FINDING HER FINAL RESTING PLACE
Marlene Oliveira, Shantel Smith, Amanda Pryce, Steph Gallaway, Livia Labate, Jude DobsonPublished on 15 December, 2020 · Last updated on 23 December, 2020
Anne Lister's body was buried in the Halifax Minster months after it was returned to Halifax following her death in Georgia in 1840. Yet, it remains a mystery precisely where her remains lie.
In this article, we explore how the lives—and especially the deaths—of generations of Listers intersect with the rich history of The Halifax Minster over the centuries, providing us with clues about where Anne Lister's body is today and how we might find her.
Trigger warning: death, dying, decomposition. Estimated reading time: 70 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.
Errata and content updates are noted at the end of this article.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Anne Lister’s funeral
After the adventure of a lifetime, Anne Lister died in Kutaisi, Georgia, on the 22nd of September 1840. Ann Walker ensured Anne’s remains would travel to England, by sea, from Trebizond¹ (today’s Trabzon, Turkey). The journey of Anne’s remains homewards took approximately seven months.
Anne’s remains would reach Shibden late on Saturday, the 24th of April 1841. This return was chronicled in the Halifax Guardian from the 1st of May 1841:
Per the burial records and newspaper reports, Anne’s funeral took place on the 29th of April 1841. Like previous Lister funerals, Anne Lister’s happened almost a week after her remains reached her home. Judging by what is chronicled in contemporary newspapers, this event intrigued the public in such a way that many apparently gathered to see the funerary procession on its way to the parish church. The Leeds Times of the 1st of May 1841 offers an account of what came to pass on that day.
Per the parish burial records, Reverend Charles Musgrave presided over the ceremony. Both Anne Lister and Ann Walker knew and respected Reverend Musgrave and had requested his services for previous Lister funerary ceremonies. Musgrave was the Vicar of Halifax from 1827 to 1875 and would become an influential figure in the history of the parish. A little over a decade after he presided over Anne Lister’s burial ceremony, he also performed a similar ceremony for Ann Walker’s burial.
Aside from the little information from the Leeds Times reporting that Anne’s coffin was ornamented with the family’s coat of arms, not much more is known about it. The only other detail that can be verified is the inscription in the coffin plate, which was recorded on the margin of the page that contains the record of Anne’s burial.
The intrepid mistress of Shibden Hall had finally been laid to rest in the same church she was christened in and that housed many of her family members.
- As stated in a schedule of an account paid by Ann Walker and submitted as evidence in Walker v. Gray.
- The church of St. John the Baptist in Halifax is usually referred to as Halifax Parish Church in literature. It is commonly referred to as Halifax Minster since it received Minster status in 2009.
A final resting place
The church of St. John the Baptist in Halifax, commonly referred to as Halifax Minster since it received that status in 2009 “in recognition of its great church status and monastic tradition,” is one of the oldest buildings in Halifax. Over the centuries, the parish church has been the stage of numerous events connected to Halifax’s history and its people, many of whom worshiped there, attended meetings, saw their children baptized, and their dead buried in the many vaults and brick-lined shaft graves below the church floors. Some of the illustrious tenants of the building have names that will be familiar to those studying Halifax history, and particularly the Halifax of Anne’s time: Priestley, Waterhouse, Ramsden, Walker, and, of course, Lister.
Though she is undeniably the most famous Lister from Shibden Hall buried in the Halifax Minster, Anne Lister certainly wasn’t the first. Many of her ancestors and siblings preceded her and, by the time she was buried, there were a considerable number of Listers who could also claim the church as their final resting place. However, though the Parish records include many Lister burials, there aren’t many surviving gravestones to memorialize them. It is possible some of these may not even have been memorialized in a gravestone in the first place.
The oldest Lister gravestone that can be traced to the Minster is that of Anne’s great-great-grandparents, James Lister (d. 1729) and Mary Lister (née Issot, d. 1756). The gravestone inscription confirms that James Lister was buried in 1729 and Mary was buried in 1756. Per E.W. Crossley³, the gravestone’s inscription read as follows in 1909:
The same Lister ancestors have a plaque dedicated to them, which can currently be seen at the western end of the south aisle of the church. This monumental inscription is written partly in Latin and adorned with the family’s coat of arms.
There are more Lister gravestones from other Listers of this generation, which were also transcribed by E.W. Crossley. They belonged to Anne’s great-great-uncles: Rev. John Lister (d. 1759), Samuel Lister (d. 1763), and James Lister (d. 1766). Today, only the stones of Rev. John Lister and Samuel Lister maintain fragments of their original inscriptions, but these are very worn out and barely legible. These stones can be seen at present in the south aisle of the church.
Anne Lister’s grandparents, Jeremy Lister and Anne Lister (née Hall), also had a gravestone memorializing them, which was transcribed by Crossley. The inscription reads as follows:
A published article by local historian David Glover informs us that there are “no memorial inscriptions to Anne’s uncle and aunt, her father, and their generation.” Thus, we have to turn to Anne Lister’s journals, other family papers, and parish records for information.
The first member of this generation to be interred at the Halifax Parish Church was likely Mary Lister (d. 1746), followed by her brother John Lister (d. 1769), and probably her sister Phoebe Lister (d. 1771). Anne’s Aunt Martha Lister, who was buried on the 15th of August 1809, would also be interred in the Halifax Parish Church. In her account of the later funeral of her brother John, Anne Lister confirms the location of her aunt’s burial when she says her brother shares his grave with their Aunt Martha “in the family burying-place at the old church.”
Joseph Lister of Northgate would be the next Lister buried at the church on the 13th of November 1817. Unfortunately, the pages that would include Anne Lister’s account of his burial were removed from her journal, and the only details left (the dates of death and burial) are present in that journal’s index. Joseph’s first wife (Elizabeth, d. 1792) and his children (Samuel and Anne, both died as infants) were also likely interred at the Halifax Parish Church. Joseph Lister’s second wife, Mary Lister (née Fawcett), died in 1822 and was buried with her husband. Anne Lister recorded this burial in her journal entry of the 12th of February 1822:
Thorough, as usual, Anne also records some details about the coffin and its fixtures and also adds a note regarding the brass plate that identified the deceased:
Another decade would pass until another Lister of this generation joined his siblings. On the 3rd of April 1836, Anne Lister’s birthday, her father Jeremy Lister passed away. As had happened to his siblings, Jeremy would be buried in the Halifax parish church (while Anne's mother Rebecca Lister (née Battle, d. 1817), was buried at All Saints Church in Market Weighton). Anne also recorded the day her father was buried in her journal. Here is the passage in which she describes the funeral:
Just a few months after her brother died, Aunt Anne Lister would also pass away. Anne made the usual funeral arrangements, as she had done for her father and uncle previously. Reverend Musgrave presided over the ceremony, and Aunt Anne Lister, the last of her generation, was laid to rest in the parish church, interred in the same grave her brother James had been laid to rest in 1826. On that day, the 17th of October 1836, Anne Lister recorded the details of her beloved Aunt’s funeral:
Some of Anne Lister’s siblings are also buried in the parish church. Per the church’s burial records, Anne’s brother John Lister (d. 1789) was the first of her siblings to be interred there. There is a Lister infant, sibling of Anne Lister, who was buried at the Minster in April 1806. In 1810, Anne’s second brother named John, would also be laid to rest at the church. Anne recorded his burial in the journal entry of the 30th of January 1810:
Her brothers Jeremy (d. 1802) and Samuel⁴ (d. 1813) are likely buried elsewhere. The last Lister of this generation was Marian Lister, who lived to see her 84th birthday and was not buried with her close family members. Instead, she is buried with her cousins Dr. Lister and John Lister, MA, in the churchyard of the church of St. Anne-in-the-Grove in Southowram. It is possible Marian’s remains weren’t interred in the family burial place at the Halifax Parish Church due to restrictions put in place by the Burial Act of 1852. Another possible explanation for this is the renovations of the late 1870s (see below), which significantly changed the floor of the parish church.
