This is where you can walk in the footsteps of Gentleman Jack and see Anne Lister's Halifax today

The image of the formidable Anne Lister marching though the streets of 19th century Calderdale is one now instantly recognisable to the thousands of Gentleman Jack viewers at both sides of the Atlantic.

Such has been the success of the Sally Wainwright drama that in the past six months fans from around the world have descended on Lister’s ancestral home to walk in her footstep nearly two centuries on.

Anne Choma, a historical adviser for Gentleman Jack, outside Halifax Minster, where Anne Lister was baptised and buried.

Anne Choma, a historical adviser for Gentleman Jack, outside Halifax Minster, where Anne Lister was baptised and buried.

For Halifax sites to which she holds some connection, that has inevitably meant responding to demand for a much greater focus on what life was like in the town for the diarist and landowner, often described as “the first modern lesbian”.

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At Halifax Minster, the place where Lister was buried in 1841, visitor numbers reached around 700 per week this summer, up from an average of 500 since the Piece Hall reopened in 2017.

"[Anne] has always been part of our history and has been part of our tours,” says Curate Rev Jane Finn. “But she’s now become very prominent compared to a lot of the other people visitors come to hear about.”

Born in 1791, Lister was the niece of James Lister, who owned Halifax’s Shibden Hall. She lived at her mother’s small estate at Market Weighton for most of her childhood, but paid frequent visits to Shibden, moving to live there with her Uncle and Aunt in 1815.

Laura Johansen and Steve Crabtree outside Shibden Hall, where Anne Lister lived.

Laura Johansen and Steve Crabtree outside Shibden Hall, where Anne Lister lived.

Lister, who fully inherited the hall and Shibden Estate in 1836, wrote a diary of her daily life, leaving behind an estimated five million words, partially written in a code of her own devising, which she used to record her deepest and most private feelings. The detailed diaries reveal that she did not conform to the expectations of a woman at the time.

She was a rare female landowner, a pioneering mountaineer, intrepid traveller and entrepreneur and she taught herself many disciplines including languages, science and geology. She also knew for certain that emotionally and sexually, she was only interested in women and engaged in a number of lesbian relationships throughout her life.

“Her achievements, her drive, her motivation and what she did as a woman were significant for the period,” reflects Steve Crabtree, a visitor services assistant at Shibden.

“Whether or not people appreciated at that time how significant they were - I think they would probably have thought they were rather annoying and inconvenient and that she should get married and settle down into a life of a nice, domesticated woman.

Halifax Piece Hall, which Anne Lister occasionally visited for entertainment.

Halifax Piece Hall, which Anne Lister occasionally visited for entertainment.

“But certainly historically, she’s outstanding...It might have been seen as fairly run of the mill if she was a man but she wasn’t, she was Anne Lister of Shibden Hall.”

Lister’s indomitable story has struck such a chord since the airing of Gentleman Jack that some visiting fans have left a steady stream of flowers and tributes by her gravestone at the Minster.

“People feel like they’re pilgrimaging here and they have to leave something,” says Rev Finn. “It’s really touched a deep chord with people and Anne’s spoken deeply into people’s lives in a way that you couldn’t have called.

“I think she’s given people a lot of courage to be somebody that they know they are and haven’t really felt able to fully walk it,” she adds. “She’s very inspirational and people have looked up to her and see something of themselves reflected and something that they can grow towards. The response has been really quite phenomenal.”

Anne Lister's gravestone at Halifax Minster. People have been laying floral tributes there.

Anne Lister's gravestone at Halifax Minster. People have been laying floral tributes there.

Lister was baptised at the Minster, which was then her local parish church, and was a regular worshipper there. It was a meeting place for people to come together and an opportunity, too, for her to connect with local women.

“There are comments about the high altar rail in her diaries and kneeling at it to receive Communion,” says Alan English, the executive officer to the Vicar. “She so much admired the high altar rail, which is a fairly spectacular piece of carving, that she actually modelled the staircase and gallery in Shibden on it.”

