Anne Lister’s Mines 

History and Development 

Trish RafaPublished 20 December 2021 · Last updated on 20 December 2021
Cover photo by Kylie Conning

The following is a brief overview of the Shibden Estate coal mines, with emphasis on the two pits that feature prominently in Anne Lister’s journal: the Walker Pit and Listerwick Pit. 

This overview concerns the business aspect of the mines and does not include the moral or ethical  issues of coal mining during Anne Lister's lifetime as that is a subject worthy of its own discussion. However, several links are included under “References” for those interested in pursuing more about the history of women and child labor in the mines. 

Estimated reading time: 40 minutes.

This article describes active research and the facts and details included have and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. If you come across any other relevant information that can help clarify or expand the topics below, please get in touch

Would you like to cite this article? Have a look at "How to cite this article" below.

Coal Mine Overview

Early Mining

Traces of bell pits in Britain have been found dating to the Bronze Age. (Evans and Ramani 2020)  Inland coal could be found close to the surface and easily dug with a shovel. 

When the surface coal ran out, the miners worked their way to a seam by digging horizontally into a hillside; these mines were known as day holes, adits, or drift mines. (UK Coal 2015) When ventilation became a problem, another drift or bell pit would be dug parallel to the first to reach the coal seam. (Trigg 1930, 122) 

a black and white image of ancient coal miners

Surface or outcrop mining in the Middle Ages. Prospecting:  Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas "De re metallica"; 1566: Wikimedia Commons.

a diagram showing a sideways 'cut' of a mine and the miners at work, both at surface and below surface

(Left) Drift mine -- Access from the side of a hill- (Top) Bell pit winding mine. CLARE, JOHN D.(2002/2014)

Bell Pits

Most mines were vertical shafts that were sunk to reach the coal seam. 

Working by candlelight, and using the winding or winch method to bring coal and water to the surface, the mines took the form of a bell shape. (ibid.) 

With the cavity excavated in this manner, eventually the pit would become unstable and prone to collapsing. Bell pits also tended to flood because there was no drainage. (Bull 2021)  When it became too dangerous, the pit would be abandoned and another shaft sunk nearby. Over time these pits collapsed forming the depressions seen today.

a black and white image showing miners at work in a coal pit

Bell pits.  (L) Horse gin; (R)  Winding mine © Copyright Fionn Taylor, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

a black and white image of coal mines, with miners at work

Illustration of winding or bell pit mines: (R)  Beginning of digging the shaft; (L) Digging and tubbing the shaft; (M) Shaft has reached the coal seam and tunnelling has begun. Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas "De re metallica"; 1566: Wikimedia Commons

a green field with sunk holes

A line of collapsed bell pits following the seam of lead.  © John Illingworth, (CC BY-SA 2.0)


To make the shaft safe for hauling men and equipment, timber was placed around it during the digging in order to hold back the strata and keep water out. (Bradley 2021)  

In the case of water seepage, sheep fleeces were wedged between the boards to stop the water from getting into the shaft. (Trigg 1930, 125).  As shafts became more sophisticated, they were lined with stone or brick.

a brick lined well

Brick lined shaft © Copyright Fionn Taylor, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Horse Gin 

Water was a danger and flooding and collapse was a constant concern. (Lienhard 1980, 161-186) The larger pits used a horse gin to bring the water to the surface or a downward slope sough (tunnel) to drain the water and funnel it into a nearby brook. (Lister 17 September 1834) 

Teams of horses circling the gin pit operated a pulley that raised the water and coal up the shaft in the leather buckets or barrels.

a black and white sketch of coal buckets and baskets

Corves: (L) Basket; (M) Bucket (bottom drops open); (R) Small bucket. Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas "De re metallica"; 1566: Wikimedia Commons.

a black and white sketch of a wooden structure used to extract coal from a mine using horses

Horse gin. Boyd R.N., 1892, ‘Coal Pits and Pitmen', Whittaker, London 

Waterwheel and Steam Engine

Waterwheel-driven pumps were in use from the 16th century onwards. (Galloway 1882, 57) Where using water power was not possible or financially feasible, the use of horse gins remained the most common method to bring water and coal to the surface.

 The advent of the Newcomen steam engine in 1712 ushered in a new era of coal production in England and, by the late 1700s, most of Great Britain had harnessed steam power  for coal and water extraction from mines. (Lienhard 1980)

Water wheel for Listerwick Pit. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:2/M/4/3).

a black and white sketch of a steam coal engine

Newcomen (or Fire) Steam Engine. 

