Gentleman Jack series 2: Bankfield Museum fashion exhibition opens in time for the Anne Lister Birthday Week in Halifax

Fashion in the Time of Anne Lister whets the appetite for early 19th century glamour and explores the remarkable fashions of Anne Lister and her neighbours, as Gentleman Jack prepares to return. Stephanie Smith takes a look.

As she strode out across her fields and through the streets of Halifax, Anne Lister must have cut a striking figure. The nickname “Gentleman Jack” was coined as an insult, to mock her independence, her sexuality and her style, dressing in clothes considered to be men-only as she audaciously went about earning her own money.

Thanks to BBC/HBO drama series Gentleman Jack, her story is famous the world over and it has given us a fascinating insight not only into the style of trendsetter Anne, but also of her contemporaries, well-dressed Yorkshire women at the forefront of fashion in early 19th century England, because they lived at the heart of the textile industry.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“We know that Anne Lister had a unique look and style. She chose to wear all black but that wasn’t common for the time,” says Elinor Camille-Wood, curator of Bankfield Museum in Halifax, where an exhibition opens today to tie in with the launch of series two of Gentleman Jack.

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, dressed in all black in a Gentleman Jack series 2 first look image. The award-winning TV show, created by Sally Wainwright, is returning for another eight episodes. BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks/PA Wire

Fashion in Anne Lister’s Time (1791-1840) explores the clothes worn during Anne’s lifetime, and shows how her style contrasted starkly with what her female peers wore. There are costumes from the first series of Gentleman Jack, in anticipation of another larger exhibition later in the year when there will be a world-exclusive presentation of the series two costumes created by Tom Pye.

Stylish Halifax folk would have been among the first to see and wear the latest trends. Elinor says: “This was a time when fashion plates were coming into their own. France was leading the way in what fashionable ladies would have. We were importing fabrics, but also exporting as well, so able to get some of the latest fashions into this area. They had access to all the textiles and cloth that was making these fashionable dresses.”

One exhibit looks at where Anne would have shopped, with dressmaking and hairdressing shops on the high street. “Dressmakers ranged from the local lady who would take in things to bigger shops where you would have a whole group of dressmakers creating outfits,” says Elinor. “Hairdressing really came into its own. You had some really extravagant hairstyles and we have seen that a little bit with Ann Walker, who has had some fantastical curls and lots of ribbons.

“The plates would have the names of both the dress designer and the hair, so you would go along and say, ‘I would like that dress and that hair as well’.”

The Apollo Knot was a hairstyle introduced c1826 that gave height and poise to fashionable ladies. Fashion in Anne Lister's Time (1791-1840) at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax. This exhibition explores the many different styles of fashion during Anne's lifetime and features a selection of fascinating 1830s dresses and accessories. Picture: Tony Johnson

Buying a dress in the 1820s and 30s was a major investment. “They learned how to adapt clothing,” says Elinor, describing how pelisses and spencers were jackets worn over dresses. “You could express yourself by wearing quite an elaborate pelisse or spencer and then match your bonnet to it and your gloves,” she adds.

“There is a lovely quote in the diary where Anne talks about taking off her black winter spencer and deciding that now it’s time for summer, and she puts on her cotton spencer. We have tried to weave Anne’s words throughout, so you get a real sense of what high fashion was doing at the time and how she was adapting fashion to suit herself.”

Most women would wear light colours. Elinor says: “Anne also talks about purchasing items of men’s clothing, buying men’s braces, men’s trousers.

“Anne was pushing those boundaries of what was acceptable. At the beginning, she talks about being embarrassed and looking different and then she says, ‘you know what, I don’t care. I am just going to go with what I want to wear’. That’s one of the great things about her and quite a freeing thing. There were so many constraints in the 1830s. Women were changing four to six times a day.”

Curator Elinor Camille-Wood with a wedding dress worn by a Scots woman for her marriage to a Bradford mill owner, loaned by Bradford museums on display for Fashion in Anne Lister's Time (1791-1840) at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.

The exhibition features loans from museums in Bradford, Kirklees, Northampton, North Lincolnshire and Harrogate. “It’s a period of costume that is a real celebration of textiles, of print and pattern,” Elinor says. “It almost feels as if you are walking through the streets of Halifax seeing what these ladies would wear, like Anne would.”

The exhibition of Tom Pye’s costumes for Gentleman Jack series two will launch after all eight episodes have aired.

“This exhibition is going to be even bigger and better than series one,” says Elinor. “Tom Pye was given a much bigger budget and you can see that in the costumes. Lots of the key characters have been given multiple different outfits.”

“What Tom is so good at is that attention to detail. He has gone to historic collections, he’s come here, taken photographs of pattern books from the mills and looked at the cottons that we were producing.”

Fashion in Anne Lister's Time (1791-1840) at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax. One of the real dresses that would have been worn when Anne was alive. When series two has ended, the TV costumes will be exhibited also at Bankfield. Picture Tony Johnson

Elinor will be giving a talk as part of the Anne Lister Birthday Week in Halifax which starts on April 2 with celebrations including dress-up discos at Dean Clough, with visitors coming over from America to take part.

Read More

Read More
Peaky Blinders Series 6: From Tommy Shelby and Polly Gray to Arthur Shelby and A...

“The town is going to be full of bunting and parades,” she says. “People have said they are making a pilgrimage. People are discovering and realising the richness of this area.”

* Fashion in Anne Lister’s Time opens today at Bankfield Museum, Akroyd Park, Boothtown Road, Halifax, and continues until December 24 (including the costumes from series two, added after the last episode has aired). The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm, www.museums.calderdale.gov.uk

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ANNE LISTER

April 3 marks the 231st birthday of Anne Lister. The TV series inspired American fan Pat Esgate to visit Halifax in 2019 and to organise the Anne Lister Birthday Weekend for 2020, postponed twice due to the pandemic, but now grown to become the Anne Lister Birthday Week, with tours, talks and gatherings across the area, tying in with Calderdale Festival and LGBT History Month.

Richard Macfarlane who made a reproduction of a 1830s gentlemans frock coat for Fashion in Anne Lister's Time (1791-1840) at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax. Picture Tony Jonhson

The Victoria Theatre in Halifax will host an interview with Gentleman Jack writer Sally Wainwright on April 3, followed by a performance from O’Hooley & Tidow, who wrote the theme song. On April 2-4 there will be a craft fair at Shibden Hall. For more events and bookings, see www.visitcalderdale.com/anne-lister-birthday-festival-2022

The shopping wall at Fashion in Anne Lister's Time (1791-1840) at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.
Gentleman Jack Series Two First Look photo (C) BBC/ Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Sam Taylor. Joanna Scalan, right, wears a flamboyant yellow and black gown designed by Gentleman Jack costume designer Tom Pye. In the 1820s and '30s, hairstyles were becoming increasingly elaborate.
Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in the second series of Gentleman Jack., (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Aimee Spinks