Anne’s rush to get Ann away from Halifax

How Anne Lister protected Ann Walker one last time 

Marlene Oliveira and Lívia LabatePublished on 30 March, 2020 · Last updated on 30 March, 2020
Cover image: The Town Chariot and the Vardo, Shibden Hall by Tim Green  (CC BY 2.0 DEED Attribution 2.0 Generic)

In the first half of 1839, Ann Walker's health takes a turn for the worse and she once again slowly slips into depression. Anne Lister does her best to help her. They end up consulting the lawyers from York in order to try and protect Ann's properties but, when those efforts prove futile, their focus turns to their idea of going abroad again. They leave Shibden Hall under the cover of darkness on the 20th of June 1839. Only Ann Walker would return alive from this adventure. 

Coded journal entries shown in italics when transcribed from Anne Lister's crypt hand.

The Story, as Chronicled by Anne Lister

A series of events led Ann Walker into a depressive period in the first quarter of 1839. She had been under a lot of stress due to her Aunt’s failing health, mistakes from her subordinates that ended up being costly, and various other estate affairs. Anne Lister, whose days are packed with estate management, colliery troubles, and renovations, at first dismisses Ann's moods and overall lowness as “temper”. One of such cases can be read in the coded entry of the 3rd of January 1839:

“A[Ann] either poorly or wrong or both I said little or nothing but seemed to sleep while she cried after dinner how melancholy   I must make the best I can of it –”

However, as the weeks pass and Ann’s state doesn’t seem to improve, Anne tries harder to help Ann and cheer her up. Ann had a tendency to not eat properly while going through a depressive period. Knowing this, Anne encourages her to eat when she notices Ann’s appetite gone once more. However, when these efforts prove futile, Anne changes her routine to try and help Ann. She starts to sit with Ann at her luncheon more often than not, but Anne is not there for the conversation alone. Her idea is to have a bite of some food and then persuade Ann to eat hers and finish Anne’s:

“Persuaded A-[Ann] to take a heated jelly and a biscuit at 1, I taking a little of another jelly to induce her to take hers, and finish mine - I wish she would live better, eat often -”

Anne notes, in a coded passage on the journal entry of the 21st of March 1839, that she hopes Ann isn’t slipping into depression. It is also in this passage that Anne mentions going abroad with Ann again:

“I hope she is not beginning to get into low ways again, but she now trusts me and seems very fond of me and perhaps I can keep her up – if not, we must be off. She evidently wishes it and we have fixed to winter in Italy – be Mrs Ann Walker as she may.”

Ann’s struggle with lowness is obvious enough for it to be noticed by other people. When a tearful Ann seeks Anne and tells her that she doesn't want to face one of her Rawson cousins, this strengthens Anne’s conviction that they must go abroad:

“[Ann] low and out of sorts does not like Miss Rawson to come and see her in this way poor thing she is all good I must get her off as soon as I possibly can it is high time”

What’s quite interesting is that Anne’s decision to go abroad at this time is not solely based on her desire to travel. She had thought of running away from her money troubles on other occasions and had even considered leaving Ann when the money troubles took a turn for the worse in late December 1838. However, Ann’s health ended up being the deciding factor that finally pushed them into going abroad in 1839. As for possible travel destinations, Ann had her own preferences:

“A-[Ann] would like to be off to Egypt - or for a short while, would like to go to Paris or Berlin”

Though Anne decided that it was a good idea to bring Ann away from Halifax for the time being, she didn’t plan to be abroad for a long time initially. This is mentioned in the coded passage of the journal entry of the 28th of March 1839:

“Had A-[Ann] about half hour all in tears and low we must be off return in July then finish the jobs about the place.”

On that same day, Anne has another curious coded passage:

“Talked to and cheered her – said if she could not rouse herself out of this lowness, she had [to] settle all safely on me that they could not throw her property into Chancery. Told her this morning we would be off somewhere as soon as possible – we must get off. I am stirring myself to manage it in five or six weeks.”

Chancery, in this context, refers to the Court of Chancery. This court handled all sorts of cases that dealt with equity (lunacy cases were within the scope of this court too). It’s important to note that, at the time, melancholia was enough to have someone deemed a lunatic and that legal process was designed with few recourses for the individual being accused of lunacy.