Halifax Coal

Halifax sat on the edge of the great Yorkshire Coal Field.  From Medieval times – and perhaps Roman times and earlier – into even the early 20th C, coal was dug in shallow pits or in bell pits. (Widdall 2020)  In 1274, Richard the Nayler was given the first known permission to mine coal at Hipperholme for use in forging. (Bateman 2016, 35) 

Deforestation resulted in firewood becoming scarce and expensive, and cheap coal became the sought-after fuel. (Trigg 1930,121) Surface mining and small coal pits were dug for personal use and resale, with the tenant leasing the land from a landowner. (Trueman 2015) 

Mines in the Halifax region remained primitive in comparison to England’s higher yield coal seams well into the 1800s. Its thin coal bands limited output and profit and did not warrant extensive colliery development as did the richer coal fields elsewhere in the UK. (Bateman 2016, 35)  Halifax mines were either drift mines or vertical shaft mines. (ibid, 38) The use of steam was minimal at this point; however Christopher Rawson was the first to use steam for mining in Halifax. “ [Rawson] put down 2 engines of 5 horsepower each - the lower engine lifts the water into a level. . .that empties itself into the Halifax [Hebble] brook near Thief bridge.” (Lister 17 September 1834)

a map of the Yorkshire coal field, with a red dot marking the location of Shibden Hall

The Halifax Coalfield. The red marker corresponds to Shibden Hall. Source: Geological map Britain William Smith; 1815; Wikimedia Commons 

an old map showing the locations of various coal mines and pits around Halifax

The coal pits around Halifax. Image courtesy of the Calderdale Industrial Museum.

 Interactive maps of additional Shibden Estate coal mine entrances and the surface can be explored using the Coal Authority Interactive Map.

Lister Coal and Income

Thomas Lister (1599-1677) was involved in extensive mining operations before 1637. (Trigg 1930, 133) Samuel Lister (1570-1632) continued the operation of small coal pits and, in 1775, Anne’s grandfather, Jeremy Lister (1713-1788), installed a water wheel to pump water out of his coal mines near Mytholm (absorbed into present day Hipperholme). (Bateman 2016, 35) 

In 1760 Jeremy dismissed steam power because “no coal in this country will answer to the charge of a fire-engine” (Trigg 1930, 155), despite their being in wide use in the rest of the country. (Liddington 1996, 65) Shibden Estate continued to derive income from small, leased bell and surface pits on its land. (Lister 28 March 1814) 

Drawing of a winding mine on Shibden Estate. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:2/M/4/30) 

As the Industrial Revolution swept England, the Listers lacked the foresight to embrace innovation unlike the larger landowners such as the Rawsons and Walkers who moved into manufacturing. (Liddington 1996, 65) The Listers and other smaller landowners continued to rely on the traditional land extraction as their primary source of income: stone quarries, tree harvesting, and mine leases, in addition to farm rents, navigation shares, turnpike roads, and real estate. (Nunn 1985) 

In the 1800s, Halifax mining was rudimentary with low production and run by a few men who had the capital to pay for leases or to sink their own pits. (Clark and David 2007, 39-72) When Anne inherited Shibden in 1826, she was determined to improve and develop its economic resources. She felt keenly the dynastic responsibility of improving the inherited estate (Lister 12 October 1820) as well as her personal desire to rise in social class. (Lister 8 November 1829)  Both, however, required capital and dependable income. Anne disdained manufacture as being beneath her and sought other income sources. (Lister 12 March 1819) 

When Anne returned to Shibden Hall from Hastings in 1832, she appraised her assets and determined that developing her collieries had the potential for long-term income: 'coal is rising . . . what with railroads, steam engines & 1 thing or another . . . they must have coal to have steam'. (Lister 1 October 1836)

Anne’s Coal Team

Shibden Hall Estate coal pits

Walker Pit

Christopher Rawson made Anne a below rate offer for the purchase of several Lister coal acres in Cunnery Wood, which piqued her interest in developing mines herself. With Shibden’s close proximity to the Calder and Hebble canal, Anne recognized a business opportunity and made the decision to move from leasing her coal beds to buying coal and to sinking her own pits. She began to personally oversee and manage her geologic extractions – coal, clay, and rock.  (Lister 28 November 1835) 

Anne’s surreptitious lesbian union with Ann Walker, a wealthy neighboring heiress who moved into Shibden Hall, allowed her to borrow much of the money needed to fund her business ventures. (Lister 16 February 1839) Anne named her first mine Walker Pit after Ann Walker (Lister 17 October 1834) and on 27 November 1835 “. . .the pit bottomed this evening all done but a few buckets full of stuff. . . “ (Lister 27 November 1835) 

Anne was also privy to the workings and management of the Walker coal mines. (Lister 16 May 1836)  This caused considerable consternation with Ann’s relatives (Liddington 1996, 68) -- particularly her cousin Christopher Rawson, who viewed Anne’s possible influence as a threat to his own coal aspirations.