We have discussed the many Lister burials that can be traced to the parish church, whether by burial records or journals and family papers. Many of them were buried in the family vault, to which Anne refers to as the “vault” or “burying place.”
The use of the word “vault” in contemporary newspapers may lead us to believe that the Listers are buried in some sort of crypt. However, it is worth noting that the definition⁵ of “vault” is “a room under a church or in a cemetery, used for burying people,” but it can also be defined⁶ as “a prefabricated container usually of metal or concrete into which a casket is placed at burial.”
Anne Lister’s description of the grave her father was buried in matches the latter description quite closely. However, Anne’s description of the Listers’ style of burial doesn’t precisely match a burial in a family crypt. Instead, her description is more consistent with what graves commonly described as ‘brick-lined shaft graves.’
The Lister family burial place
It is assumed from Anne’s description that the family vault is located in the south chapel, also referred to as the Holdsworth chapel, which is part of the Halifax Minster.
The initial purpose of this plan appears to be consistent with the logistics of renting pews⁷. The Calderdale branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service holds a plan of the church that is undated but supposed to have been executed in the early 19th century. This plan was catalogued as a “seating plan,” and includes all the numbered pews in the church. These pews have numerous handwritten pencil notes attributing them to tenants. Many of these match the tenants Anne Lister had in 1835. We annotated the plan to include only the pew markings that had pencil notes scribbled in them.
However, the plan also includes markings for several Lister and Walker graves, making it twice as important, as this may be Anne Lister’s copy of the church plan mentioned in the journal snippet above.
Anne Lister’s plan was copied in January 1836. Evidence suggests that it may be a companion to a list of occupiers of the Lister pews at the Parish Church in early 1836, written by Ann Walker. This list is part of the evidence used in the first Walker v Gray legal case. By cross-referencing the list of pew occupiers and the 1836 church plan, it is possible to map out all of the Lister pews in the old church and attribute to them the names of the people who rented them in early 1836. Aside from information regarding pews, the 1836 plan also includes the locations of several Lister and Walker graves scattered around the church.
It is very likely that this plan’s grave markings were included when it was first executed since the church’s early 19th-century plan also includes these same grave markings, with many of them in the same location.
The 1836 plan has a few small notes that mark specific locations of plan sections. A small pencil note upside down in the sketch of the orchestra gives the approximate location of the “entrance to the tower,” which would stand below the orchestra gallery. There’s also a small note stating that the sketch of the orchestra gallery was supposed to be placed over the Governors and Constables pews. Another small note simply states, “7 yards”. There are other smaller notes indicating the location of specific pews, walls, and entrances. The most considerable pencil note scribbled on the plan is barely legible but suggests a correction made to this document. It reads as follows:
Next to this note, there’s an area of an aisle that had something scribbled and later erased. The erased bit was then replaced by the word “Free.” Based on the description in the pencil note transcribed above, this pertains to the Walker graves nearby, which might’ve been accidentally sketched in the wrong place when the graves were added to the plan. In the early 19th-century plan of the church, these Walker graves are located in the same spot.
It seems plausible that the person who copied the 1836 plan accidentally copied the graves that were mismarked, leading them to add the pencil note and eventually correct the plan before they inked these graves’ definitive location. No Lister grave is marked near the chancel in either plan.
The Halifax Parish Church
The church of St. John the Baptist at Halifax has undergone several alterations over the centuries. After Anne Lister’s burial there were renovations that aimed at making the church more comfortable for churchgoers and some of these meant extensive changes to the building’s internal organization.
The Halifax Parish Church in Anne Lister’s time was different from today. The churchyard on the exterior wasn’t covered in grass. Instead, locals were greeted by many gravestones that memorialized the dead buried on the church’s grounds.
The interior of the parish church was also different. The font was in the ante-chapel⁸ of the church and this area was separated from the nave by a wooden gallery. This gallery served as a screen of sorts and supported the orchestra, and a few pews. The organ was also located in this gallery. At the time, there were no pews past this screen towards the western wall of the church.
The nave of the church was more or less similar to what we can see today, but the pews were taller and had different sizes. The pulpit was more elaborate and located in the middle of a row of pews next to the middle aisle. Churchgoers walking the middle aisle towards the chancel⁹ would see this same pulpit on their right.
Memorials to the dead and, at times, funerary hatchments¹⁰ adorned some of the columns that supported the ceiling arches. There was an elevated gallery of pews in the north side of the church (adjacent to the Norman wall) the pews in the north and south aisles extended to the chancel, and there was a cross aisle in the eastern part of the church.
This cross-aisle went from the Rokeby chapel’s entrance to the pews on the southern side of the south aisle. In the 1840s, inscribed gravestones covered the many graves of past Halifax residents who had been interred inside the church.
The Rokeby and Holdsworth chapels, which both commemorate Vicars who served the town's parish church in the 16th century, were also different in Anne’s time. The Rokeby chapel, named after William Rokeby¹¹ (Vicar of Halifax and Archbishop of Dublin), was built between 1521 and 1533  at the bequest of its namesake after his death. Per Rokeby’s will, this chapel was to be built on the south side of the Halifax parish church¹², but it ended up being built on its north side. The cause for such change is not known .
In the 1836 plan of the parish church, the interior of this chapel, also referred to as the north chapel, had only one row of four large pews and the aisle was located next to the chapel’s north wall. The Holdsworth chapel, also referred to as the south chapel, was built by Robert Holdsworth¹³ in accordance to his father’s wishes as a chantry chapel on the south side of the parish church . In Anne’s time, the pews inside the south chapel were located towards the north side of the chapel and the aisle was next to the southern wall of the chapel.
The chancel was separated from the nave by a wooden screen. The altar was located in this part of the church and adorned by an ornate wooden railing. On the 11th of April 1836, Anne Lister stood near this railing while Charles Musgrave performed the funeral ceremony of Jeremy Lister’s burial.
In his book from 1909, E.W. Crossley also refers to these alterations while contextualizing E.J. Walker's¹⁴ work. Crossley quotes a note in Walker’s MS, which mentions “the chapel was cleaned” , the old pews next to the screen were removed, the floor levelled, and hot water pipes for heating were installed.
