"Female Fortune is the book which inspired Sally Wainwright to write Gentleman Jack, now a major drama series for the BBC and HBO. Lesbian landowner Anne Lister inherited Shibden Hall in 1826. She was an impressive scholar, fearless traveller and successful businesswoman, even developing her own coalmines. Her extraordinary diaries, running to 4–5 million words, were partly written in her own secret code and recorded her love affairs with startling candour. The diaries were included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011. Jill Liddington’s classic edition of the diaries tells the story of how Anne Lister wooed and seduced neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, who moved in to live with Anne and her family in 1834. Politically active, Anne Lister door-stepped her tenants at the 1835 Election to vote Tory. And socially very ambitious, she employed architects to redesign both the Hall and the estate. Yet Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of local relatives, suspicious of exactly how Anne Lister could pay for all her grand improvements. Tensions grew to a melodramatic crescendo when news reached Shibden of the pair being burnt in effigy. This 2022 edition includes a fascinating Afterword on the recent discovery of Ann Walker’s own diary. Female Fortune is essential reading for those who watched Gentleman Jack and want to know more about the extraordinary woman that was Anne Lister.
Anne Lister returned to Shibden, and her relationship with Ann Walker was reignited. By February 1834, their ‘marriage’ did seem settled. Rings were symbolically exchanged; and Anne wrote in code of Ann’s ‘being under no authority but mine’. On Easter day, at Goodramgate church in York, ‘our union’ was solemnized by taking the sacrament together. Then, after travelling for three months in France and Switzerland, they returned together to Shibden.
Ann Walker had now moved in to live at Shibden with Anne, her elderly father, irritating sister and much loved aunt. However, Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of relatives living locally – notably the Priestleys in Lightcliffe and the Rawsons down in Halifax. They were suspicious as to why this shy wealthy heiress should leave her own home for Shibden. The Rawsons’ suspicions about Anne Lister further sharpened, as she began to develop her own coalmines – in competition with theirs.
With a general election in January, Anne Lister needed to keep a sharp eye on her enfranchised tenants. Especially in the new Halifax constituency, every vote counted. She extracted every single Halifax vote that she could. Her Blue candidate, Wortley, won by just one single vote. The reaction of the Whig and the Radical mob was quite violent. Later it became known as ‘the window-breaking election’. There were protests about the legality of the tactics used by Wortley’s supporters. Anne and Ann, up at Shibden, were not immune. The West Riding newspapers printed among their marriage announcements that of Captain Tom Lister to Miss Ann Walker. Anne took this public lampooning in her stride; but Ann found it more difficult. Meanwhile, Anne continued with her coalmining developments at Shibden. High up, isolated Walker pit (named in honour of Ann) would always be small-scale; below Shibden, however, Anne planned her larger and more ambitious Listerwick pit. And she did not stop there: she wanted to obtain a licence for Northgate, the imposing house in Halifax she had inherited. She wanted to run it as a profitable town-centre inn (then known as a ’casino’).