By March 1839, Ann’s lowness had been present for months and didn’t seem to be getting better. If a member of Ann’s family started to take more notice, they could write to Elizabeth, who was Ann’s next of kin, and persuade her to take the necessary steps to put Ann under medical care. Anne wouldn’t be able to prevent this, because her union with Ann didn’t provide the same legal protections that a traditional marriage conferred to husband and wife.

In case Ann happened to be deemed a person of unsound mind, Anne couldn’t do much to try and prevent her from being removed from Shibden. After the necessary inquiries and a Commission and an Inquisition of Lunacy to ascertain her soundness of mind, Ann and her property would be assigned “tutors”, whose job would be to ensure that Ann’s necessities were met and that her estate was properly managed. Some or all of her estate could be placed under the protection of Chancery and all or selected parts could be placed under the care of the “tutor” in charge of managing her estate. Anne’s idea to move all or some of Ann’s property to her name would, she thought, ensure that it would be safely away from Ann’s family and from Chancery.

Their routine of busy days remains unchanged, though they do spend more time together, talk more often, and even sleep in the same bed again.

On Easter Sunday 1839, Ann is in a low mood again and the topic of moving property to Anne’s name is once again discussed:

“A-[Ann] low and getting into her old low way we must be off lay talking to her and again mentioned her settling her property safely on me”

Despite her lowness, Ann maintains a somewhat normal routine. Her days are spent handling her own estate matters, writing to her sister, reading, riding to Cliff Hill in the afternoon, etc. She had done her best to manage her estate for years. It’s not uncommon to find passages in Anne’s journals in which Anne is a silent observer and Ann decides everything as it suits her. It’s also not uncommon to have Ann summon Anne so she advises or offers her opinion regarding a specific matter. 

In April 1839, it is noticeable that Anne seems to be keeping an eye on Ann more frequently and ensures that she eats and exercises. She also writes copies of Ann’s letters more frequently and acts as buffer when Ann isn’t feeling well enough to receive tenants or other visitors. One of such occasions can be read on the journal entry of the 4th of April:

“then with A-[Ann] walked with her 1/4 hour in front of the house till about 12 1/2 - then took her in to luncheon and sat with her while she took a glass of Madeira and a little cold beef - then seeing her seem poorly advised her lying down for a little while - sat by her 10 minutes and then went down for 5 minutes and then stayed with her while she got up about 1 1/4 when Messers Whiteley of the village of Stainland and James Harper Walker of the district of Stainland called to see A-[Ann] - she sat in my room (blue room) and I went down to them”

The men from Stainland wanted a donation that would go towards a Methodist church. Anne ended up donating £20 to the cause on Ann’s behalf:

“said A-[Ann] had a bad headache and was in her room but would take the papers up to her - we agreed that A-[Ann] should give £20”.

By the 7th of April 1839, Ann seems to have decided to move her property to Anne’s name:

“She seems resolved to sign all over to me to go to York and get it done as soon as we can.”

Russia is now also mentioned as their possible destination in the summer:

Talked this morning and yesterday of going to Saint Petersburg by sea in June or July”

Ann’s low moods are still a cause of concern for Anne:

“Poor A-[Ann] we shall be obliged to hurry off she is getting all low again – I shall [have] enough to do to keep her up”

On the 8th of April, Anne writes a note to Dr. Jubb asking him to visit Shibden that afternoon. After he examines Ann, he prescribes her some medication:

“will give A-[Ann] pills calomel coleynth and a carbonate to dissolve, make them pass off better - she is starved to death - ought to take 3 or 4 glasses of wine a day and live well -”

The medication prescribed by Dr. Jubb makes Ann sick:

“then with A-[Ann] she came down to breakfast at 9 1/4 in about 20 minutes but merely took a cup of tea - sickish and poorly (...) A-[Ann] very poorly and  exhausted by her medicine”

By the 14th of April, Ann is still taking the pills prescribed by Mr. Jubb, her lowness is quite obvious, and Anne is providing comfort as best as she can during her busy days:

“then came upstairs and sat reading ‘Every Man His Own Butler’ good - till 10 35/’’ when A-[Ann] came to me - worse than ever this morning what shall I do with her we must be off - walked with A-[Ann] in front of the house from 10 40/’’ to 11 20/’’ and she then lay down on my bed beside me -”

In a coded entry dated of the same day, Anne muses about the reason for Ann’s current lowness. She thinks that the underlying reason is Ann’s decision to give up her Sunday School. The decision itself was made in December 1838 and, after that, Anne had helped Ann with the school account books.