The renovations that followed during 1878 and 1879 (funded by local manufacturer Edward Akroyd), included significant alterations to the interior of the church. These were led by the Vicar of Halifax at that time, Reverend Francis Pigou, and conducted under the supervision of prestigious architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, whose son, John Oldrid Scott saw the works to completion after his father’s death in 1878.
The Reverend Francis Pigou was inducted as Vicar of Halifax in December 1875 after initially declining the position left vacant after Archdeacon Charles Musgrave’s death. Pigou was a central figure in renovations. A chronological history published in the Halifax Courier of the 15th of December 1877 notes that he wished to see the parish church restored. The earliest extract published in this chronological history is from the 4th of February 1876 and it quotes Rev. Pigou’s motivation for the renovations was “to provide more accommodation”, since he considered the church “was not even large enough to hold half the number of people that it ought to hold”. The chronological history also quotes an extract from the Vicar’s Speech of the 2nd of September 1876, in which more details regarding the renovations are provided:
In the Osset Observer of the 2nd of September 1876, Pigou had also made his desire for a restoration of the parish church known to the members of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, who visited the church on the 30th of August 1876. By the 9th of September 1876, Sir George Gilbert Scott was reportedly working on plans for the renovations.
However, these renovations weren’t well received by all. Throughout 1876 and 1877, several letters were addressed to the Editor of the Halifax Courier and a debate was sparked. Some of these letters objected to the alterations proposed or rumoured to be proposed by Sir Gilbert Scott. One frequent argument against the renovations was the cost, as evidenced by an article in the Leeds Times of the 17th of February 1877:
The same article also mentions another frequent concern: preserving the old features and fixtures of the old church.
In November 1877, a meeting was held in the Assembly Rooms at Halifax to discuss the proposed alterations to the Halifax Parish Church. The Leeds Times of the 17th of November 1877 reports that 450 people attended this meeting and both the Vicar and Sir Gilbert Scott spoke in favour of the proposed renovations. The newspaper refers to Pigou’s remarks, which offer an image of a church that was, by then, in seemingly poor condition:
Sir Gilbert Scott’s intervention at the meeting is also quoted by the Leeds Intelligencer of the 17th of November 1877. In his remarks, he praised the church’s beauty and warned it was necessary to repair it in order to ensure future generations would benefit:
However, Gilbert Scott had also been informed about the putrid smell that arose when the church’s heating was used. Thus, he proposed that the floor be fixed:
But the works would endeavour to also repair other parts of the church:
However reasonable these concerns might be, there were people in the audience who considered the full congregation should be consulted on the matter. Mr. J.D. Hutchinson, M.P. brought this concern forward and asked if only the opinion of those 450 people gathered there should be considered as representing the 200,000 inhabitants of the parish. Given that rich and poor alike were asked to contribute to the cause, Mr. Hutchinson thought that everyone should be consulted. He didn’t oppose the changes, especially those that ensured the church became more favourable to the health of churchgoers, but he considered that the times were not favourable to such large alterations.
At the end of this meeting, only four people voted against the motion to repair the church.
The works to renovate and repair the Halifax Parish Church took place over a period of eighteen months in 1878 and 1879. Per newspaper reports following the renovations, these were authorized in January 1878, the last sermon was preached at the church in May of that year, and the works started at once. During these updates, the floors were fixed, the galleries at the north and west ends were removed, the old pulpit was removed and replaced, the heating was fixed, the pews were altered to be lower and more uniform in size, plaster was removed from the walls, and the organ was moved to the eastern side of the church  .
The renovated church was reopened in October 1879. The Huddersfield Chronicle of the 11th of October 1879 reports that great pains were taken to ensure that all that was “ancient and beautiful” was preserved. The same article describes the alterations to the church. As had been desired, the galleries were removed and the organ and pulpit were repositioned:
The font at the western end of the parish church also had minor changes to its base and had the cover stripped of its colour. The pews had been lowered and some were repaired. It was also at this time that the pews on the western end of the church were added and a new heating system installed.
The floors of the church were fixed and, as was to be expected, the gravestones had to be moved during these repair works. However, “the grave stones are all replaced as nearly as possible in the same position as before”.
Other monuments were repaired, both the Rokeby and Holdsworth chapels and the choir underwent “great changes”, and sections of the roof of the church were repaired. These renovations also touched the churchyard. The east end of the churchyard was also “raised, leveled, and the spaces between the graves [were] sown with grass”.
In the early 1950s, another alteration to the interior of the church took place. This time, the east end of the south aisle was modified to accommodate a chapel dedicated to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment . The repurposing of this part of the church meant that the memorial to Archdeacon Charles Musgrave (d. 1875) was moved to its current location beneath the tower . The Wellington Chapel, or Chapel of the Resurrection as it is sometimes called, also houses the Commonwealth windows.
At the start of the new Millenium, the Halifax Parish Church was yet again altered. These alterations were funded by the Heritage Fund and cost £2,000,000. The purpose of these alterations was to provide a more adequate reception area at the west end of the church. Thus, to make space for this feature, the Victorian pews at the western end of the church were removed. As it happens, it was during the removal of these pews in March 2000 that the fragments of Anne Lister’s tombstone were found.
More recent alterations saw the north and south aisle pew platforms removed to the east end of the nave, the floor at the front of the nave was removed and the floor voids filled and paved, the floors below the nave altar platform were leveled and repaved, and a new (removable) octagonal oak timber dais platform was added.
 E. W. Crossley, The Monumental and Other Inscriptions in Halifax Parish Church, Leeds: J. Whitehead & Son, 1909.
 D. Glover, “Northern Life Magazine,” 5 June 2019. [Online]. Available: https://northernlifemagazine.co.uk/the-mystery-of-gentleman-jacks-tombstone. [Accessed September 2020].
 T. W. Hanson, The Story of Old Halifax, Halifax: F. King & sons ltd, 1920.
 T. W. Hanson, “Archbishop Rokeby, Vicar of Halifax, 1502-1521,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1918.
 J. W. Clay and E. W. Crossley, Halifax Wills Being Abstracts And Translations Of The Wills Registered At York From The Parish Of Halifax, Halifax: Privately printed for the Editors, 1904.
 “The Restoration of the Halifax Parish Church,” Huddersfield Chronicle, 1879.
 W. R. Barnes and I. M. Longbotham, The Story of Halifax Parish Church, 1971.
 H. England, “CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST,” 2020. [Online]. Available: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1133928. [Accessed September 2020].
 T. W. Hanson, “The Evolution of the Parish Church, Halifax, from 1455-1530,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1917.
 H. Minster, “Church History,” 2020. [Online]. Available: https://halifaxminster.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/History-pages.pdf. [Accessed October 2020].
