that he was thinking of lodgings for Ann:

“I also consider that lodgings should be a preliminary step - afterwards a House, or whatever might be further thought more advisable -”

On the 8th of September, the day before Ann’s removal, Dr. Belcombe tells Parker in a letter (transcription), that he has decided to take Ann to Terrace House, which was run by Mrs. Tose in Osbaldwick:

“I have been balancing in my mind lodgings and Osbaldwick I am decided in my preference of the latter, and I also believe that if a case can be effected, it is more likely I’d be wrought there, than in temporary lodgings.”

Later records containing Terrace House’s list of patients show Ann being admitted on the 12th of September. No other evidence has emerged yet proving Ann’s actual whereabouts from the 9th to the 12th of September, but Osbalwick is the likely location given Dr. Belcombe’s documented decision.

For a patient to be admitted, two medical certificates are required. One was provided by Dr. Short at the time of Ann’s removal from York on the 9th (see Parker’s memo), and the second was provided by Dr. Goldie (as shown in the list of patients) on the 12th.

It is possible Dr. Goldie wasn’t available to provide the certificate until the 12th or some other reason that caused the delay, but given all available evidence, Ann Walker was most likely at Terrace House in Osbaldwick.

In conclusion, there is no evidence Ann Walker went to Clifton House after she was removed from Shibden Hall.

Fact check by Marlene Oliveira and Livia Labate. Updated on 20 July 2020

Charles outlived Mariana.

This statement is false. In her 2017 book, Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele states:

“Mariana Lawton lived until 1868, passing away before her husband Charles [Lawton], whose death had once been the stuff of dreams for her and Anne."

This is not consistent with the information in Charles' death records.

According to the England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index information via FreeBMD/ (paid access), Charles Bourne Lawton died on 7 February 1860 at Lawton Hall, in Cheshire, while Mariana Lawton (née Belcombe), died at Belsize Park, London over 8 years later, on 31 October 1868.

In short, Mariana outlived Charles, not the other way around. Both outlived Anne Lister (who died while traveling in Russia in 22 September 1840) by two decades.

Fact check by Shantel Smith. Updated on 19 May 2020


  • In Phyllis Ramsden’s Chronology of Anne Lister’s life:

    1. The entry for Saratov induces the reader in error by listing Anne’s and Ann’s arrival there as “March 3 Saratov”. This is incorrect. Anne and Ann reached this city on the 28th of February 1840 and left the town on the 3rd of March, per Anne's journal.

    2. The entry for Sarepta induces the reader in error. Anne and Ann reach this town on the 5th of March and only leave on the 7th of March and not on the 6th, as the timeline states.

    3. The entry for Astrakhan induces the reader in error. Anne and Anne left the city on the 22nd of March and not on the 21st, as Ramsden mentions.

    4. The entry for Kizlyar induces the reader in error. Anne and Anne left the city on the 29th of March and not on the 30th, as Ramsden mentions.

    5. The entry for Vladikavkas induces the reader in error. Per Anne's journal, Anne and Anne left the city on the 8th of March and not on the 7th, as Ramsden mentions.

  • In Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele claims that Anne met the Calmuck Prince at Tumen using a letter of introduction of Professor Kasembeck from Kazan. The journal pages around this event, however, don’t mention that letter. No letter from Prof Kazembeck to this Prince is mentioned in the pages from Kazan.

  • In Jill Liddington’s Female Fortune (pp 5), Anne Lister siblings are listed in order of birth, however Marian should be second to last before Jeremy, who was the youngest. Additionally, there is another Lister missing: an infant, sibling of Anne Lister, who was buried at the Minster in April 1806 (WYAS, SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0036).