The story of Anne Lister

The story of Anne Lister provides a good example of a well-known woman whose story has to be traced through both her own records and the standard sources for family history. Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, near Halifax, lived between 1791 and 1840. As inheritor of Shibden in 1836, Anne, with her architect John Harper, carried out extensive work on the building, but she is famous today not for her work as a nineteenth-century female landowner but for her diaries, in which she detailed, in code, her love affairs with several women. The first of these, Eliza Raine, she met in York at the Manor School (now King's Manor, part of the University of York). More serious was her relationship with Marianne Belcombe. Mariana was the daughter of Dr Belcombe of York, once physician to The Retreat who had a private asylum from 1813: one of the original bills for this is reproduced here:

Belcombe advertisement (small)
(Click the image for a larger version)

This was, in fact , the asylum in which Eliza Raine was kept after she was declared insane in 1814.

Marianna was lost to Anne when she married Charles Lawton by licence in 1816, although the two continued to meet for some time and to hope that they might live together in the future. The marriage allegation and the entry for Marianna and Charles' wedding, in the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York are given below:

Belcombe marriage bond (small)
(Click the image for a larger version and transcript)

Belcombe marriage entry (small)
(Click the image for a larger version and transcript)

Anne's final partner was Ann Walker, to whom she left Shibden Hall. Anne died in Russia. As a major landholder her will within Yorkshire and beyond her will was proved in both Canterbury and York and a copy of this very long will is available in the Borthwick.

Anne Lister's will (small)
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Ann Walker did not have a will proved at her death: she had by then been declared insane (and was confined in Dr Belcombe's asylum) and would not have been legally allowed to make a will.

Anne Lister's diaries and letters are held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service - for details of these see 'From history to HerStory: Yorkshire Women's Lives on line'. Further extracts from the diary can also be found at the Isle of Lesbos website. Excerpts have also been printed in:

  • H. Whitbread, ed., I know my own heart: the diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840 (1988)
  • H. Whitbread, No priest but love: excerpts from the diaries of Anne Lister (1992)
  • Jill Liddington, Female Fortune: land, gender and authority: the Anne Lister diaries and other writings 1833-1836 (London, 1988).