Anne Lister’s tombstone
Though the exact location of Anne Lister’s burial inside the Halifax Minster is not known, we can still admire the fragments of the gravestone that once likely covered her final resting place. The stone included an inscription to memorialize Anne and it was transcribed by both John Lister¹⁵ and S.T. Rigge¹⁶, and it is included in E.W. Crossley’s book from 1909. The stone’s inscription reads as follows:
Per Crossley’s book, the stone could be previously seen in the “north aisle of the church”. This is consistent with information in a published article by local historian David Glover, which suggest that John Lister recorded a more precise location for the stone and placed it “in the north aisle, west of the west cross aisle”. In the 1870s, the west cross aisle of the church corresponded to the space which connected the north and south porches of the church. The north aisle would cross this aisle and stop at the west wall of the church.
At the time of Anne’s burial, the northwest corner of the parish church was part of the ante-chapel¹⁷. The placement of the stone in this area likely contributed to the relatively good state of the inscription. Stones in areas with high foot traffic (i.e. in places that people have to cross frequently to access or leave their pews) have sections of their inscriptions worn out. Two good examples of this are the gravestones that memorialize Anne Lister’s great-great-uncles, which can be seen in the south aisle of the church. The alleged position of Anne Lister’s stone in this corner of the church and, later, below the Victorian pew likely contributed to the inscription’s preservation.
The damage to the tombstone is an immediately noticeable feature. Whereas other Lister stones remained relatively intact, Anne’s gravestone seems to have gone through a bit of a rough time. Two cuts with a particularly regular shape ensured that a large portion of the inscription, including the name of the deceased, would be lost. Furthermore, the edges of one of the large stone fragments seem to have been chiseled a bit.
No information has emerged to explain the damage inflicted to the stone. However, this is not inconsistent with the extensive renovations in the late 1870s after which several gravestones were lost. We must also keep in mind that this particular stone was thought lost for decades until it reemerged, in March 2000, when Victorian pews at the north west side of the church were removed. These Victorian pews had been installed during Sir Gilbert Scott’s renovations of the late 1870s. Additionally, it is also worth considering that having a stone intact enough for the inscription to be readable doesn’t necessarily mean that the stone is still whole.
To make the journey of the tombstone easier to visualize, we created a timeline to track what is known about its location and the changes to the church around it.
Where in the Minster is Anne Lister?
The mystery of the location of Anne Lister’s grave has intrigued many researchers and casual Anne Lister enthusiasts over the decades. Consequently, several theories about the grave’s probable location have arisen. The two most common theories place Anne’s grave either at the Holdsworth chapel or at the north west corner of the parish church. However, additional research has unearthed some evidence indicating other potential locations for Anne Lister’s final burial place. We’ll discuss these ideas, starting with the two most widely shared theories.
1. Burial at the Holdsworth chapel
A popular theory for a possible location of Anne’s grave is in the Holdsworth chapel, which is also known as the south chapel due to its position inside the parish church. As previously mentioned, this element of the parish church was built in the 16th century  by Robert Holdsworth and served as the final resting place for several members of local families. The chapel also housed the grave of Dr. Holdsworth, who was murdered at the vicarage in 1556.
Anne Lister’s chronicle of her uncle James’ funeral mentions the Holdsworth chapel in the following passage:
This leads us to believe that the Lister vault was located towards the western end of the chapel, near the screen¹⁸. At the time, the Constable’s pew was located towards the western end of the pews on the south side of the church.
Both the 1836 plan and the early 19th century plan include the same markings for Lister graves in this area. Given Anne’s description of the approximate location of the Lister vault and the cluster of Lister graves in the area of the south aisle nearest to the Constable’s pew, we can say these are probably what Anne referred to as the “family burial place”. It is possible she simply referenced the chapel as a way to indicate the side of the church relative to the middle aisle in which the Lister vault was located and used the mention “next to the Constable’s pew” to refer to the vault as being in line with the row in which this pew is located. It is also possible that Anne accidentally made a mistake and, instead of writing “south aisle”, wrote “south chapel”.
According to an article published in the Huddersfield Chronicle of the 11th of October 1879¹⁹mentioning the changes to the church after the renovations of the late 1870s, the gravestones were replaced “as near as possible” to their original locations before the renovations. Today, there are Lister gravestones near the cluster of Lister graves in the south aisle and some of these stones possibly are close to the location of some of the graves marked in these plans of the church.
In both plans of the church, we also see one Lister grave near the perimeter of the Holdsworth chapel. However, it seems the grave is placed on the outside of the church, which is inconsistent with Anne’s reports of burials of family members inside the church. It is possible this grave belongs to other Listers buried in the 19th century or, since the plan doesn’t include dates for these graves, there’s a chance this burial place is even older.
Therefore, considering the evidence at hand, it seems improbable that there are Lister graves in the Holdsworth chapel.
2. The northwest corner of the church
Another possible burial place for Anne Lister is the section of the north aisle encroached between the west cross aisle and the west wall of the church.
There are two arguments that lend credibility to this theory: John Lister’s record ,  of the stone location in the early 1870s and the location of the fragments of Anne’s stone, rediscovered by stonemason Andy Barraclough in March 2000 .
As was mentioned previously, John Lister copied the inscription of Anne’s gravestone and recorded it’s position “in the north aisle, west of the west cross aisle”. The fragments of the gravestone were found near this area of the church. This, coupled with the newspaper reports that mention how the gravestones were placed “as near as possible” to their original locations, adds strength to the argument that Anne’s grave might be nearby.
A possible explanation offered by David Glover's article for a burial this far from the other family graves would be the size of the coffin, which might have been too broad to fit into any of the existing Lister graves. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for people to be buried with a double or triple layer coffin, which contained a lead shell and one or two wood shells. Furthermore, it is possible that there was no space left in the other family graves scattered around the church and away from the larger cluster on the south aisle, which would have led to the procurement of a new burial place for Anne. Given that this section of the north aisle would, in 1841, be relatively free of pews, there’s a chance a larger grave would fit there.
However, it is important to also note that a position of a gravestone at a given time doesn’t necessarily mean that it has remained static since its owner’s burial. There are other stones in the church that “travelled” to other places over the decades. One such example is the gravestone that memorializes several members of the Walker family of Crow Nest, who were buried in the south aisle of the chancel  of the parish church in the early 18th century. Their gravestone's inscription, transcribed by E.W. Crossley around 1909, was located in the east cross aisle . Furthermore, the damage to Anne’s stone may indicate that it was possibly used for different purposes before it ended up below a Victorian pew.
The church plan from the early 19th century shows a smudged area in the north aisle where a Lister grave had been marked in ink and then erased. The “L” that is still visible indicates the grave belonged to the Listers. The plan doesn’t include any pencil notes to specify why the correction was made or where the grave was then marked.
Thus, we can say it is possible Anne’s grave was located here, but there’s also a chance that her stone was moved in the three decades that followed her burial and placed here before John Lister recorded its location.
3. Burial at the Lister vault in the south aisle
Yet another possible option for Anne’s burial place is the Lister vault or, as we can see in both the 1836 plan and the early 19th century plan, the cluster of Lister graves on the south aisle of the Halifax Parish Church.
Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (MISC:333/47).
Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:2/M/14).
Judging by the parish burial records, the surviving stones that can still be observed today near this location, and the records from E.W. Crossley’s book from 1909, it’s clear there are several of Anne’s ancestors buried in this cluster of graves. Anne Lister’s own accounts of family burials suggest that some of her close relatives are buried at the family burial place, such as her brother John (d. 1810) and her Aunt Martha of Shibden Hall (d. 1809).
Looking closely at this cluster of graves marked on the 1836 plan, it seems these are merely something that can be used to inform us of the location of the Lister graves in this aisle. However, looking carefully at the early 19th century plan, we notice that it includes pencil markings over some of these same graves. The most legible notes are those of the Lister graves that occupy the full width of the aisle.
Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (MISC:333/47).
Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (MISC:333/47).
One of these notes reads “Ja.s L-”. This is the usual abbreviation Anne Lister and others use for “Ja[me]s L-[Lister]” and it might indicate the location of the grave of Anne’s Uncle James Lister of Shibden Hall (d. 1826). Thanks to Anne Lister’s account of her Aunt’s funeral, we know Aunt Anne Lister (d. 1836) is buried in the same grave as her brother James, which means the grave with the “James L-” marking might also be her grave. However, we must remember that there are other Lister men also likely buried in this cluster of graves and named “James Lister”, such as Anne’s great-grandfather and great-uncle, and whose gravestones, per Crossley, were located in this aisle.
The other note reads “Jos.ph L- + wife” which, resolving the abbreviations, reads as “Jos[e]ph L-[Lister] and wife”. In the generations of Listers that we saw previously were buried at the Halifax Parish Church, there are two Joseph Listers. One is from the same generation as Anne’s great-uncle, the Rev. John Lister. This Joseph died in 1725, when he was just 3 years old and, of course, he wasn’t married. The other good candidate is Anne’s Uncle Joseph Lister of Northgate, who died in 1817 and is also buried at the Minster. In a previous version of this article, we theorized that his grave might’ve been the one marked on the perimeter of the Holdsworth chapel. However, looking at the pencil markings of this plan and knowing that Joseph Lister’s second wife, Mary Lister (née Fawcett, d. 1822) also shared his grave, it is very likely this pencil note marks the location of their grave. Supposing this pencil note is correct, then their grave shares the aisle with the grave that likely belongs to Joseph’s siblings James Lister and Anne Lister Senior.
Anne’s father’s grave is also likely a part of this cluster. When Jeremy Lister was buried in 1836, his coffin was too large for the Lister grave in which he was to be buried. Per Anne’s journal of the 5th April 1836, Jeremy Lister’s coffin was 2ft. 6 in²¹ wide (around 76.2 cm) and the grave was to have a brick walling, which would need an extra foot (approximately 30.48 cm) of space in order to ensure the walls on each side of the coffin would fit. However, the Listers only had 2 ft. (around 60.96 cm) of space available, which meant they needed to use 1ft 6 in. (around 45.62 cm) of the nearby grave. Anne ended up leaving to the undertaker the decision of encroaching on the nearby grave and using extra space to accommodate Jeremy’s coffin and grave walling.
As it happens, the Lister grave in which Anne’s father was to be buried was neighbouring another that belonged to the Ramsdens of Wellhead. Anne also commented that the last two Ramsden internments in those graves had occurred 70 and 80 years prior to 1836, respectively.
In his book from 1909, E.W. Crossley recorded two inscriptions from Ramsden gravestones present in the south aisle of the parish church. Per Crossley, these were near the Lister gravestones of Anne’s grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and great-great-uncles. One of these stones’ inscriptions reads as follows:
Looking at this inscription, we can say that John Ramsden (d. 1753) is a good candidate to be one of the people Anne mentions as being buried near her father’s grave. Another detail that might reinforce the idea that Jeremy Lister is buried in this cluster of graves is the pencil note on the grave directly below the one attributed to “James Lister” (see images of pencil notes in grave markings above).
As can be seen, the pencil marks seem to include the whole aisle and the bit of the note that is legible reads as “J[?].y L-”, which is likely to be expanded as “J[erem]y L-[Lister]”. Considering Anne’s account of her father's funeral, the location and inscriptions of this Ramsden gravestone, the pencil note on the Lister grave shown in the church plan, and Anne Lister’s mention of having “2 stone in breadth below where my uncle is laid”, we can say there’s a good chance that Jeremy’s grave is part of the cluster of Lister graves in the south aisle of the church and is located close to those of his siblings.
It can be argued that this location would be a good burial place for Anne Lister too, given the proximity to family graves. After all, most of the Listers whom Anne knew, and who were laid to rest at the parish church, ended up buried with close relatives. Per Anne Lister’s journal of the 11th of April 1836, there was enough space for two coffins above Jeremy Lister, which indicates that at least this one grave in this cluster had space available. Jeremy’s grave was, after all, already encroaching on neighbouring graves so it would fit the intended burial spot. However, it has been suggested that Anne’s burial in her father’s grave would be unlikely due to the possible larger size of her coffin.
4. The Rokeby chapel aisle
The Rokeby chapel was built in the 16th century and owes its name to Archbishop William Rokeby who died in 1521 and was so fond of Halifax that he requested that his heart be buried in the choir of the church. The rest of his remains were laid to rest in Kirk Sandall . The entrance to the chapel was connected to the north aisle of the church by a cross aisle. The 1836 plan of the church shows one Lister grave marked in this aisle.
As we can observe, this aisle wasn’t as wide as the north aisle of the church and there were pews delimiting it. Considering the difference in the width when comparing with the other (larger) aisles of the church, there’s a chance this cross aisle housed a single row of graves.
Going back to the possibility of Anne’s coffin being wider than her father’s, it is possible it would be too wide to fit the grave on this aisle. However, there are other Lister coffins that might have fit the grave, especially if we take into account burials of children.
One such possible candidate to occupy this grave would be the infant Lister, which Jeremy Lister and his wife buried at the Halifax Parish Church on the 7th of April 1806. This burial is recorded in the church burial records of that year.
5. The Lister grave at the western end of the nave
Another interesting and intriguing possibility is a Lister grave marked on both the 1836 and the early 19th century plans as L-X and placed at the western end of the nave, right after the row of pews. The grave is marked behind the sketch of the orchestra pews which, at the time of Anne’s burial, were placed over the last rows of pews towards the western end of the church.
A pencil note in the 1836 plan confirms the location of the orchestra pews. Another note next to it marks the location of the door below the elevated pew platform that would allow churchgoers to access the ante-chapel and the aisle that led to north and south porches.
No description of a Lister burial chronicled by Anne Lister herself seems to fit the location of this grave. However, the pencil notes of the 1836 plan provide an interesting clue: there’s a grave sketched next to it with the name “Fawcit” scribbled.
This location would likely allow for a grave wide enough to accommodate a large coffin and this area is also close to the place in which the fragments of Anne’s stone were found in 2000. However, this location is a little far away from the area in which John Lister saw Anne’s stone in the early 1870s.