“Poor A-[Ann] This school giving up business has been and is a great mortification – I blame it much for her present lowness She has been terrible today – tried to cheer her and dry up her tears before dinner and talk of being off on Whitsuntide Tuesday – Paris or Saint Petersburg”

Both Russia and France are now considered possible destinations for their upcoming sojourn abroad.

On the 15th of April, Anne once again tries to cheer Ann up:

“Had A-[Ann] to say her prayers at eight and talked and tried to cheer her poor soul I wish she was better but she is sadly low.”

Dr. Jubb visits Shibden again that afternoon. He thinks Ann is better and changes her medication again:

“walked with her 10 minutes till Mr. Jubb came for 1/4 hour - says she is better - sure that Hudson’s concrete essence of sarsaparilla (with 10 drops to 2 teaspoonfuls each time twice a day of iodine and steel) will do her good -”

Anne, however, isn’t so sure that Ann will be keen to take that medication:

“I doubt whether she will take it – she does not like his medicine nor himself as a medical man her lowness is terrible she is worse than ever today we must hurry off”

It’s interesting that Anne’s urgency to take Ann away from Halifax grows as Ann’s low moods become more frequent. It’s obvious that Ann’s state of mind was a great concern to her.

When Ann comes to Anne on the 16th of April 1839, it’s clear that prayers aren’t helping Ann either:

“Crying prayers saying and low as ever”

Then, on the 17th of April, Ann’s state is still not improving and she begins to think that she might not move her property to Anne’s name:

“A-[Ann] low as ever – what will it end in? She begins to doubt about settling all on me – said today she felt as if the blood of her brother would cry out against her – she ought to take up her cross – she was a fornicator. Poor thing, what will all this end in?”

In another coded entry of the same day, Anne notes that the sermon from the previous Sunday got Ann “wrong”:

“A-[Ann] so set wrong by the sermon on Sunday I told [her] she must not go to church.”

The following morning, Anne’s frustration is evident:

“A-[Ann] would be bad as ever but as I told her I would make no more inquiries and take the least possible notice.”

That morning, Anne spends a while moving books to Shibden's West Tower and working on accounts. Ann comes to her to ask her to go downstairs:

“(Ann came for me to see her drawing)”

They talk at lunch and Ann, once again, changes her mind regarding moving her property to Anne’s name:

“Stood talking – said I would ask her to trust but was decidedly of [the] opinion she had better do it – she says she will, and we are to go to York on Saturday for the purpose of seeing Mr Watson. The occasion she is afraid of being taken from out of my care.”

Considering that Ann’s state isn’t improving and her low moods are frequent, her fears are definitely justified. So they end up planning a discrete visit to York to speak with William Gray (solicitor). The 19th of April is spent amid preparations for their visit to York. They leave on the 20th and stay at the George Inn.

On the 21st of April, the first order of business is to get Dr. Steph Belcombe to visit so he can advise Ann as to what she should be doing to right her bowels. He does question Ann about her complaint, but Anne suspects that Dr. Belcombe might’ve noticed Ann’s “nervous lowness”. Dr. Belcombe visited again the following day and diagnosed Ann with “liver and digestive organs slightly deranged”.

Anne finally summons Mr. William Gray on the 23rd of April. They discuss money matters and Anne instructs Gray to prepare a little codicil to her will, which gives Mr. Gray and Ann power (as executors and trustees) to sell her property in Halifax and pay off the mortgage and debts. Anne and Ann then decide to visit Marian in North Cave, near Market Weighton and stay there overnight.

composite image of Anne Lister's Will and Testament showing text with Anne Walker, William Gray and Jonathan Gray's name
Composite image of the Second Codicil in Anne Lister's Will and Testament (1836) naming Ann Walker and Jonathan and William Gray.
Image from the New York Public Library (MISC 4150a).

They return to York on the 24th of April and Anne writes to Mr. Gray to inform him that she would like to see him the following morning. When Anne goes to get their wills so Mr. Gray can review them, Ann mentions to Gray her intention to move property to Anne’s name.

Anne apparently didn’t expect that Ann would mention the subject to Gray so soon:

“I had not expected her mentioning and had advised against it for the present persuaded she would rummage herself up and do very well – But as she did mention it, I told G-[Gray] my opinion on the subject very honestly – It might be very well, supposing I had not the power to do mischief –”

Anne’s idea is to find a way to protect Ann from interference from anyone:

“Anxious for her to take all the power left except just so much as would prevent all possibility of interference, in any possible case, from Lord Chancellor or anybody –”

Gray’s opinion on the matter is, however, quite straightforward:

Mr Gray is of opinion A-[Ann] cannot sign over to me it would be a voluntary act and might be revoked set aside   and if I bought the property she would have the money to dispose of         

Mrs Sutherlands giving all to her husband a different thing the law considered value received from a husband! 

