Journals of Anne Lister

Anne Lister kept a diary from her days at boarding school in 1806 – when she was 15 – and continued for the rest of her life.

She made the last entry on 11th August 1840, shortly before her death in Russia.

These diaries and her journals – extending to 23 volumes and a number of notebooks, 4,000,000 words with parts written in her own code – and over 1,000 letters reveal many details of her life and times, and of her travels around Britain, Europe, and the Middle East. They tell us much about life, trade and politics in 19th-century Halifax. The collection is over twice as big as Samuel Pepys's diary.

In many instances, she wrote a draft on a slate and then transcribed this into her journal later.

In the 1890s, the last of Anne's descendants, antiquarian John Lister, discovered and – with the help of Arthur Burrell – decoded and transcribed the diaries. John Lister was homosexual and feared that this might be hereditary and that the contents of the journals might lead people to scrutinise his own lifestyle. He was so shocked by the contents that he put them back behind the woodwork, and buried them in the archives at Shibden Hall – although he did ignore suggestions from Burrell that they burn the documents.

After the death of John Lister, Muriel Green and her father, Edward Green, took on the task of cataloguing Lister's collection of books, papers, and letters – including those of Anne Lister. She met Arthur Burrell who told her about Anne's journals and gave her the key to the code. They were considered too sensational for the times and were not published.

In the 1960s, Phyllis Ramsden tried to publish them, but Halifax Corporation refused to give her permission.

The journals eventually came to public view when edited extracts were published by Helena Whitbread in 1988 and 1992.

Since then, a market reminiscent of the Brontës has emerged and is supplied by numerous editions of her journals, diaries and letters.

The 27 original volumes are held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

The journals were one of 20 collections across the country to win the UNESCO Best of UK Heritage award of 2011, and were added to its Memory of the World register

See Books about Anne Lister, Vivien Ingham and Savile Hall, Halifax

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:13 / 15th May 2021 / 5063

Page Ref: MMJ7

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