Despite attitudes at the time, Lister’s diaries suggest there was no conflict between her faith and her sexuality. “My own feeling is that her relationship with God was so strong that she knew she was just made as the human being she was,” Rev Finn reflects. “It was more about humanity - why would God then expect her to be somebody that he hadn’t made?”

She had a close relationship with then Vicar Charles Musgrave and would pay regular visits to him and his wife. “[Anne] acted with great discretion in the way that she behaved outside of her home," says Anne Choma, the historical adviser for Gentleman Jack, who has researched Lister's colourful life since the 1990s. "Everything was done with absolute propriety, discretion and decorum.

“Just to give some indication of how closely connected she was with Charles Musgrave, and how easily she was able to speak to people like him, who she respected - when there was local gossip in the town about Anne Lister in the 1830s, she managed to give the Musgraves a different point of view about how that kind of gossip could circulate in a community with no substance. Anybody who was a man of some stature in the community, she conversed with them at ease.”

Lister was conscious of her social standing. Crabtree explains how she “carefully cultivated” her relationship with her uncle and distanced herself from her own family.

A look inside one of the bedrooms at Shibden Hall.

A look inside one of the bedrooms at Shibden Hall.

“She really played up to her uncle’s ideology that these were the Listers of Shibden Hall and they were a proud and ancient family. She managed to manoeuvre herself in his eyes as a natural heir (to the estate) and distance herself from her own family, which she more than once described as sad and vulgar.”

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From 1832, Lister set about redesigning the home, with grand plans to transform it from what she saw as “shabby old Shibden” into a property and landscape to impress. But she died in 1840, before the vision was complete.

Though few of her possessions have survived, Shibden Hall today reveals much about Lister and her time living there and managing the estate. Visitor numbers to the historic home trebled this summer and the museum has enjoyed its most successful season ever.

Owners Calderdale Council are now looking to open up new areas of the hall and grounds for visitors, including developing Walker Pit, a coal mine named after Lister’s lover Ann Walker, as an additional visitor attraction.

But Shibden is not the only place where the Gentleman Jack effect has been felt. Increased income has been reported from museums, local businesses, hotels, events and attractions and visits to Halifax’s Bankfield Museum, where costumes from the series are on display, have almost trebled.

And at the Piece Hall, shops are selling memorabilia that date from Anne’s time, as well as artwork and merchandise.

“Anne would have known the Piece Hall as it was standing when she was alive,” says Laura Johansen, a cultural development manager with the Calderdale Cultural Destinations partnership. “But really, it was a place for commerce and politics.

"Commerce, she felt herself to be very above that because she was a member of the gentry. In fact, she even burnt evidence of her ancestors working in the cloth trade so that she could keep that ancestral acres, landed gentry kind of story going.

“Politics was male led and this would have been quite a Whig place to be. She was a Tory so it wasn’t necessarily for her.

“But she did [go to the Piece Hall] for entertainment. Anne arrived a bit late for a fireworks display in 1818. She had her money ready and she’d run down the hill but she was a bit late and the door was closed.

“She also went to see some of the hot air balloon ascents from there as well but otherwise, she would have given the place a bit of a wide berth.”

For the many visitors to Halifax keen to walk in Lister’s footsteps, it is through Gentleman Jack that they have come across her story - and, now widely known, that story has resonated with masses around the world.

“Talking to people who have watched the drama and who write to me and write to Sally, they say it’s the first time they feel that a gay woman has been represented on mainstream television in such a positive, honest way,” Choma says.

“But I think Anne Lister speaks to so many different people, not just gay women. I think that’s what the message is from Gentleman Jack, that here we have a person who had the boldness and bravery to live her life according to the dictates of her nature and she showed strength.

"When she was faced with problems, she was somehow able to get up and fight another day and continue to live her life in spite of opposition and in spite of society at the time not being open to who she was in terms of her lesbian sexuality.”

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“It’s a true story,” Johansen adds. “She existed, she’s from this place. These are buildings that she knew, that she loved, that she visited and people can have that experience too.”

Anne Choma, Alan English and Rev Jane Finn by the high altar rail at Halifax Minster.

Anne Choma, Alan English and Rev Jane Finn by the high altar rail at Halifax Minster.