In short Mr. Gray said the thing he thought could not be done by A-[Ann] to me”

It’s important to note that Ann’s father’s will protected large portions of her Estate against fortune hunters, which meant that it was likely that she could only transfer to Anne the unentailed property. However, Ann’s will already gave Anne significant power over her estate:

“A-[Ann] had made me sole executor and trustee with a power to appoint whom I pleased to succeed me in the trust, but failing such appointment Mr. Jonathan G-[Gray] now deceased or his son William G-[Gray] to succeed me – Power to sell certain parts of the estate (in Stainland) given to me –”

In a similar fashion, Anne had also entrusted Ann with significant power:

“I, too, had not bound A-[Ann], as she had imagined, to live at Shibden Hall but merely to keep it in repair – A-[Ann] and the G-s[Grays] (in succession) appointed co-trustees with A-[Ann] under my will –”

Unfortunately for them, Ann transferring property to Anne would not be seen the same way as what happened when a woman married a man. Their union wasn’t recognized or known so, to prevent other people from getting their hands on Ann’s estate, they had to use a different strategy. 

William Gray suggests that Ann sell the properties to Anne, which would then guarantee that the decision couldn’t be reversed:

“G-‘s[Gray’s] opinion this evening is, that A-[Ann] cannot sign over – It being a voluntary act, it would be revocable, and [therefore] would do no good – If it was a deed of sale, she would have to dispose of the purchase money –”

Gray’s logic makes sense in light of a potential Commission to ascertain Ann’s mental faculties. If the property was moved to Anne’s name and Ann was proven to have been of “unsound mind” before such date, then the transfer would probably be liable to be reverted. Ann would still end up with her property being managed by Chancery and by her "tutors" and Anne wouldn’t be able to do anything to prevent it or to help Ann.

After William Gray explains this, Anne muses that he must think that she is trying to take advantage of Ann, but she lets the idea go:

My impression is that he does not wish it to be done or does not wish to do it


I fancy he doubts me a little in this matter very well it was to be let alone”

The priority becomes helping Ann and going away as soon as possible, as Ann’s state still isn’t improving. Anne wonders how she will manage to get everything done as she also cares for Ann:

“A-[Ann] low as ever – how shall I get on with her and get all done.”

On the 3rd of May 1839, Ann tells Anne that she wishes she was under care:

“All in tears and terrible but I managed her tolerably  She wished today she was under somebody’s care Thought she ought to be in a place of confinement that she could do no more mischief Should bring misery on me and every Ought to take up her cross &c. &c. Her reasoning very weak -”

Despite all this, Anne and Ann continue to go about their lives. Their time is spent in their usual activities of managing their estates, reading, walking or riding to places, and handling business with tenants and servants. Ann’s lowness isn’t abating and, on the 6th of May, Anne once again coaxes her into eating her lunch:

“then with A-[Ann] - She desperately low – obliged to make her take luncheon, after which, however, she was better. She would starve and pray and cry herself to death.”

The following day, Anne’s urgency to get Ann away from Halifax is palpable:

“she has been terrible today gets worse and we really must be off”

Despite this, Ann still rides to Cliff Hill as usual. At dinner, they share a bottle of the champagne they bought on their last trip to France. Ann gets a bit tipsy and Anne ensures that she’s comfortable:

“Had a bottle of Rheims champagne equally between us A-[Ann] tipsy and lay down – I got her a cup of coffee and unloosened her clothes and left her about nine and then slept on the sofa till half past eleven then called John to take the coffee things away and came upstairs A-[Ann] fast asleep”

On the 8th of May, Ann’s appetite is back and she seems to be feeling better:

“A-[Ann] ate more than she has done for long, and seemed to enjoy their breakfast more - In fact she seems better for her champagne last night and has grieved and cried less than than for several mornings” 

By the 10th of May, Ann seems to have improved a bit:

“1/4 hour at luncheon - I took a little cold roast roll of beef and then hot gingerbread [which] A-[Ann] said she enjoyed - she seems better today”

Anne’s sister Marian’s visit to Shibden Hall gives Anne a small respite. While Marian is at Shibden and keeping an eye on Ann, Anne can then focus on preparing for their upcoming trip and on estate management. Then, on the 19th of May, Anne gets so worried about Ann that she doesn’t leave her out of her sight:

“A-[Ann] sat with Marian for 1/2 hour - A-[Ann] so low this morning did not let her be out of my sight knowing she would do nothing but say her prayers and cry

On the 20th of May, the situation isn’t improving and Anne resolves to be off on the following Saturday:

“A-[Ann] desperately low – we must be off Saturday evening if possible.”