6. Reusing a Walker grave
The Walkers owned several graves in the Minster which can be seen in both the 1836 plan copied from an earlier 1835 plan acquired by Anne Lister, and in the early 19th century plan. The parish records indicate that there were some of Ann Walker’s ancestors in the church, including her uncle William Walker (d. 1809). These graves were scattered around the church, with two located in the chancel near a door, one in the nave, and one at the end of the row of pews on the south side of the church.
E.W. Crossley and other local historians recorded several Walker gravestones and their locations in the church. Some of these belonged to Walkers of Water Clough, but at least one stone belonged to Walkers of Crow Nest.
The first Sarah Walker referred to in the stone’s inscription was likely Ann Walker’s great-great-grandmother on her father’s side, who died in 1702. She married William Walker of Crow Nest (d. 1714) and they had several children, including Abraham (d. 1722), John (d. 1767), and Mary (d. 1707). The Sarah Walker deceased in 1716 can be traced to this same branch and generation of the family. She died at 16 years old and her burial is recorded in the parish church books.
Crossley cites Walker’s MS to fill in some blanks in the gravestone and also to mention that the stone’s top part had been cut off. Additionally, Crossley cites Walker and mentions the location of the stone as “formerly on the south aisle of the chancel”, which is consistent with the two Walker graves marked on the chancel in the 1836 plan.
It is possible but unlikely that Ann Walker might have considered the possibility of reusing one of these graves to bury Anne Lister’s remains. At the time, the Walkers of Crow Nest and Cliff Hill used St. Matthews in Lightcliffe, nowadays Old St. Matthews, as burial place, which likely meant that their graves at the Halifax Minster might have gone unused for some time. However, that available space was not guaranteed and Ann might also not have been entitled to bury people in these Walker graves.
7. Burial at another location within the Halifax Parish Church
Though the 1836 plan of the Parish Church is certainly a good resource and contains important information, we cannot say when the graves were marked on the plan. It is possible that this plan served different purposes over the years, from assisting with pew rental logistics to burials.
Thus, while we can say that there were a number of Lister graves already in use in 1836, and several graves marked on the plan match information recorded by Anne Lister, we cannot say for sure if Anne’s grave is any of those recorded.
With this in mind, we must always consider the possibility of a burial in any other available location within the church, provided that Anne’s coffin would fit that said grave and her stone, at some point, would cover it.
8. Burial in the grounds at Shibden
On the 29th of April 1828, Anne Lister considered being buried elsewhere outside the parish church. In case she wasn’t allowed to be buried inside the church, Anne wasn’t keen on being buried in the churchyard of the parish church and recalled cemeteries in the Continent, which were a little outside the towns they served. These possibilities were discussed with Charles Musgrave.
Despite having this conversation with Musgrave in 1828, Anne apparently didn’t try to have the ground consecrated at Shibden so she could be buried in her own property.
Anne also expressed potential desire to secure land in the church²⁵ to be built in 1830 on the Northgate property, but there are no further indicators that she took any action to that effect.
 E. W. Crossley, The Monumental and Other Inscriptions in Halifax Parish Church, Leeds: J. Whitehead & Son, 1909.
 D. Glover, “Northern Life Magazine,” 5 June 2019. [Online]. Available: https://northernlifemagazine.co.uk/the-mystery-of-gentleman-jacks-tombstone/. [Accessed September 2020].
 T. W. Hanson, The Story of Old Halifax, Halifax: F. King & sons ltd, 1920.
 T. W. Hanson, “Archbishop Rokeby, Vicar of Halifax, 1502-1521,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1918.
 E. Jenkins, “Missing Historic Link Located,” Halifax Courier, 2000.
The practice of locating a grave
Now that we’ve identified a series of potential burial locations for Anne Lister, what do we do next? Geophysicists, archaeologists, and other researchers employ multiple methods to locate graves in various environments. For this article, we focus on a few non-invasive methods that won’t cause aesthetic or structural disturbances within the Minster.
Several pieces of information provide the necessary background required before engaging any of the described below methods. The pre-work helps you determine the best method and requirements for your goal.
First, a soil profile of the surrounding area is helpful. Soils high in clay content and moisture are not the best for GPR. Soils high in Ferrous minerals can affect magnetometry results. A cursory history of the area is also helpful. Has there been construction in the past? Are there other anomalies in the ground that could affect results while trying to locate a single coffin? If you are searching inside a church, it is helpful to know the methods used to construct the graves. Were the dead buried in large crypts below the ground? Were brick-lined shaft graves used to stack coffins? Approximately how many burials occurred in the area?
Having some knowledge of this information can make locating a grave much easier. Let’s review a brief profile on the current conditions within the Halifax Minster.
What’s happening inside the Minster?
Halifax is located in Calderdale, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire. The underlying bedrock dates back to the Upper Carboniferous period (about 310 million years old) and consists of Millstone Grit sandstone and Coal Measures. Due to the geology, the soils under and around the Halifax Minster are sandy textured sandstone. The soil depth is classified as shallow, meaning that soil and subsoil are approximately half a meter in depth . Also, the topsoil bulk density is .8 to 1.0 g/cm3. The direct ground below the Minster floor should be relatively free of clay and siltstones . The nearby Hebble Brook area contains clay and sandy loam soils . However, the relatively shallow depths we are concerned with are more than likely unaffected by the Hebble Brook soil profile.
As you read previously, the Minster has experienced multiple renovations to the Holdsworth Chapel area, Rokeby Chapel, the entire nave, antechapel, and the chancel. The floors' construction includes additional layers of gravel, lime screed, concrete or cement, and steel mesh—all of these having the potential to affect geophysical survey results . Frequently during the 19th-century, church floors were comprehensively re-constructed and re‐laid to “cope with the post-depositional disturbance’ (p. 337) . We know from archival records this occurred more than once inside the Minster since Anne’s burial.
There is a crypt below the Halifax Minster; however, there is no evidence suggesting it was used for burials in the 17th to 19th centuries . The Historic England website describes the crypt's use as a library and office room but it is currently used as a song room and vestry. If archival material exists describing the exhumation and removal of burials from within the crypt, we did not locate it during this round of research. Anne Lister uses the terms “family vault” and grave interchangeably within her journals; however, her descriptions of the grave themselves more closely align with what is known as brick-lined shaft graves . These shaft-graves, reinforced by brick, allowed for efficient stacking of coffins in organized locations. It appears this type of grave construction could be seen in the 2016 floor renovations' on the nave’s east side . Visible in the images appear to be the rows of brick walls that could have made up the grave shafts' supporting walls. This type of grave construction helped ensure support and prevent the graves from caving in . Traditional vaults (metal, cement, or brick-lined lined areas for individual or family burials) may also exist within the Minster . However, the descriptions we reviewed in funeral expenses and Anne Lister’s journal entries regarding her family members did not explicitly describe metal lined vault structures. This could be another example of her descriptions merely being for her reference and not necessarily relied on to be textbook definitions.
