A look at the history of Shibden Hall, with Dr Emma Wells

in Shibden

Home to one of the earliest well-known same-sex couples, Shibden Hall near Halifax is almost as famous for its eclectic architectural design. Dating originally to c.1420, it was actually thanks to its most notorious owner, noted diarist Anne Lister, that this timber-framed manor house became the masterpiece it now is.

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Previous to the early 17th century when the affluent mill-owning and cloth merchant Lister family inhabited the hall, the estate was owned by the Savile and Waterhouse families, and it was during this latter era that the Tudor half-timbered house was built. Then, when Anne Lister inherited the estate upon her aunt’s death in 1836, she drew a considerable income from it thereby commissioning York architect John Harper to commence a series of improvements to the house and gardens. These changes transformed the hall into a neo-gothic home and comprised everything from straightening out the timbers through the installation of a grand Victorian mock-Tudor fireplace to new panel work. She also removed the 16th-century ceiling, inserting instead a gallery so that the space became a medieval-esque open hall.

Moreover, Anne added a neo-Norman library tower, so that she, as a Victorian woman, could have a domain for work. Following the fashionable Romantic style, she also had a wilderness garden constructed with waterfalls and it was in her very own chaumiere (a moss-roofed hut) that she courted Ann Walker, an heiress from a neighbouring estate. Most importantly, Anne redesigned her home for the autonym of her relationship to allow for her and Ann to have a comfortable and secluded dwelling away from prying, judgmental eyes. Indeed, her behaviour was consistently scrutinised and her involvement in perceived ‘male’ activities earned her the nickname ‘Gentleman Jack’. It was this epithet that became the title of a BBC drama series dedicated to her and filmed at the hall.

Anne Lister perished of fever in 1840, leaving Shibden to her partner, Ann. When Ann then passed almost fifteen years’ later, possession of the estate returned to the Lister family. In the early 20th century, it was donated to the Halifax Corporation and opened as a museum in 1934.

Address: Shibden Hall, Lister’s Rd, Halifax HX3 6XG

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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