Textile merchant William Otes, of Southowram, bought land at Shibden (then named Schepdene) in the early 15th century. He subsequently built a house there and this was completed by at least 1420.
The building comprised the present central section of the property (from gable to gable) and short section on the eastern and western sides (kitchen and Savile room respectively).
The Main Hall (also known as the ‘Housebody’) was originally only one room, which was shorter and narrower than today.
Upstairs, on the western side, there was the North Chamber and Red Room. The former was redecorated in the 1600s and much of the furniture in the room dates from this period.
Similarly, the latter took the present layout in the 17th century, although the fireplace is 100 years older. An interesting area partitioned off in the room is the Powder Closet, where wigs where stored and powdered.
Otes’ grandson, also named William, subsequently took over the hall. He married three times, with the second and last marriages producing children – a girl and a boy respectively. As some time elapsed between the birth of the two children, William’s first will left the estate and house to his daughter Joan. After her marriage to Robert Savile, William attempted to change the document so the sole beneficiary was his son Gilbert. A lengthy legal battle followed as Savile did not want to lose his claim. The final judgment saw Gilbert take half of the income of the estate for life, while the Saviles retained the other half and the property.
Some work was carried out to the house around this time as the Main Hall had a first floor added and a room there was used for hanging and storing meat, being designated the ‘Flesh Chamber’. Subsequently, the frontage of the Main Hall was extended forward by 3ft and a new fireplace and chimney installed. The Porch Chamber was also built at this time, but with the window accommodating a smaller area. Joan and Robert left their mark – literally – on the western room of the house, later being called the Savile Room, as their initials and family crest are mounted on to the ceiling by bosses. The wooden panelling in the room was added at a later date.
Joan and Robert’s daughter Sibel was bequeathed the hall in 1522. She married Robert Waterhouse, who was from a family of bailiffs that had been involved in collecting money for Lewes Priory.
At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Waterhouses were able to buy some of the rights to administer revenue from land at Halifax. However, three generations later the family was in dire straits and Shibden had to be sold in 1612. Before the family left the New Buttery was built behind the Housebody, although the panelling was added sometime during the following century, and the Oak Room was situated above. The Old Buttery later became the study and was panelled in the 1700s.
The new occupants were Mrs Crowther and her nephew John Hemingway, but both died not too long afterwards and the latter’s four daughters were left the hall under the guardianship of their uncle Samuel Lister, a local merchant. Two of the girls later married Lister’s sons and the house passed down through the male line of the family until 1702 when jumping to a relative, James Lister. A dispute with the previous occupant’s widow and her new husband stopped him taking possession until the end of the decade.
Anne Lister – perhaps the most famous resident of Shibden Hall – became the owner in 1836, although she had lived there and managed the affairs for a number of years previously. She was the daughter of Jeremy Lister, who is known for having a diary published which records his exploits during the American War of Independence. Like her father, Anne kept a record of her life, which included a lot of travelling around Europe beside the day-to-day running of the hall and overseeing the modifications being made. The journals also contain an interesting insight into Anne’s life as a lesbian and this aspect has formed the basis for a BBC documentary and drama.
Anne made the greatest impact to the hall by building the tower (west side), which has a room on the ground floor, a landing at first floor level and chamber at the top. In the Main Hall, new panelling was added, as well as a new staircase. Samuel Gray was engaged to make changes to the garden and two terraces were laid out, along with the lake.
After Anne Lister died in 1840, while travelling in Eastern Europe, Dr John Lister moved into the hall. His main contribution to the history of the building was extending and remodelling the dining room c. 1855. At this time an interesting discovery was made behind the wooden panels, namely Elizabethan-era wall paintings.
Dr Lister’s son, also John, was the last of the family to hold Shibden. In 1923 he sold the property to Mr AS McCrea, but was allowed to say a resident until his death, which occurred in 1933. At this time the hall was gifted to Halifax Corporation, while just under 100 acres of surrounding land had been taken over in 1926 and became Shibden Park. The Hall was subsequently opened as a museum, celebrating the building’s several centuries in existence, the architectural heritage and the lives of the people who lived there.
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