Number of burials
It is currently unknown the total number of burials within the Minster. According to Hanson, inside burials began as early as the 14th century . In 1815, UK law mandated using lead or metal coffins for all intramural burials . In 1861, the Burial Act of 1852 ended the practice of burying the dead inside churches . Therefore all burials within the Minster between 1815 and 1861 should have utilized lead or metal coffins.
Geophysical survey methods
While it’s not a requirement to obtain this level of detail to use geophysical practices, it may help in determining the most useful methods and how to understand the results. After reviewing the burial environment, we can look at methods used to detect objects underground. For this article, we discuss the methods at a high-level and provide information based on the context of locating Anne Lister’s grave. The science underlying each method is complex, and survey results from these methods require a trained professional.
Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR)
GPR is the most commonly used method in archaeology to detect clandestine and unmarked graves . A radar unit is pulled behind an operator as the antennae emit frequencies into the ground at a constant rate. A receiver records the reflected signal and creates an image of anomalies existing below the surface. ‘The time it takes for the signal to return reflects the depth of penetration, and the returning signal can be stronger or weaker depending on the type of material it is passing through and reflecting off’ . The area is surveyed in even parallel lines to create an image of the subsurface topography. The frequency used is dependent on multiple factors such as depth, nearby objects, and the amount of detail needed for identification. Depending on the environment and the visibility needs, it can be useful to conduct multiple GPR surveys with varying frequencies to provide the best interpretable results. Your visibility into the ground is mostly dependent on the frequency used, and therefore having an idea of the subsurface composition is helpful .
A similar GPR survey was conducted to verify Shakespeare's burial location in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England . Although his death is surrounded by mystery, it’s believed he is buried in his family vault with other members of his family. The survey helped the researchers identify burial spots below the ledger stones and see that the grave was not as deep as assumed initially based on myths and stories. Another story reports the possible removal of his skull during construction or a potential grave robbery. The survey results indicated a small disturbance in the area that may be his head, which researchers determine could result from his missing head. Again, GPR only lets you see that something exists below ground; it does not tell you what it is. But this is another study that indicates GPR is a useful starting tool to survey the Halifax Minster's subsurface, most notably the areas we have identified as possible Anne Lister locations.
As part of a more extensive study that began in 2004, the search for Edward the Confessor's burial location in Westminster Abbey commenced in 2005 . Church records specify Edward’s initial burial location and subsequent relocations over time, providing researchers a starting place. The next step involved using GPR to verify the existence of the grave. ‘The investigation uncovered evidence of the target tomb, several other graves, some previously unknown, and at least one buried object’ (p. 6) . Referring back to Anne Lister and the Minster, GPR can confirm a grave’s presence in the potential burial locations we have previously highlighted. While we can use it to confirm where graves exist, pinpointing Anne’s specific grave would require excavation.
GPR Survey Result Examples
Radar finds 2000 graves of monks at Fountains Abbey, Church Times
Geophysical Methods, Texplore
Why doesn’t a pipe look like a pipe?, Sensoft
Buried Reinforced Concrete Structure, Zonge International
Although GPR is a widely used geophysical survey method used to detect objects underground, it has its limitations. You can detect anomalies, such as water tanks, pipes, and graves, but you cannot see the object’s details. However, an experienced technician can provide reliable analyses and conclusions based on the detected objects' size, shape, and location in many cases. However, definitive object identification requires excavation or additional analysis.
We know the Minster is full of coffins, and we have an idea of the relative burial patterns. We also know that many of these coffins are lead. A GPR survey cannot tell us which of those coffins belongs to Anne Lister. Suppose Anne Lister’s burial location was in Shibden Hall's yard or the Minster parking lot. In that case, GPR could quickly help us identify the existence and location of an unmarked grave. However, inside a church, where burials have occurred for hundreds of years, with coffins stacked on top of coffins, constructed of various materials, GPR survey provides little direction in the search for Anne Lister’s specific burial spot.
The following example displays three objects' survey readings to point out the difficulty in differentiating between objects buried underground. In the first row, you see the survey results of a metal sphere buried 10 cm underground. You see a 10.1 cm wire rotated at 90 and 45-degree angles in the two subsequent images. You can see a variance in the reflected signal, but you cannot differentiate the exact object below the surface based on a GPR scan.
Magnetometry measures magnetic field anomalies in the surrounding area to detect ferrous and nonferrous metals in the subsurface. ‘Magnetic data can be used to identify and delimit lithological units, deformation zones, and provide information about the amount and proportion of different magnetic minerals’ . Imagine using a large metal detector to locate lead coffins or coffin furniture in an unmarked graveyard. ‘While Magnetometry is best used to detect ferrous materials underground, it can locate more subtle anomalies in relation to archaeological locations’ .
Surveying an area with materials that affect magnetic fields can prove challenging to locate a specific object. Besides numerous lead and metal coffins below ground, the Minster also contains piping in the floor and other construction materials below the surface.
Electromagnetic (EM) Induction
Although EMI is not as widespread due to the introduction of other methods, it is still useful. It can provide critical information in the search for objects in specific environments. Electromagnetic induction uses electromagnetic energy to measure the conductivity within the soil in a given area. Foreign objects and other anomalies in the soil can affect the conductivity indicating disturbances below the surface. Factors influencing conductivity measurements include the material properties, size, shape, orientation of a conductive object, and porosity/compaction.
In 2010 a survey was conducted of the Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, USA. Researchers surveyed the area around the central burial mound, and several disturbances were visible . You can see where disruption to the soil occurred during a Railroad cut and what looks like ancient creek beds in the images. The results also indicated areas where burials present themselves very distinctly with a regular signature of low apparent conductivity. Based on this survey, it was possible to locate 62 additional grave sites and identify the burial grounds' boundaries.
Electrical Resistivity Tomography
‘The direct current resistivity method is also a well-established geophysical technique, used routinely and successfully in the detection and mapping of concealed subsurface structures like walls, ditches and anthropogenic or natural cavities’ . Resistivity measures a material’s ability to conduct an electrical current. Objects with high resistivity have low conductivity. When surveying a given area, the results display the differences in the resistivity levels below ground. This method is considered more reliable than EMI.
Resistivity and EMI have similar limitations in that the soil conditions can affect the results of the survey.
Which method is best?
When dealing with projects like this where you may rely on the donation of services, or people willing to participate that have expertise in specific areas, it is helpful to review all options at hand.
As you can conclude from the initial investigation and the most common methods for locating graves, there is no best method for this case. From archival records, we can assume Anne’s grave is inside the church in addition to hundreds of other people. Currently, there is an unknown number of lead coffins sprinkled throughout the Minster. Any number of methods can provide a starting point for burial mapping within the Halifax Minster.
When locating graves and cemeteries, it is essential to approach the project to characterize possibilities instead of identifying answers. Another issue that arises when determining a non-invasive way to locate Anne’s grave is that all these methods help identify an object's presence when the object is not necessarily known.
