Anne Lister's and Ann Walker's Wills
Marlene OliveiraPublished on 20 November, 2021 · Last updated on 20 November, 2021
Testamentary papers offer a rare glimpse into their owners' finances and social connections and often highlight important familial links, friendships, and partnerships.
Anne Lister's and Ann Walker's respective wills have been known for quite some time and some of these documents' most interesting and peculiar provisions have been discussed on occasion. However, the decision-making process both women employed until they reached what would become the probate version of their wills has mostly been disregarded. Anne Lister took a long time to arrive at what would become the probate version of her will. After handling some indecisions, Ann Walker, though seldom making changes to her will, seemed to be more consistent with the provisions she included. In the end, both documents highlight these women's concern with keeping their estates in the hands of family and also their commitment to each other.
In this article we explore their decision making process as they change their wills over the years to suit their needs and we also provide a few insights regarding some of the provisions included in these interesting legal documents.
Estimated reading time: 50 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.
Wills and Prerogative Courts 101
In the 19th century, death was very much a common part of daily life. Testators would give their last wishes some thought and make wills with specific provisions, to ensure that their wishes were respected in case they died before their time. Sometimes, they considered their last wishes from an early age. People of means perhaps did so more often and in a more comprehensive manner, given that they had an interest in securing whatever property they had. Land, houses, money, jewellery, plate, clothes, and other goods were often bequeathed to family and friends, and, in some cases, a part of the testator's estate could be sold to pay the debts they left behind. Thus, making a will was a matter of great importance and deserved careful reflection before the legal document was signed.
The Society of Genealogists defines a will as a legal document which includes a person’s wishes as to how their property is to be disposed of (Society of Genealogists 2021). The process of proving a will and disposing of the property of the deceased according to their wishes is known as probate (Society of Genealogists 2021). Wills proven for this purpose are referred to as “probate wills” and often include many interesting and useful details, such as the name of the testator, the names of their executors and details about their property.
When a person died intestate (i.e. without leaving a valid will), the people interested in dealing with the deceased’s estate could apply to receive letters of administration (Yap 2020), also referred to as grant of administration or grant of representation. This legal document granted the authority to dispose of the deceased’s property to the people who applied to the court and were approved as administrators (Yap 2020). Within the circle of the deceased, the person who stands to inherit the most is responsible for requesting the letters of administration (often the spouse of the deceased) (Yap 2020). If the deceased doesn’t have a spouse, the responsibility of requesting the authority to deal with their estate falls to the person or people with the closest family relationship to the deceased (children, grandchildren, parents) (Yap 2020).
In the 19th century, the church handled the disposal of property up to a specific amount but, when the testator’s property surpassed this or they owned property in different dioceses, the matter was handled by Prerogative Courts (Wikipedia 2021). These were the courts with jurisdiction to handle the grants of probate or letters patent (Wikipedia 2021). Perhaps the most famous of these courts is the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which fell under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and had jurisdiction over the south of England and Wales. This was the only court in the land dealing with wills and administrations from 1653 to 1660 and its archives hold many specimens of wills of people who died abroad and in England up to January 1858 (The National Archives, n.d.). Aside from this court, there was also the Prerogative Court of York, which also had jurisdiction over disposal of the property of deceased persons.
In Anne Lister’s and Ann Walker’s time, these two Prerogative courts were part of a complex network of probate courts. Several Lister and Walker wills were proven at either or both courts.
Anne Lister's will
Lister family matters were of the utmost importance to Anne Lister, and the matter of inheritance was certainly no exception. Throughout the 1810s and 1820s, Anne advised several family members as to how they could make their wills and dispose of their property in a manner that seemed, to her, efficient and advantageous. Some examples of this are suggestions made to Joseph Lister in April 1817 (Lister 1817 Apr 24), James Lister in 1820 and 1822 (Lister 1820 Jul 21; Lister 1822 Mar 08), and Jeremy Lister in 1824 (Lister 1824 Mar 08), among others. Anne would also benefit from the wills of some uncles and aunts, some of whom bequeathed her small sums of money¹ . The largest and most important of these bequests was made by her uncle James Lister of Shibden Hall, who effectively ensured that she would inherit the Shibden Hall estate, albeit with a few constraints until Anne’s father and aunt Anne Lister senior passed away (Prerogative Court of York 1826 May).
Anne Lister’s own will had many iterations, some of these coinciding with heartbreak, changes of station in life or commitment to a companion. One of the earliest versions of Anne’s will was created in 1822. In this iteration, Anne decided to leave money and annuities to her longtime lover Mariana Lawton. Anne had pondered this over the course of a few days and signed her will not long before she left Yorkshire for France, in what would prove to be a short lived trip with Jeremy and Marian Lister.
