Incredible effect of Gentleman Jack tourism on Yorkshire revealed as Shibden Hall prepares to close for winter

The global success of BBC period drama Gentleman Jack has transformed Halifax into one of the UK's top tourist destinations.

As Calderdale Council prepares to close Shibden Hall - the ancestral home of the series' main character Anne Lister - for the winter season, they've released startling figures that highlight the effect the show has had on visitor numbers in the region.

Sally Wainwright interview: Why adapting Anne Lister's diaries for TV is a labour of loveGentleman Jack fans - many of them American as the series was a joint production with HBO - have descended on the area to visit previously unremarkable pubs, churches and filming locations, and to explore every inch of the Shibden estate, which was donated to the council by the Lister family in the 1930s.

Their interest has ensured the most successful year in the attraction's history, and other destinations and businesses in Halifax have also seen their popularity surge.

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    Shibden Hall

    Unfortunately for those wishing to follow in Anne's footsteps, Shibden Hall traditionally closes for the winter. This year, it will be shut from Christmas Eve until March 2, and there will also be closures during the summer and autumn of 2020 while filming for the second series of the Sally Wainwright-directed costume drama takes place.

    A winter craft fair on the weekend of November 16-17 will be the last major event at the hall before it shuts its doors to the public.

    The impact of Gentleman Jack - the biopic of the life of Anne Lister, an openly lesbian 19th-century landowner, businesswoman and explorer - on Calderdale has been profound.

    Shibden's 'Anne Lister staircase' appears in Gentleman Jack

    At Shibden Hall, visitor numbers trebled between May and August this year, when the series first aired. This August, 14,419 people passed through the museum compared to just over 2,500 in August 2018. The average number of daily visitors was 500 - in previous summers it had been 150.

    The Bankfield Museum, which is also council-run, was forced to extend an exhibition of Gentleman Jack costumes by two months following huge demand.

    Ripponden pub The Old Bridge Inn, which appears in the series, has seen an influx of customers from all over the world, and reported a particular increase in American and Canadian tourists who had heard about them on social media.

    How Shibden Hall adapted from being 'shabby little Shibden' to global visitor hotspotAt Halifax Minster, there was a 40 per cent increase in visitors - from 500 per week to 700, and there were boosts in donations and gift shop sales.

    An Anne Lister Weekend of events sold out quickly and attracted international fans.

    An interview with writer Helena Whitbread, who originally transcribed Anne Lister's coded diaries, was filmed at Shibden Hall and broadcast on Facebook Live to 11,000 people.

    What's next?

    Calderdale Council aim to capitalise on the fascination with 'Callywood', which is expected to continue once the second series of Gentleman Jack is broadcast.

    Anne's story has particularly resonated with women and members of the LGBTQ community, and the Halifax destinations have joined mill town Hebden Bridge - known for its arts scene and label as Yorkshire's lesbian capital - on the Calder Valley 'LGBTQ trail'.

    They're now looking to develop under-utilised areas of the Shibden grounds, including Walker Pit, which was sunk by Lister and named after her partner Ann Walker. It provided coal for the hall.

    They want to open a new visitor centre, improve access to the parkland and re-establish the old kitchen gardens and ponds that once supplied the house with fresh produce.

    “We’re overwhelmed by the incredible and far-reaching impact of Gentleman Jack. The TV series has showcased Calderdale’s distinctiveness to the world, leading to unprecedented visitor numbers to Shibden and beyond. It has secured our place on the map as a major cultural, LGBTQ and heritage destination, not only boosting the local economy, but also having a profound, personal impact on the lives of many people across the globe.”

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