Gentleman Jack: Who were Anne Lister's lovers?

The relationship between Halifax heiresses Anne Lister and Ann Walker is at the heart of BBC drama Gentleman Jack.

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in the BBC's Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in the BBC's Gentleman Jack

The two became life partners and set up home together at the Lister family estate, Shibden Hall. They 'married' by taking Holy Communion together in York and were travelling together in eastern Europe when Anne fell sick and died from a fever.

The pair met in 1832, when Walker was 28 and Lister 41 - Ann Walker was from a mill-owning family who lived at neighbouring mansion Crow Nest. By this point, Anne Lister was a well-travelled and experienced businesswoman who had already had sexual relationships with several other women.

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Inside Shibden Hall - Anne Lister's home that you can still visitHer seductions began when she was just a teenager at her boarding school in York, Manor House, which occupied the King's Manor buildings that are today owned by the University of York.

Anne shared an attic room with a fellow 13-year-old pupil, Eliza Raine, who was the daughter of an East India Company surgeon who had died in India. They began a relationship that lasted for around two years until Anne was asked to leave the school. Two of Anne's later partners, Isabella Norcliffe and Mariana Belcombe, were also at Manor House with her. Eliza was heartbroken when Anne moved on to affairs with Isabella and Mariana, and she was later committed to Clifton Asylum in York, where she was treated by Mariana's father, a doctor who specialised in mental illness, Dr Belcombe would also treat Ann Walker towards the end of her life.

Anne's relationship with old schoolfriend Isabella Norcliffe, a fellow heiress, began when they were 21. However, Isabella reputedly drank heavily, and Anne decided they would not be compatible as life partners. They remained friends and occasional lovers, and Isabella never married.

This is how you can read Anne Lister's saucy diaries onlineMariana Belcombe was a friend of Isabella's, and Anne fell deeply in love with her. However, Mariana decided to follow convention and marry a man, Charles Lawton, although the secret romance continued for another five years after her wedding.

Anne had strict criteria when it came to her requirements in a life partner, and another affair with a widow she met in Paris called Maria Barlow foundered because her financial status and social standing were seen as inadequate.

Ann Walker, who became a wealthy co-heiress along with her sister when their parents and brother died, was an ideal candidate, and the Walker fortune was used to renovate Shibden Hall. Some historians have even speculated that their pairing was not a love match, and that Anne 'married' Ann for cynical reasons so that she could access her money.

The tragic fate of Anne Lister's wife Ann WalkerIn 1840, they were travelling together in what is now Georgia when Anne fell ill and died at the age of 49. Her body was brought home and buried in Halifax Minster, although the grave was later covered by a floor and not re-discovered until 2010.

Anne had left Shibden to her cousins, but Ann was given a life interest in the estate. However, the Walker family had Ann declared insane, and she spent some time in an asylum. She was unable to make a will of her own due to her mental state. She died in 1854 at Cliffe Hill, aged 51.

Ann was buried in St Matthew's Church, Lightcliffe, but her grave beneath the pulpit was destroyed when the old church was demolished and a new one built in its place. The church has placed a memorial stone on the spot where she lies.

Anne Lister's risque diaries detailing her affairs with her many lovers, written in code, were hidden behind a wall panel at Shibden and not discovered until the 1930s, when an ancestor managed to decipher the code. However, he hid them once again, and they were not found again until the 1980s.