By 1824, Anne Lister was sure that she would be the heir of Shibden Hall². Thus, she convinced her father to leave his whole estate to her sister Marian Lister (Lister 1824 Mar 08). From the Listers of Shibden Hall, Anne thought that Marian would only get a legacy of £100 (£50 + £50) from their uncle James Lister and their aunt Anne Lister, respectively (Lister 1824 Mar 11).
James Lister of Shibden Hall died on the 26th of January 1826, which prompted Anne Lister to rethink her own will. On the 28th of January, Anne had already determined that she would make a new will and she would leave everything to her aunt Anne.
On the 30th of January, Anne writes a draft of her will. This time, Anne’s bequests benefited her father and her sister, but also several of her lovers. Mariana Lawton was still included in this version of Anne’s will, but the value of her legacy had been reduced to a mere £20. The main beneficiary and sole executor of Anne’s will would be her aunt, Anne Lister senior.
At the time, Anne was responsible for Shibden but didn’t have access to the full income the estate generated. Per James Lister’s will (Prerogative Court of York 1826 May), dated the 3rd of August 1822 and proven on the 6th of May 1826, Anne was the sole executrix of her uncle’s will and would inherit all he owned (both real and personal estates). Her father would receive the rents and profits of Shibden Hall and her aunt Anne was to receive all rents and profits from Northgate³, along with James Lister’s shares and securities in the Calder and Hebble Navigation (ibid).
This version of Anne Lister’s will became a topic of conversation the following May, when Anne and Mariana Lawton discussed the Listers’ income. Anne was confident that she could provide for herself and her aunt. She was also confident that she could provide for Mariana, if she decided to live with Anne at Shibden Hall. As long as Mariana committed to living at Shibden with Anne and didn't marry again, Anne would revise the clauses of her will to ensure that Mariana received a larger bequest.
It is also during this conversation that Anne learns of Mariana's unhappiness with the small legacy Anne bequeathed her in that version of her will.
During this same conversation, Mariana Lawton tells Anne Lister that she has made her own will and bequeathed to Anne all she possessed, for as long as Anne should live (Lister 1826 May 01). This discussion with Mariana evolves into Anne considering several aspects for a possible new iteration of her will. For one, Mariana would get a larger legacy than she did in the January 1826 version of Anne’s will. Unless Mariana was named executor or guardian of Anne’s heir at law, Anne also pondered removing the clause regarding the forfeiture of the annuity in case Mariana remarried.
Anne's idea of making changes to her will was cemented and, by the end of June 1826, she was giving instructions to Jonathan Gray⁴ (Solicitor, York) to make a new version of her will. The alterations in this version included changes to the list of executors and trustees, and an annuity for Mariana Lawton.
Anne had also decided to consult Gray with regards to her intended heir at law:
In 1826, the “present John Lister of Swansea’s heir” was Dr. John Lister (1802-1867), who would meet Anne in Paris in 1830. It is important to note that, using Anne's description, the “unborn heir” would be John Lister, MA (1847-1933), who ultimately inherited the Shibden Hall estate after his father’s death in 1867.
A small section of the Lister family tree, showing John Lister, MA’s immediate family. All photos in the composite tree courtesy of the Calderdale Museums Service. Background image courtesy of the British Library.
By ensuring that the property would pass to this branch of the Lister family, Anne would be honoring a promise she made to her late uncle James, whose wish it was that the Listers of Swansea should inherit the estate (Lister 1831 Jul 08).
In the journal entry of the 1st of July 1826, Anne includes an encoded note regarding the instructions she gave to Jonathan Gray:
Anne’s alterations to her will provide a clear idea of the intended line of succession. The Listers of Wales would be the principal beneficiaries of this iteration of Anne’s will and would inherit, as intended by Anne’s uncle James, the Shibden Hall estate.
Years earlier, in 1821, Anne had spoken to her uncle James about his ideas for his own will. James had apparently considered giving Northgate to the Welsh Listers and ensuring that they got enough income to live there until the Shibden Hall estate eventually passed to them in full. The idea was explained to Anne Lister by her aunt Anne and, at the time, the thought didn’t please the young Miss Lister:
As we know, James Lister ultimately decided to bequeath the Shibden Hall estate to Anne herself, so this displeasure of Anne’s was instead replaced by an intent to honor the promise she made to her uncle and that is precisely what she ended up doing.