The following week goes by amidst estate management and preparations for the upcoming trip. Anne and Ann are obliged to delay their departure and Anne informs her sister that they should still be at Shibden for another week. Then, on the 28th of May, Ann’s lowness has Anne helping her getting dressed:

“Having dressed A-[Ann] who gets terrible in lowness – high time to be off she can do nothing she says if she is not with me”

It is also on this date that Anne writes to Hammersley’s and Co. to ask them to write to the Foreign Office and get her and Ann’s passport. Ann is described as Anne’s niece and their destination is finally fixed:

“and should be much obliged to Mess[er]s H-[Hammersley] to get me a Foreign Office passport as usual for myself (Madame Anne Lister) and Miss Ann Walker (ma nièce) and my 2 servants (...) intending to proceed as direct as I conveniently can to St. Petersburg -”

By the 1st of June, Anne starts to wonder if Ann is getting cold feet regarding their upcoming trip:

“she terribly low all today – begins to repent going?”

On the 2nd of June, Ann asks Anne not to mention their trip to her aunt:

“Said nothing about going to Mrs AW – A-[Ann] begged me not for she must leave oh oh is she at this again? I got her out of it before we reached home but she is a broken reed to trust and a melancholy one into the bargain.”

That evening, Ann’s lowness is evident again, but this time Anne muses that maybe this is due to Ann wanting to go away sooner:

“during this bad that is low and crying as she was A-[Ann] copied her rentals from my drawing up she begins to be impatient to be off and lets herself shew it in this queer unaccountable senseless way -”

By the 6th of June, Anne is starting to feel a bit frustrated with the situation:

“with A-[Ann] at her luncheon at 1 - she lay down afterwards in the blue room - terrible can do nothing and prevents me too says she is bewildered -

On the 9th of June, Anne finally mentions their upcoming trip to Ann’s aunt, Mrs. Ann Walker, but she remains vague as to their departure date so the old lady cannot interfere:

“I mentioned 1st time our going as soon as we could but could not yet tell the day - but if I did not see her again, it was goodbye”

Anne and Ann start to pack for their trip on the 13th of June. During this period, Anne divides her time between finding and packing her belongings and Ann’s, managing the estate, and caring for Ann. It’s in the midst of all this work that, on the 16th of June, Anne finds herself once again frustrated at having to balance everything:

“A-[Ann] terribly helpless and low – she is like a baby that wants looking after and keeping employed had I any time to myself I could get on three times as fast”

On the 18th of June, Anne’s presence is, apparently, comforting to Ann in some way:

“A-[Ann] came to me to dress her – terribly low – cannot bear to have me out of her sight.”

Anne spends the 19th of June finishing packing and siding stuff. She never goes to bed. In the early hours of the 20th of June, Anne and Ann are ready to go on their adventure. They take their time having one last cup of tea at Shibden and then make a slight change to their plans:

“then sat down A-[Ann] and I to tea - enjoyed it - took our time - just before setting off, on my saying we past the possibility of arriving at Manchester for the 6 1/2 a.m. mail train and we might as well go to bed at M-[Manchester] till afternoon A-[Ann] said she never much liked going by the rail road - will you said I, post it? We can do it very well - a moment sufficed to alter our plan - Told William to drive to Wakefield instead of Rochdale and we would take the four horses all the way - and 4 horses forward from there to Doncaster - Robert Mann and George Thomas were waiting to see us off - fine morning - fine dawn of day - wished good bye to Robert and bade him do his best to make all things answer - A-[Ann] and I stepped into the carriage and full of baggage drove off at 2 50/" 

Anne Lister, the mistress of Shibden Hall, had left her beloved estate under the cover of night with no idea that she would never lay eyes on it again. In the margin of the entry of the 20th of June, a solitary note written by Anne marks her departure:

"Leave Shibden Hall" written in Anne Lister's writing from her diary
Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/E/23/67).

You can see the Twitter thread from @moliveiradev for further commentary: