Revealing Anne Lister

The West Yorkshire Archive Service recently collaborated with the BBC on the production of ‘Revealing Anne Lister’ the documentary written and presented by Sue Perkins. This will be broadcast after the drama ‘The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’ starring Maxine Peake that is to be premiered on BBC2 and BBC HD at 9pm on Monday 31st May 2010. 

Anne Lister of Shibden Hall (1791-1840) was a remarkable woman who has left an even more remarkable written legacy which intrigues and inspires people all over the world. She was a Yorkshire landowner, industrialist, traveller and diarist. She was also a lesbian who, despite needing to keep her orientation secret from society at large, defied the conventions of her times by living with and marrying her female lover.

Anne kept a detailed account of her life, loves and emotions in a fascinating and painfully honest four million word journal. A sizeable portion of the journal was written in code and the recent deciphering of these diaries provides an astonishing insight into the life of the woman who has been called Britain’s first modern lesbian.

The diaries are full of information about Anne’s daily life and interests, from clothes, tooth-pulling and social events to politics, workhouses and the threat of disease and unrest. Although Anne lived an obscure life by contrast to better known contemporary diarists, her journals are invaluable as a source of information on the development of an important area of Yorkshire during the period of the Industrial Revolution and as a fascinating viewpoint on national and international events and influences. The diaries themselves have led an interesting life from their return to Shibden to their discovery, translation and return to hiding and finally to their subsequent rediscovery.

Working with the film crew was interesting, if not quite as thrilling as expected! Sue Perkins was genuinely fascinated by the documents that reveal Anne Lister’s life, although it was more than a little strange hanging around Halifax with her on a cold Saturday last winter.


The Diaries are a real highlight of the documents held within the collections of West Yorkshire Archive Service at Calderdale.

Parts of the diary are written in code

We are hosting an open evening on the 10th June 2010 for people to come along and see these fascinating diaries for themselves. They will be available from 4.30 to 6.30 @ West Yorkshire Archive Service: Calderdale, Central Library, Northgate.


3 responses to “Revealing Anne Lister

  1. This was a wonderful case study on finding untold gay histories. I’ve never heard of Anne Lister and will be sure to come to WYAS next time i’m in the area to see these docs for myself. Here is a quick guide to researching lesbian history in the archives by women’s library archivist:

    • Thank you – very useful link. Anne Lister is in fact going on tour following the Calderdale open evening, though without the original diaries. During June, the exhibition can be seen at Todmorden Library and at Brighouse Library in July. Anne Lister has proved so popular that we are also loaning out another copy to Hove Library in Sussex from the end of June until the end of July! Previewing on where there’s lots more Anne Lister related material.

  2. Thanks for a very informative blog! Can anyone confirm if the diary entry from the 15th of August 1840 (photo above) are the very final words of Anne Lister’s pen, or are there any other survived manuscripts/letters written before her death in late September 1840?

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