In the alterations Anne mentions on the 1st of July 1826, if the Listers of Wales passed without leaving heirs of their own, the property would then be Marian’s for life and then, on Marian's death, it would be passed along to Marian’s eldest child. Provided that Marian left no issue, Mariana Lawton would then have the estate for life and could lease it by will if she so wished, as long as she ultimately left it unconditionally to Anne Lister’s heir at law.
Both Marian Lister and Mariana Lawton would receive annuities. Marian Lister would receive £300 a year, paid after Jeremy Lister’s death, and Mariana Lawton was to receive £100 a year, paid after Anne Lister senior's death.
Anne’s father and Aunt Anne were also not forgotten. Aunt Anne was to have full control of the estate and, in case he outlived his sister, Jeremy Lister would receive the rents and profits for life. Each of Anne Lister’s trustees were to receive £100.
In 1830, Anne was once again thinking about making changes to her will. In conversation with her aunt Anne, she mentions her intent to leave the estate to someone who is willing to make a similar commitment:
By the summer of 1831, Anne had made up her mind to change the terms of her will yet again. This time, she engaged a proctor from York, Mr. Lawton⁵, to make her will. As had happened some years earlier with Jonathan Gray, Anne also gave clear instructions to Mr. Lawton. These are included in the journal entry of the 7th of July 1831:
Here Anne makes it clear that Shibden Hall is not to be let, but kept in good repair and occupied by someone; if not the heir, then servants chosen by the Executors should live there. The specifics connected to the management of woods, collieries, and stone quarries were also explicitly detailed. When it came to heirs, Anne decided to leave the remainder to the heir at law of her great-grandfather. The sum bequeathed to the Executors was also upgraded from £100 to £500 each.
More details about this iteration of Anne’s will surfaced in conversation with her longtime friend and sometimes lover Isabella Norcliffe. On the 8th of July 1831, Anne writes:
Faced with Marian Lister’s rejection of the annuity of £300, Anne decides that the best course of action is to cut her off her will and do the same to her father. Anne’s decision to leave another annuity and legacies by codicil allowed her to make changes later, without needing to republish her will.
Having made up her mind about the clauses to be included or excluded in this iteration of the will, Anne gave more instructions to the proctor during the month of July 1831. On the 21st of July, the proctor sends Anne instructions for her will, which unfortunately had been travelling for days along with fish and the smell of the papers was offensive enough to encourage Anne to burn the envelope (Lister 1831 Jul 21). On the 23rd of July, Anne received a new letter from the proctor (Lister 1831 July 23), this time advising her to write her instructions by hand, and “shewing the will when made to clever counsel”. Anne would then meet Mr. Lawton, the proctor from York, on the 29th of July 1831.
In August 1831, Anne is getting ready to travel again and she instructs Mr. Lawton to expedite the process and send her the draft of the will as soon as possible:
In conversation with Mr. John Waterhouse of Wellhead in September of 1831 (Lister 1831 Sep 06), Anne informs him that he is one of her executors, along with Mr. William Priestley. However, this version of Anne’s will remained unsigned in February 1832 (Lister 1832 Feb 19). At the time, cholera was a very real threat to travellers and locals alike, and Anne, staying at Hastings with Vere Hobart, saw her plans to travel abroad still very much unsettled as her relationship with Vere continued to go through some turmoil. Anne made her uneasiness about her will known to her aunt and mentions a short will she had made as a backup:
At the end of April 1832, Anne was making her way back home from Hastings after Vere Hobart broke her heart. Along the way she stops and calls on a few friends, including Mariana Lawton. During that visit, Anne and Mariana once again discuss the matter of Anne’s will. Unsurprisingly, Anne was inclined to make changes yet again. After deciding that Marian Lister would not get anything from her will of 1831, Anne had a change of heart and pondered what to bequeath to her sister.
An interesting detail captured in this passage from April 1832 is Anne’s intent to leave her estate for life to whomever chose to settle and live with her, whether it be Mariana Lawton or someone else entirely. The Listers of Wales would only inherit the estate after Anne’s companion’s death.
After a coolish reception at Lawton and a few days at Shibden, Anne travels to Croft Rectory, Croft-on-Tees (near Darlington, North Yorkshire), and spends some days with the Norcliffes and the Daltons. It’s in conversation with Tib that Anne mentions yet another decision that affects her will: she will not leave Mariana Lawton an annuity.
In June of 1832, Anne wrote to Mr. Lawton, the proctor from York, and asked him to meet her. She intended to discuss the will Mr. Lawton had written for her, barely a year earlier. In the meantime, Anne pondered the current state of her will and commented to Charlotte Norcliffe that she had made her peace with not including Mariana.
In October of 1832, Anne Lister had a new lover and new plans for her own will. As she courted Ann Walker, the topic of the alterations Anne Lister intended to make to Shibden Hall come into conversation as well as to whom the estate shall pass after Anne dies. The Listers from Wales are still Anne's intended heirs, but she proposes to offer Ann Walker the Shibden Hall estate for life, provided that Miss Walker settled with Anne.
At this point in the courtship of Miss Walker, Anne thought that she might finally have a companion for life. Ann Walker, who was in a very good position to meet the criteria of “value received or an equivalent settlement” mentioned by Anne in 1831, seemed to be inclined to commit to Anne Lister too. However, Anne Lister’s courtship of Ann Walker didn’t evolve into a more serious and formal commitment until the first months of 1834.
At the start of February 1833, Ann Walker would part ways with Anne Lister and go to Scotland to seek medical treatment and spend some time with her sister’s family (Choma 2019, 238). Anne Lister had decided to travel again and had her heart set on Denmark or, if circumstances permitted, a long awaited adventure in Russia. Before she left for the Continent, Anne stopped at York and made new changes to her will. This time, Jonathan Gray would be in charge of ‘remodelling’ Anne’s will.
With the removal of the Trustees, Anne’s will would not include any mention of people connected to Vere Hobart⁶. Robert Parker, Anne’s solicitor from Halifax, would be included as Executor. This version of the will still did not include the codicil that stipulated to whom annuities and / or legacies would be paid. This is evident in a conversation with Mariana Lawton, on the 20th of June 1833:
Anne Lister would go to Denmark and have her adventures interrupted by a letter from Marian Lister informing her of their aunt Anne’s dire state of health (Choma 2019, 292). Convinced that her beloved aunt would die, Anne travelled back to Shibden Hall in a hurry. However, this proved to be a false alarm. Anne's aunt would live for another three years and Anne’s rushed return to Shibden Hall ensured that she would reconnect with Ann Walker at the end of 1833.
1834 brought Anne Lister the companion for life she had desired for long. That year, Anne and Ann Walker would eventually solemnize their union by taking the sacrament together in York, on the 30th of March 1834. With their union solemnized and rings exchanged, Anne Lister and Ann Walker discussed changes to their respective wills, which would grant specific privileges to each other.
The rainbow blue plaque at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York. Photo by Marlene Oliveira.
In May of 1836, Anne and Ann gave instructions to Jonathan Gray to have new versions of their wills drafted. In this iteration of her will, Anne decides to choose an “entail general”, to include daughters as well as sons in the ‘line of succession’. The Listers of Wales are, once again, named Anne’s heirs. Aside from this, Anne also includes the clause that would give Ann Walker a life estate, accompanied with a clause that would divest Ann of this benefit if she married.
In April of 1839, Anne Lister added a new codicil to her will, but this wasn't the codicil that gave legacies and annuities to some of her loved ones. Instead, the new codicil's purpose was to handle the matter of Anne’s debt (Lister 1839 Apr 25). At the time, Anne was investing her income into several ventures, such as the renovations at Shibden Hall, the Shibden collieries, and the Northgate Hotel and casino. These were considerable investments that made a serious dent in Anne’s finances and pushed her towards debt. While her investments didn't return sizable profits, Anne managed her affairs with the money received from rents and the sale of other assets (such as her canal shares) and was saved from possible bankruptcy at times by mortgages and loans from other people.
When faced with the very likely prospect of leaving sizable debts behind after her death, Anne decided to take action to preserve as much of her estate as possible and keep it away from creditors. Thus, she decided that a part of her estate should be sold if she died without leaving enough money to cover her debts.
This was the last change made to Anne Lister’s will. She would die almost a year and a half later, on the 22nd of September 1840, while she travelled in the Caucasus with Ann Walker. Her will was proven both at London (on the 17th of April 1841) and York (on the 13th of May 1841).
Composite image of the Second Codicil in Anne Lister's Will and Testament (1836) naming Ann Walker and Jonathan and William Gray. Original images courtesy of the New York Public Library (MISC 4150a). A copy of this will can be obtained from the National Archives (PROB 11/1944/273). A transcription can be found here.
______________¹ One such example is the sum of £20 bequeathed to Anne from her aunt Martha Lister of Shibden Hall (Board of Inland Revenue and predecessors 1809 Nov 29). ² James Lister’s intent is clear in the journal entry of the 22nd of March 1822: “In talking things over after breakfast he said again he meant to leave my father only a life income and me the estate with the power of disposing of it and authorized me to tell my father so when I saw him next –” (Lister 1822 Mar 22). Then, on the 8th of May 1822, James executed his will: “Just before coming up to bed my aunt told me before my uncle that he had called at Mr. Wiglesworth’s and executed the will he made himself and brought him home with him on Saturday last — thank God for it — “ (Lister 1822 May 08) ³ Northgate House was formerly inhabited by Anne’s uncle Joseph Lister (1750-1817). There were some fields that were also part of the estate. These and the house were part of the Shibden Hall estate and, thus, fell under Anne’s control after she inherited it from her uncle James Lister. In the second half of the 1830s, Anne remodelled it and it became a hotel and casino. ⁴ Jonathan Gray (1779 - 1837) was a solicitor and Mayor of York. He was Anne Lister’s and Ann Walker’s solicitor in the mid 1830s and, among other things, assisted in the drafting of their wills. He was the first Hon. Treasurer of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (Gray 1927, 108) ⁵ Note: This “Mr. Lawton” is not Charles Lawton, who was Mariana Lawton’s husband. ⁶ Lady Catherine Vere Louisa Cameron (1803 - 1888) (née Hobart) was the wife of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 23rd Chief of Clan Cameron. Vere had met Anne Lister in 1829 and the two spent some time together in Paris and Hastings. Anne Lister was romantically interested in Vere, but the interest wasn’t mutual and eventually heartbreak ensued for Lister when Vere married Donald Cameron. Despite this, Anne and Vere remained friends for life.
Ann Walker's will
When it comes to Ann Walker’s will, it is important to remember that her estate is influenced both by what her father bequeathed to her, what she inherited from her mother and, later, what she inherited from her brother John, after he passed away in 1830. It is also important to acknowledge the division of property of 1835, which also influenced Ann’s right to dispose of specific properties. Furthermore, Ann was also executor and beneficiary of Mrs. Ann Walker’s⁷ will (Exchequer and Prerogative Court of York 1847 Dec 14). However, when her aunt died in 1847, Ann was unlikely to be allowed to handle the disposal of her aunt’s estate due to having been deemed “a person of unsound mind” in 1843.
After Anne Lister and Ann Walker reconnected again at the end of 1833, their romantic relationship continued to evolve. In early 1834, Anne's and Ann's conversation about commitment to each other expanded, and the matter of their respective wills and bequests they could make to each other became an important topic.
On the 7th of January 1834, Ann discusses with Anne Lister some terms she intends to include in her will:
When Anne and Ann are in York on the 22nd of January 1834, Anne has a private discussion with Dr. Henry Stephens Belcombe⁸ regarding Ann's competence to make a valid will. At the time, Ann was in need of some medical attention to handle some of her nervous ailments and the two women were preparing for Ann's stay at Heworth Grange, where she'd be privately and discreetly treated by Dr. Belcombe.
While Ann is undergoing treatment at Heworth Grange, Anne Lister keeps an eye on both estates. Anne also keeps an eye on Mrs. Ann Walker of Cliff Hill, who appeared to be somewhat suspicious of the circumstances that had her niece spending some time away from home (Lister 1834 Feb 05).
On the 28th of January 1834, Anne Lister calls on Mrs. Ann Walker of Cliff Hill and they talk about Ann’s decision of making a will. However, on hearing about her niece’s intention to make a will and having Anne Lister as a possible executor, Mrs. Ann Walker wonders if Ann’s will would be deemed valid, given her predicament.
It is not clear if Ann ended up making a will in the first months of 1834, but she did deposit a will at Hammersleys and Co. (Bankers, London) before she left for the Continent with Anne Lister.
In March of 1835 and amidst the division of property of the Walkers, Ann mentions to Mrs. Ann Walker how her sister signed her property to Captain Sutherland (Lister 1835 Mar 13). In this visit, Ann also learns about Mrs. Ann Walker’s will. It is during this conversation that Ann realizes that a misunderstanding had caused her aunt to intend to cut her off, because she thought Ann had left everything she owned to Anne Lister. However, Ann explains that she bequeathed everything to George Sackville Sutherland⁹ and that she might leave a life interest to Anne Lister, in the event she didn’t marry and stayed with Anne.
In May of 1836, Ann would make a new version of her will. Some of the changes were mentioned by Anne Lister in her journal.
As Anne explains, changing from an “entail male” to an “entail general” ensured that daughters were also considered in the “line of succession” to inherit the estate of the testatrix. In Ann Walker’s case, the principal beneficiaries were the Sutherland children and their descendants. By applying this simple correction, Ann ensured that her nephew Sackville and his descendants (male and female) would be beneficiaries before her nephew Evan and his descendants, respectively. However, Ann’s nieces were not as privileged by the order Ann chose, given that they and their descendants would only be the next in line to inherit the estate in case their brothers died without leaving heirs.
Another important detail has to do with the constraints regarding life interests and what happened in case the beneficiary married. In the probate version of Ann Walker’s will, dated from 1854, this provision is not present (Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1854 May 12). However, per Anne Lister’s commentary regarding the wills made in May 1836, this constraint was accounted for (Lister 1836 May 04).
This version of Ann Walker’s will was signed on the 9th of May 1836, which meant it would be valid from then on. However, at the end of 1836, Anne and Ann discussed a republication of Ann’s will.
But Ann would, nonetheless, republish her will later that day:
In April of 1839, Anne and Ann went to York with the intent to speak with their solicitor, William Gray Jr.¹⁰, and secure some of Ann’s unentailed property to Anne Lister. That meeting with their solicitor served also to handle other legal and financial matters that Anne Lister wished to discuss.
In the morning of the 25th of April, William Gray analyzes Anne Lister’s and Ann Walker’s wills.
When Anne left the room to get their wills, Ann explained to Mr. Gray what she intended to do.
It’s important to note here the mention of the “Lord Chancellor”, which hints at interference coming from a potential ruling connected to lunacy proceedings. People deemed to be lunatics or otherwise not in full possession of their mental faculties to manage themselves and their property would have a person appointed by the Court of Chancery to manage their affairs (Elmer 1844, 60). If Ann had succeeded in signing some properties to Anne Lister in 1839, this could be reversed if it was proven that, at that date, Ann's mental faculties weren’t sufficient for the management of her estate.
After taking some time to ponder the matter, William Gray would then conclude that such a voluntary transfer wasn’t advisable because it could be reversed. In his opinion, a sale would be a much better option, given that Ann would only need to dispose of the money.
After Anne Lister’s death, Ann Walker would arrive in Halifax in February of 1841 (Court of Chancery 1839 - 1840). By May of the same year, Ann was ready to change her will once again. Thus, she travelled to York and met William Gray Jr. at the Black Swan, and the matter was resolved (West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale 1840 - 1847). From Anne’ Lister's commentary and the version of Ann Walker’s will that was proven after her death in 1854, it is clear that Ann removed the sections of her will that benefitted Anne Lister and named her as executor. Instead, Ann kept William Gray Jr. as the sole executor of her will.
______________⁷ Mrs. Ann Walker (1757-1847) was Ann’s aunt, who lived at Cliff Hill. She died in October of 1847.⁸ Dr. Henry Stephens Belcombe (1790 - 1856) was the only son of Dr. Belcombe of York. He was Mariana Lawton’s brother and Anne Lister’s trusted medical man. He inherited his father’s business and ran Clifton Green well into the second half of the 19th century. ⁹ George Sackville Sutherland (1831 - 1843) was the eldest son of Captain George Mackay Sutherland and Elizabeth Sutherland (née Walker) of Udale, Fortrose, Scotland. ¹⁰ William Gray Jr. became Anne’s and Ann’s solicitor after the death of his father, Jonathan Gray, in 1837.
Curiosities from Anne’s and Ann’s wills
The probate versions of Anne Lister’s and Ann Walker’s wills tell us the story of their decision-making process as they moved from an initial idea to what then became the probate version of their wills. Some of these decisions were preserved over the years but, as we have seen, many of the initial ideas were abandoned.
In Anne Lister’s case, the version of the will standing as probate was that of May 1836, which had three codicils attached, the last one being from April 1839. In this final version of her will, Anne kept the clause regarding Ann losing her life interest if she married.
At first glance, and without having the context of Anne’s decision-making process until she reached this final iteration, one might think that she did this to, in some way, ‘bind’ Ann Walker to her. However, such assumption is dangerous, especially considering the legal doctrine of coverture (or couverture, as it sometimes is referred to), which was in effect at the time of Anne's death (Wikipedia 2021). Under this doctrine, married women had less autonomy to manage their estate if they married, because the wife and the husband became, in the eyes of the law, a sole entity (MacDonagh 2017, 16). Whatever value women brought to a marriage would likely be controlled by their husbands, except if agreements were made in order to ensure that brides kept their property as their own after marriage and so retained their legal rights to those properties (MacDonagh 2017, 21). If a married woman inherited property during the course of her marriage, her husband would benefit from it, unless the bequest that conferred that property specified that this was for the benefit of the wife alone (MacDonagh 2017, 21). This eventually changed with the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, which gave married women more power over their own property (“Married Women's Property Act 1882”, n.d.; Loudermelk, n.d.).
Considering that that both Mariana Lawton and Marian Lister had, at one point, been the beneficiaries of similar bequests with similar constraints (losing said benefit if they married), it is likely that the constraint Anne Lister added had more to do with a desire to protect the Shibden Hall estate rather than binding her sister or her companion to her person. If either of these women married after receiving the life interest in the Shibden Hall estate from Anne, their husbands would likely handle the estate and its profits themselves, which also meant that these men would have power to leave their wives penniless. Whereas, if the women remained single, they'd retain their status of feme sole in the eyes of the law and, thus, would also retain their rights to manage the estate. Having a provision ensuring that the life interest is revoked in case of marriage ensured that the person whom Anne chose as beneficiary would never see the profits from this bequest being taken by a spouse. Thus, provided that that beneficiary never married, Anne's will ensured that the person benefiting from the life estate would always have access to the safety net afforded by the extra income.
Notably, Anne Lister never added a codicil regarding the other bequests she intended to make (legacies and annuities) and which would benefit people close to her, such as Mariana Lawton and Marian Lister. Interestingly enough, in May of 1841, Ann Walker added to her own will a few bequests benefitting some of the people close to Anne Lister. To Marian Lister and her assigns, Ann bequeathed an annuity of £300 for as long as Marian remained unmarried.
Ann also bequeathed a legacy to both Mariana Percy Belcombe¹¹ and Sibbella Cameron¹², who were Anne Lister's goddaughters.
These bequests are particularly interesting in light of Anne Lister’s decision-making process regarding her own will. As was mentioned in one of the previous sections, Anne had intended to bequeath to Marian Lister an annuity of the same sum (Lister 1826 Jul 01). To Mariana Percy Belcombe, Anne had at some point thought to bequeath a book (Lister 1822 Aug 25). When it comes to Sibbella Cameron, Anne congratulated Lady Vere Cameron on the birth of this child when she became aware of it (Lister 1838 Apr 10). Anne also kept a somewhat regular correspondence with Lady Vere Cameron and, on occasion, received in return an account of the little Camerons but, so far, confirmation that Anne attended Sibbella’s christening remains elusive and, considering Anne's travels during 1838 and 1839, it's unlikely that she had the opportunity to attend. However, it was possible for a third party to stand as “godmother by proxy” to a child (for example, Sibbella Maclean of Coll stood as godmother by proxy once¹³), which would be a possibility in this case. When it comes to bequests, no proof has emerged from Anne’s journals, so far, that indicates a clear intent to leave a bequest to little Sibbella Cameron, who was only two years old at the time of Anne Lister’s death. Since no proof has emerged to clarify if these bequests in Ann Walker’s will were a last request from Anne Lister herself, it is impossible to say what motivated Ann Walker to include them in the last iteration of her will.
As Anne Lister intended, the Listers of Wales inherited the Shibden Hall estate after Ann Walker died in February of 1854. However, in Ann Walker’s will, Dr. John Lister is also a beneficiary. Ann bequeathed to him pew number one in the North Chapel (also referred to as the Rokeby Chapel) of the Halifax Parish Church. This pew was to be attached to the Shibden Hall estate and its ownership was subjected to the same terms as stipulated for the Shibden Hall estate in Anne Lister’s will.
The entails general both Anne Lister and Ann Walker used while determining the 'line of succession' in their wills also ensured that female heirs would be eligible to get their estates. At the time, male heirs were preferred to female heirs, given that the property bequeathed to them would be safe from the constraints of coverture (MacDonagh 2017, 16). Female heirs were less likely to inherit property, given that, as was mentioned previously, they were likely to lose their rights to manage such property after marriage (ibid, 16). Thus, women were more likely to inherit mobile property (furniture, plate, jewellery, etc) (ibid, 16). By clearly stating that female heirs were to inherit property solely for their own use, Anne and Ann ensured that these female heirs' rights to manage the property were preserved and the estates would be kept out of reach of these heirs' husbands (ibid, 21).
