A weekend of events to celebrate Anne Lister's birthday will see nearly 2,000 Gentleman Jack fans descend on Yorkshire.
Brighton-based lesbian travel specialists Diva Destinations have organised a bespoke tour which includes talks in Halifax Minster by the BBC period drama's director Sally Wainwright and authors Helena Whitbread, Jill Liddington and Anne Choma, who have all written about the life of Anne Lister. Whitbread deciphered Anne's coded diaries in the 1980s, when they were discovered hidden behind a wall panel at her ancestral home, Shibden Hall.
1,800 tickets for the Anne Lister Birthday Weekend in April 2020 were released for exclusive sale via a Facebook fan page, and have now completely sold out. Demand was so high that 500 tickets for Wainwright's public appearance were snapped up within half an hour - faster than Glastonbury Festival.
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Jennifer Grant from Diva Destinations has teamed up with New York-based Pat Estgate to organise the weekend, which will see clients - many of whom are expected to travel from the US - visit Gentleman Jack locations in both Halifax and York.
Jennifer ran two successful Gentleman Jack tours of Yorkshire in October, when the groups consisted of '100 per cent lesbian women' who were both inspired and fascinated by 19th-century Halifax businesswoman Anne Lister's story.
The itinerary - which will be repeated for the April trip - included Shibden Hall, The Piece Hall, Halifax Library - where the original Lister journals are kept - and Somerset House, which was once the Lister family's bank, Rawson's. They explored St Matthew's Church in Lightcliffe, where Anne's same-sex partner Ann Walker is buried, and the remains of the Walkers' estate, Crow Nest, and saw Anne's grave at Halifax Minster.
In York they visited Holy Trinity Church on Goodramgate, where Anne 'married' Ann Walker during an Easter service, and King's Manor, a university building which was once a girls' boarding school attended by Anne.
"It has been an amazing phenomenon, and we are riding a fantastic wave of interest in an incredible story that just keeps evolving," said Jennifer, who also plans to organise Last Tango in Halifax and Bronte-themed tours to Yorkshire to meet customer demand.
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"The Anne Lister Birthday Weekend is all down to Pat Estgate, a US events organiser who came to Halifax and attended talks by Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington. She found it a transformative experience, meeting so many like-minded women and hearing the story of Anne Lister, who was a formidable woman with strength and resilience who didn't deviate from her true self. She wanted to allow other women to experience that. She contacted me and we decided to collaborate."
Jennifer describes the show's American fanbase as 'feverish' in their quest for knowledge about Anne.
"It's a really historic story but it has also resonated with the lesbian community all over the world. It's all down to Anne - her story is true and there's nothing else quite like it.
"In the lesbian travel market, there hasn't been anything like this before. The success of Gentleman Jack has happened because gay women can relate to her and to the prejudice she experienced. We sold out all of the Birthday Weekend tickets through the Facebook group and they never went on public sale."
Many of the stops on the tour give the group exclusive access to buildings and places with a connection to Anne Lister.
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"We visit places that Anne frequented, the homes of her friends and lovers. In October the group loved Alibi bar, which used to be Rawson's Bank - we took them inside the beautiful room where Anne would have gone to meet her banker. They also found seeing the diaries in their glass cases at Halifax Library really moving.
Jennifer admits she didn't anticipate the extent of interest in Gentleman Jack before it was broadcast on BBC and US channel HBO last summer.
"I'm not sure even Sally would have predicted how popular it has been. I wasn't aware of the full extent of Anne's diaries, but they is nothing else like them in the world.
"The way that Anne documented every aspect of her life gives us a real insight into her character. She had strength and independence, and she was very comfortable with her sexuality, although others weren't. She wouldn't change and that gives a lot of comfort to people who have similar issues in their lives - she made it through."
Somerset House: How the bank Anne Lister used in Halifax has been brought back to life
The Anne Lister Birthday Weekend itinerary - April 2-5 (sold out)
- Talk at Halifax Minster by Sally Wainwright, the director and screenwriter who adapted Anne Lister's diaries for television
- Talk at Halifax Minster by Anne Choma, who wrote the official companion book to the series
- Talk at Halifax Minster by Jill Liddington, a historian and author who has written extensively about Anne Lister
- Talk at Halifax Minster by Helena Whitbread, who decoded and transcribed Anne Lister's diaries and published them as 27 volumes
- Walking tour of Halifax
- Guided tour of Shibden Hall, including a walk up to Walker Pit
- Meal at Alibi, inside the building that was once Rawson's Bank
- Visit to Halifax Library to view the original journals
- Visit to St Matthew's Church in Lightcliffe, where Ann Walker is buried, and the Crow Nest estate
- Day tour of York, which includes Holy Trinity Church, where Anne married Ann, and King's Manor, where she went to school
- Visit to Fairfax House in York, a Gentleman Jack filming location