As Anne’s main competitor, Rawson resented her role in active land management and tried to force her out. Instead of combining forces to create an advantageous hold on supplying coal, their personal animosities drove them to competition which also consumed Anne’s time and money. (Lister 16 April 1836)

As a first endeavor, Walker Pit was primitive: a winding mine, which meant that the coal and the pervasive water was brought to the surface via a hand-cranked winch and as the mine was dug deeper, a horse gin. (Lister 14 January 1835) Its location, however, was advantageous: Anne owned the access road down to the New Bank and then on into Halifax, which facilitated prime coal resale.  The “one hundred and ten yard pit [was] said to be one of the handsomest in the country”, (Lister 29 November 1835) however, production development was limited and  the pit was never a high-profit mine. (Lister 17 January 1837) 

a black and white sketch of a coal pit air vent

Fresh air intake (right). Fire was used to draw out the “bad” air. Sometimes the fire was built on the mine floor. © Copyright Fionn Taylor, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

an aerial view of a ventilation tower and small annex made with stone and surrounded by green grass and a dirt road

Aerial view of the Walker pit ventilation shaft. Photo by Rachel Newburn.

a photo of a coal pit's ventilation tower made with stone, with green hills in the background

Walker pit ventilation shaft. Photo by Alastair Wallace. 

Listerwick Pit 

Anne soon realized that the income from her small mines alone was insufficient to support her ambitions and Shibden renovations, and that higher coal production from a more developed mine would be required. In a letter dated 29 November 1835 she related that “sometime next Spring, I hope to be ready for beginning a 2nd pit.” (Lister 29 November 1835) 

She and her coal steward, James Holt, decided to upgrade the mine at Mytholm -- which she eventually referred to as Listerwick. To be financially viable, the waterwheel had to provide enough power for the mine as well as a grain mill that she could rent out. “The [water]wheel will have 20 ½ horsepower     and I shall have 18 horse power to spare – enough for a corn-mill. (Lister 3 March 1835) 

Anne “had Holt at 10 50/" to 2. . . . The Listerwick Colliery to be complete & ready for bringing out coal by 1 October 1838.” (Lister 29 December 1836) and they spent the next two years diverting water, upgrading the waterwheel and building the meer [lake] to control the water to the mine. She created an artificial channel from the Red Beck to the meer in order to maintain consistent water level to power the waterwheel at Listerwick with a sluice controlling the flow of water to the waterwheel (Lister 15 August 1837). 

In March of 1837, Anne ordered a plan of a steam engine, which would assist in bringing up coal to the surface: 

"And had Holt the Engineer with his plan of the Engine and Joseph Mann with him - had them above an hour talking and explaining - The plan seems likely enough but the job will = £500 exclusive of rails at £9 per ton - Left me 3 specimens of iron chain -"

9 March 1837 - SH:7/ML/E/20/0031

The meer and other water works at Shibden Park.

A worsted mill plan. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:2/M/4/21)

In April of the same year, Anne received the news that due to an error in calculations, the meer and wheel could not support both. (Lister 22 April 1837)  Frustrated and worried about additional costs, she wrote: “. . . the colliery must pay - I was going towards the fourth thousand.” (Lister 16 April 1836)  Anne and Holt contemplated her options: give up the mill and its loss of income, expend more money to convert to steam and eventually build a worsted mill, or give up entirely. 

"Asked Holt what he would do in my case - build a mill or not all things considered. Ann against it. I thought of the money thrown away if no use was made of the wheel & water. Holt said he thought of this too, & owned he would build a mill.” 

28 November 1837 - SH:7/ML/E/20/0165

The two chose to move forward with the mine and install a steam engine despite debt-incurring financing (Lister 13 December 1836) and frequent equipment mishaps that plagued production and limited output. “. . . another accident to the engine - shaft of the fly-wheel broke & cannot be fixed for 4 days.” (Lister 25 May 1839).  "Must let or give up - so much pother terrible." (Lister 9 December 1837) 

Finally, in the spring of 1838, Listerwick was completed and christened: 

“Ann & I walked to Listerwick Pit and went down into it. Ann's first time of ever going down into a pit. Christened the pit Listerwick Pit, I laughing & saying Ann was godmother (...) and I the parson. A quarter of an hour at the bottom. Ann & I went down & came up together in a corve  (...) She & I each gave Joseph Mann a sovereign towards the christening drinking for the men.”

21 April 1838 - SH:7/ML/E/21/0081 

As Anne began planning the trip to Russia, she continued to stress the need for more coal production from the mine in order to begin recouping her considerable investment in the steam engine: “I said more coal must be got to make the engine pay better. . . “. (Lister 26 May 1839) 

In June 1839, Anne and Ann departed for Russia and Anne never saw Shibden again.

a black and white sketch of men inside a basket, with other men holding on to the chain supporting the basket

Basket corve used to lower miners and equipment. © Copyright Fionn Taylor, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

a section of an handwritten letter

Extract from a letter sent by David Booth to Anne Lister in 1839. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/1096).