Aside from bequests to family and friends, Ann Walker’s will also included charity works. Ann instructed her executors to use her personal estate to acquire 3% of annuities in order to produce a profit of £10 per year. The dividends of these investments were to be paid to the owner of the Upper Crow Nest estate, as long as they were a Walker, and this person was to distribute the money among the poor of Lightcliffe at Lightcliffe Chapel (today’s Old St. Matthews Church) on Christmas day. Though some of Ann’s ancestors left similar charity bequests, Ann explicitly mentions that this was a continuation of a similar bequest made by her uncle, the late William Walker of Crow Nest (d. 1809).
Finally, let us consider the executors of Anne’s and Ann’s wills. When Anne Lister died, only two of her three named executors (Ann Walker, Jonathan Gray, and William Gray Jr.) were alive. Thus, Ann and William Gray Jr. were the people in charge of disposing of Anne’s property. Some months after Ann Walker was deemed a “person of unsound mind”, Captain George Mackay Sutherland was named Committee of the Estate for Ann Walker (The National Archives 1843). This position of Committee of the Estate conferred to Captain Sutherland the authority to manage Ann Walker's money and estate (Elmer 1844, 60), including the interest on the Shibden Hall estate bequeathed to her by Anne Lister. When Captain Sutherland died in 1847, John Rawson was named the new Committee of Ann Walker’s Estate (West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale 1847 Nov 23) and carried on with similar responsibilities until her death in 1854. In the probate version of Ann Walker’s will (Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1854 May 12), only William Gray Jr. was named her executor and, thus, he alone was responsible for ensuring that Ann’s wishes were respected.
______________¹¹ Mariana Percy Belcombe (1821 - 1901) was Dr. Henry Stephens Belcombe’s only daughter. She was Anne’s goddaughter, a responsibility Anne shared with Mariana Lawton. Her life partner, Elizabeth Hopkinson, dedicated a window to Percy (Smith 2020) at St. Olave’s Church, in York. ¹² Sibbella Matilda Cameron (1838 - 1890) was Lady Vere Cameron’s third daughter. She was the youngest of Anne Lister’s goddaughters. Sibbella married Reverend Henry George John Veitch and had three children: Vere, Sybil, and George. ¹³ In 1828, Sibbella Maclean stood as “proxy Godmother” to Georgina Thackeray, the daughter of Colonel Frederick Rennell Thackeray and Elizabeth Margaret Carnegie. In a letter to Anne Lister, Sibbella wrote: “'The baby is to be christened tomorrow, I [stand] a proxy Godmother - go at night to Wood hall and return next day -' (Maclean 1828 Sep 23).
Annuity — a sum of money paid at regular intervals (yearly or otherwise regular intervals).
Bequest — money or property which a deceased person wishes to leave to people or persons, by will, after their death.
Codicil — A supplementary document to a will, which includes instructions to modify, add or remove those given in the original will. The codicils usually retain the date in which they’re formalized, but the addition of a codicil does not change the date of the original will.
Executor — the person who is in charge of ensuring that the instructions of a will are followed.
Feme Sole - An unmarried woman or a woman in an equivalent state in the eyes of the Law.
Feme Covert - The legal status of married women.
Intestate — a person who dies without leaving instructions as to how their property should be disposed of and whom they wish to have as beneficiaries.
Legacy — money or property that a person receives from someone after they die.
Legacy Duty — a tax charged when a will was executed, where any residue or share of residue surpassed £20.
Prerogative Court — an ecclesiastical court which formerly had power to exercise probate jurisdiction regarding wills and estates of deceased persons.
Probate — the process of proving to a court that a document is a person’s last will and testament.
Republish — a former re-execution of a will or a codicil pertaining to a will, which has the effect of confirming that same will. When a will is republished, it is dated as if it has been made at the date of republication.
Testator / Testatrix — a person who died and left a valid will in effect at the time of their death.
Will — A document in which a person appoints people or persons (executors) to administer their estate after they die. These documents usually direct the executors as to how the deceased’s property is to be disposed of among specific beneficiaries named in the document.
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I would like to thank everyone who assisted in gathering references for this article, especially: Adeline Lim, Jane Kendall, Kerstin Holzgraebe, Jenna Beyer, and Lynn Shouls. Thank you also to Chloe Nacci, Amanda Pryce, and Alex Pryce for assisting with proofreading and for providing editorial assistance and feedback. Special thanks to Shantel Smith for her assistance regarding Belcombe and Lawton family information and references to primary sources. Similarly, special thanks is owed to Kat Williams for her assistance and immense patience in answering all sorts of questions about the Camerons of Lochiel and the Macleans of Coll, and also for her assistance with locating references to primary sources. Finally, I wish to thank David Glover for taking the time to kindly answer a few questions about the Listers of Shibden Hall.
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