We know the Halifax Minster is full of graves. People have been buried in the Minster for hundreds of years. In 1815, all coffins buried inside churches had to be lead . This means the Minster is full of lead coffins buried between 1815 and the 1860s when the practice ended. Due to these facts, there may be no way to locate Anne’s specific grave via standard geophysical survey methods. It would be easier to locate Anne Lister’s grave if she was buried in an unmarked grave on Shibden grounds. A GPR unit could survey the area and find something as large as a lead coffin.
However, Anne is buried inside a church, with hundreds if not thousands of others, where multiple renovations have occurred. The ground below the floor has been filled, refilled, moved, disturbed, and reinforced throughout the years. It may be helpful to use the above methods to determine where there may be no graves, helping to eliminate some of the possibilities. Unless a full-scale excavation can occur, more evidence is needed to narrow down Anne Lister’s final resting place within the Minster walls.
Let’s dig! Now what?
Imagine we were able to pinpoint Anne Lister’s grave. We have excavated the surrounding area and can see a large coffin. Without opening it, how do we know it’s Anne’s coffin? First, we need to understand a little about her possible coffin construction.
Burial practices at the time indicate she may have been laid to rest in a three-layered lead coffin. The structure would likely be lead-wood-lead. Coffin furniture and ornate woodwork was a widespread custom for funerals in the 1840s. Her breastplate would most likely be placed on the wooden coffin layer, housed between the inner lead lining, preventing the decomposing body from leaking, and the outer lead burial coffin.
Additionally, the beginning of the 19th century marked an increase in funeral vanity. Coffins began to display ornate furniture, breastplates displayed additional detail, and artisans were employed to bring it all to life . Based on the funeral expenses and descriptions in Anne Lister’s journals, the Listers were active participants in the trend.
There is a common assumption that Anne Lister’s body was embalmed before internment in her lead or lead-lined casket. However, before the mid-19th century, embalming was held for nobility and royalty, and even then, many areas did not perform this technique . Religious beliefs and other urban legends prevented embalming from being a widespread practice at the time. It wasn’t until 1841 when the French chemist Jean-Nicholas Gannal’s embalming method was approved by the Brussel’s Medical Commission, that embalming started to become a common practice . In the United States, embalming became popular during the Civil War and due to President Lincoln's embalming following his assassination in 1865 . Embalming the dead president allowed for his body to make a two-week tour through the Union. Embalming had not gained widespread popularity in time for Anne Lister’s death.
Next, we consider the condition of her body when the lid is opened.
Condition of the body
There are a few possibilities for Anne’s body at this stage. First, in an airtight lead coffin, her body could have putrefied, leaving nothing but bone fragments and body liquor (or goo) . A second possibility is her body was able to mummify naturally. Third, if the coffin was damaged, exposing her remains to the soil, we would then encounter soil and bones. Depending on her coffin's construction, it could be challenging to find any indication that it is her grave without full exhumation. Due to the burial laws and research on burial practices in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is safe to assume she was buried in a lead coffin (although we don’t have specific evidence of this).
A lead coffin adds extra concerns to exhumation procedures. The primary purpose of sealing the corpse in lead was ‘to prevent the escape of noxious odors and effluvia’ . When these coffins are opened, there is a potential for the presence of infectious diseases. Due to the built-up pressure caused by decomposition a coffin can explode, exposing the decomposing remains in several ways. A lid breach or seam pop from pressure build-up is more likely, but exploding coffins have resulted in documented damage to mausoleums. Frequently, grave workers in the 19th century had to ‘tap’ the coffins to allow gases and goo to drain out, preventing coffins from popping open and exposing the surrounding topsoil, crypts, or vaults to goo . If coffins were buried close enough to the surface, the lids could pop, exposing the contents above ground.
Why would her body be goo instead of dirt and bones? The bacteria in your stomach breaks down foods for digestion. After you die, this bacterium is no longer contained. Those gastric juices begin digesting your own body . As oxygen is depleted, the anaerobic bacteria jump in and continue the decomposition process resulting in a dark liquid substance. This digestion of the body and other decomposition processes creates a large amount of gas—it’s beneficial if the container housing the decomposing body can expel these gasses. The expelling of the gasses allows the body to decompose and essentially dehydrate. But when the body goes through this process and the gasses and resulting liquid have nowhere to go, the body putrefies. In this scenario, the gas builds and builds until the lid can get knocked right off. Leaking coffins caused problems in the 19th century in overcrowded cemeteries and inside churches due to the odor and moisture accumulating near the surface. Coffins buried in the ground at your standard 6 feet or more did not cause problems as the depth and pressure prevented these issues.
Another option is that she is preserved in perfect condition inside the coffin. As mentioned earlier, embalming was not a common practice. The people were laid out in their ornate coffin beds for a few days before burial, at which time they were then placed in the coffin and subsequently buried. Under the right conditions, the corpse could have successfully mummified within the coffin. With hair and some skin still intact.
In 1990, Project Lead Coffin  exhumed a lead coffin to find a 17th-century woman with excellent preservation. Researchers could identify silk ribbons and the presence of what was determined to be rosemary on the body.
Another option is that Anne Lister is now dirt and bones. Sometimes, metal or lead coffins were poorly designed and could have fallen apart due to several factors. Sometimes the weight of the coffins resting above could cause them to crush and fall apart. This would cause the coffin to open and be exposed to soil and pressure allowing for a natural decomposition process.
Special thanks to Kathryn Williams for her assistance with transcribing several pages from Anne Lister’s journals. We kindly thank the staff of the West Yorkshire Archive Service (Calderdale & Wakefield office), and especially Jenny Wood, who endured several, very specific requests and was extremely helpful every step of the way making this research possible during lockdown. We wish to also thank the staff of the Halifax Central Library for their assistance during the reference gathering phase of this project. Thank you to Rachel Newburn for taking the extra Minster photographs we requested in the fourth quarter.
Finally, we wish to thank David Glover especially for his pioneering work on this topic, particularly as the first person to suggest Anne Lister may not rest with her family in the Minster. His independent research provided valuable insights and excellent guidance over the course of this research project. As well, we appreciate and value the open collaborative spirit in which his work is done.
In the annotations of the 1836 plan, the Lister pews no. 40 and no. 44 were incorrectly marked in the south side of the north aisle. They are now in their correct position on the south side of the middle aisle according to the 1836 list of pews. As well, pew no. 1 highlight changed to yellow in the north chapel to denote Walker ownership, which was bequeathed by Ann Walker to Dr. John Lister on her will.
Passages that included the possibility of Joseph Lister and his wife being buried outside the church were removed since this is unlikely given the 19th century pew map with annotations showing their names on specific locations inside the Minster.
On December 23, 2020
An additional sketch of the Minster floor plan with labeled pews and graves was discovered after the original publication of this article. It includes small penciled labels of the Lister graves in the South aisle, lending additional evidence to the theory that the List family vault is in the south aisle and not in the Holdsworth Chapel. Descriptions and images were updated throughout to reflect this new information.
The “The Lister family burial place” section has been extended with additional information. Hypotheses 1, 2 and 3 of “Where in the Minster is Anne Lister?” were expanded, and minor updates made to 4, 5, and 6.