Anne Lister, the inspiration behind Gentleman Jack, to be celebrated as part of 600th anniversary of Shibden Hall

The life of one of Yorkshire’s most distinctive and groundbreaking historical figures is to be celebrated as part of an exhibition to mark the 600th anniversary of Shibden Hall.

Anne Lister, who lived at the grade II listed building in Halifax in the early 19th century, has become an iconic figure through her diaries revealing her lesbian sexuality and gained further prominence through the 2019 BBC series ‘Gentleman Jack’ which dramatised her then unique lifestyle.

The TV series prompted a big increase in visitors and Anne’s life will be at the heart of the exhibition of Shibden Hall’s history which opens next month at the town’s Bankfield Museum.

Calderdale Museums Curator Eli Dawson said: “Anne was a noted traveller, businesswoman and an altogether unusual figure in her age owing to her masculine mannerisms and dress. Her candid diaries revealed her lesbian sexuality which has made her an iconic figure in the global LGBTQ community. As such, Shibden Hall has become something of a place of pilgrimage over the last few years.

Shibden Hall, home of Anne Lister

“The exhibition will cover Anne’s life at Shibden Hall, with personal letters of hers going on display, as well as objects from the filming of Gentleman Jack at Shibden Hall. We also have some very exciting, never before seen portraits of key figures from the life of Anne which will be going exclusively on show. But their identity won’t be revealed until the exhibition opens!”

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Shibden Hall dates back to 1420 with the hall and its estate coming into public ownership in the early 20th century. Since then have been a museum and public park playing an important part in life locally and further afield as a tourist destination and venue for weddings, filming and craft fairs.

Although best-known for its association with Anne Lister, the exhibition will also highlight the history of other residents down the years including Anne’s father, Jeremy Lister. He served with the 10th Regiment of Foot and fought, and was wounded, at the Battle of Concord in 1775 during the War of American Independence.

Eli Dawson with a painting of the hall by Henry Sykes

He wrote extensive letters to England, considered some of the best records of the period, some of which will be part of the exhibition.

There will also be numerous drawings and watercolours of Shibden throughout the ages, from the celebrated local artist Joshua Horner in the 19th century to a 2020 painting from Kate Lycett.

Mr Dawson added: “The exhibition has tried to convey people’s feelings about the significance of Shibden Hall through collecting personal submissions about it. These include artwork they have done, poems they have written, reminiscences about past experiences there, photographs of marriage proposals and much more.”

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Services and Communities, Jenny Lynn, said: “Shibden Hall has already had a phenomenal impact on our visitor economy following the success of Sally Wainwright’s Gentleman Jack series, which has put Anne Lister’s historic home and Calderdale on the international map.

Eli Dawson with a letter written by Anne Lister and Ann Walker to aunt Ann Lister dated 1834

“We’re thrilled to be celebrating the hall’s 600th anniversary, and to have local people at the heart of our new exhibition through their stories and photos of Shibden past and present.”

The Shibden Hall exhibition opens to the public on 8 January at Bankfield Museum in Halifax and will be on display for a year. Entry is free.

It will tie in with two other exhibitions opening later in the year - fashion from the time of Anne Lister and costumes used in the second BBC series of Gentleman Jack, expected to be broadcast during 2022.

The Shibden Hall exhibition will include a contribution from writer Sally Wainwright, who created Gentleman Jack.