“31 December. Listerwick Colliery, All is going on very well, as far as respects the work[in]g department, but there is One thing, which I am very much dissatisfied with and have been for some time, - That is, respecting the coal consumed, for the engine, - I warned Joseph Mann some time ago, and told hime he had nothing to do with either the coal, or slack, but to do his duty, faithfully, and to deliver a just account of all the coals sold, and he promised he would"

31 December 1839 - SH:7/ML/1096 

During her travels Anne and David Booth corresponded regularly regarding running the collieries (Booth 10 August 1839) and her foresight, drive and diligence made it possible for the Shibden Hall collieries to win a large contract with Halifax Gas Light & Coke Company in 1881 to supply coal to the town of Halifax. (Lister 20 June 1881) 

Consequently, hers were the only sizable collieries in the district that were able to weather the rise of the Industrial Revolution and railroad competition and they continued to operate up to the 1880s, long after her death in 1840. (leslie 2019) 

a snippet of an old newspaper article

Extract of a transcript of Anne's journal created by John Lister and published in the Halifax Courier of the 13th of February 1892. Image courtesy of Calderdale Libraries. 

Other Shibden Estate Pits 

Most of the pits on the Shibden Hall Estate up to 1840 were less than 50 yards deep (Trigg 1930).

Location of Listerwick and Airgate Pits / Mines location in relation to Shibden Hall. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:2/M/4/1). 

Timeline of Events


Coal mining recorded at Shibden Hall by Thomas Lister. (Trigg. 1930,133)  These were shallow bell pit mines, not more than 20-30 yards deep. Ventilation and water were the major problems – both coal extraction and water bailing were performed manually.


Samuel Lister [1603-1707] continued in the coal-mining industry, sinking pits very near to the Hall, and working at times dangerously near to it. (Trigg 1930,137)


The first gin mine was established by James Lister. (Trigg 1930,148)


Jeremy Lister decided against steam power as being too expensive. (Trigg 1930, 155)


Halifax coal owners rapidly expanded the industry with many new mines being sunk. (Hargreaves 2016, 38) 


James Lister erected a waterwheel at Mytholm mine to extract water. (Hargreaves 2016, 35)  


Wheeled tubs and rails, steam winding engines and steam pumps become common in the local pits.


Uncle James sold the rights to all the coal that could be mined at Shibden in 10 years. (Lister 28 March 1814)


Anne’s Uncle James died, on the 26th of January 1826, and Anne inherited Shibden. (Lister 26 January 1826)  


Sinking the Walker Pit began 10 October and began producing coal by 1836. (Lister 10 October 1834) 


After the deaths of Aunt Anne and her father, Jeremy Lister, Anne was fully free to expand her business pursuits and began to upgrade Listerwick mine. 


The meer was completed which increased power to the waterwheel at Listerwick to provide more consistent production. (Lister 15 August 1837)


Listerwick christened by Anne and Ann. (Lister 21 April 1838)


Anne Lister died in Russia and Ann Walker assumed management of Shibden Estate with William Gray, Jr as co-executor. (Halifax Parish Church 29 April 1841) 


A Commission of Lunatico Inquirendo declares Ann Walker of unsound mind. The Inquisition states that the jury agreed that Ann cannot manage herself or her property. The Shibden/Walker Estates are thenceforth run by the appointed “Committee for her Estate”: Captain George Mackay Sutherland. (The National Archives, Kew 1843) 

After Sutherland’s death on 1 May 1847 (York Herald 1847), John Rawson became Ann’s Committee of the Estate with William Gray, Jr continuing his role as co-executor of the Shibden Estate. (Public Records Office 2 November 1843)


Ann Walker died and Dr. John Lister of Wales then inherited the Estate and continued upgrades to the Estate and mines. (Hargreaves 1930, 38)


Shibden Estate sold at Auction. (Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale Libraries Department 1925)

Glossary of Terms

a black and white photo of a white horse pulling a cart full of coal

A horse transporting a cart full of coal. © Copyright Fionn Taylor, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

a black and white sketch of a colliery

A colliery (c. 1820). 



A tremendous thank you to everyone at Packed with Potential who generously shared diary and letter transcriptions; especially to Steph Gallaway and Marlene Oliveira, for your guidance, technical assistance and utmost forbearance.

A huge thanks to Jude Dobson for procuring resource material and for taking a considerable amount of photographs.

Thank you Kylie Conning for creating and sharing your artwork; and Alba Diniz for your encouragement and igniting the spark.

Special thanks to David Glover, President of the Halifax Antiquarian Society -- the Society’s publications are an astounding wealth of information and local history; and to Sarah Rose at the Calderdale Reference Library.

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

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