Anne Lister – Love Life

This exhibition is focusing on probably the four most important relationships in Anne’s life, although there were others……


Eliza Raine (1791-1860)

In 1805 the 14 year old Anne Lister was sent to the Manor School in York, an elite girls’ boarding school for some 41 pupils, and she stayed there until the early summer of 1806. The most significant outcome of her time there was the development of her friendship with fellow-pupil, Eliza Raine, a girl of Anglo-Indian parentage, the daughter of William Raine, a surgeon with the East India Company, Eliza and her sister, Jane, had been placed under the guardianship of William Duffin, a York surgeon following their father’s death.  Anne and Eliza began a friendship which developed in intensity, reaching the point where they wanted to spend their lives together.  The girls corresponded after Anne left the school and in the summer of 1806 Eliza’s first visit to Halifax took place. Eliza’s departure some weeks later had far-reaching consequences both for Anne and for posterity, because it was the trigger which prompted Anne into starting a journal.

Through her relationship with Eliza, Anne was introduced into the York social scene, and as her circle of friends widened, Eliza soon began to realise that she was losing Anne to another woman for, in 1810, Anne had met Isabella Norcliffe. Eliza suffered a mental decline and in 1814 was put under the care of Dr Belcombe, a York doctor, Anne paying many visits to her there.  Eliza died in York on the 31st December 1860, aged sixty-nine.


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“I assure you Eliza I am very steady in my attachments and though not deemed of an affectionate disposition I feel that I can be strongly attached to my dear and best friend ER”

21 Feb 1808 – Letter from Anne Lister, Halifax, to Eliza Raine, York (SH:7/ML/A/8)



“The particular question I had to ask is, if you have our school letters? Tho they be still in your possession I beg you will burn them whenever it may be convenient”

10 Oct 1814  – Letter from Eliza Raine, York, to Anne Lister, Halifax (SH:7/ML/A/90)


Isabella Norcliffe (1785-1846)

Isabella Norcliffe was born in 1785, the eldest child of a wealthy landowner, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Norcliffe Dalton and his wife, Ann of Langton Hall near Malton. They had three more daughters, Charlotte, Mary and Emily and two sons, Norcliffe and Thomas.

By 1810 Anne was assiduously cultivating this new friendship, fascinated as she was by the wealthy, sophisticated lifestyle of the family. Their self-assurance and social confidence impressed Anne, newly arrived in the midst of the York socialites. Ambitious and eager to learn the ways of the world, Anne quickly recognised a kindred spirit in Isabella. Six years older and much more worldly-wise than Eliza Raine, Isabella nevertheless became equally star-struck with Anne and they were to remain friends and occasional lovers throughout the remainder of Anne’s life. Anne’s rejection of her as a life-partner was a bitter blow to Isabella, who remained single all her life. She died in 1846 at the age of sixty-one.


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“Letter from Isabella Norcliffe…..Isabella desiring me to write immediately, I filled a sheet before dinner…My letter of today is certainly more affectionate than any I have written her of long…I have always loved her in spite of all and now that circumstances have so far alienated me from M- [Mariana], Isabella’s fondness, fortune and connections, if her temper be grown rather more tractable, will make me happy.  I almost begin to feel that we shall get together at last”

27 Jul 1818 – written in Anne’s journal (SH:7/ML/E:2)


Mariana Belcombe, later Lawton (1790-1868)

Mariana Lawton was the daughter of Dr Belcombe, a York physician who specialised in the care of the mentally ill.  She and Anne first met at a house-party at the Langton Hall home of the Norcliffe family in 1812. Anne was immediately passionately attracted to Mariana and the two women vowed to spend their lives together. However, on 9th March 1816, Mariana married Charles Lawton, a wealthy Cheshire landowner much older than herself and became mistress of Lawton Hall. Although the two women carried on their clandestine relationship for a number of years, their hopes of eventually being together were never realised and Anne had other affairs. Mariana outlived Anne and died at her sister’s home in London at the age of seventy-eight.


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“Sat up talking to my uncle till 11 o’clock about getting married… I took care to say, however, that I never intended to marry at all.  I cannot make out whether he suspects my situation towards M- [Mariana]… I begin to despair that M- and I will ever get together”

28 May 1817 – written in Anne’s journal (SH:7/ML/E/1)



“To the world she appears exemplary.  Alas the world knows not our connection and how we have always cheated Charles.  Our intercourse is what? Adultery. And when she leaves him, it is to come to me.  I am attached to her.  She has my heart and faith”

2 Apr 1826 – written in Anne’s journal (SH:7/ML/E/9)


Ann Walker (1803-1854)

Ann Walker was the younger daughter of John Walker, a woollen manufacturer who owned properties adjacent to Shibden Hall.  By virtue of the deaths of both her parents in 1823, Ann Walker, then nineteen years old, inherited a substantial fortune and in 1830, due to the premature death of her brother, John, she became an even richer heiress. In 1832, Anne Lister, disillusioned by her attempts to find a titled woman with whom to share her life, began courting Ann Walker. The two women finally began to live together at Shibden Hall in September 1834. Following Anne Lister’s premature death in Russia at the age of forty-nine, Ann Walker continued to live at Shibden Hall until her mental illness rendered her incapable of running her estates. In 1843 she was placed in a private York asylum run by Dr Stephen Belcombe, Mariana Lawton’s brother. Later, she was transferred back to Shibden and then to her original home at Cliff Hill, Lightcliffe, where she died at the age of fifty-one


“She falls into my views of things admirably.  I believe I shall succeed with her – if I do, I will really try to make her happy – and I shall be thankful to heaven for the mercy of bringing me home, having first saved me from Vere, rid me of M- [Mariana], and set me at liberty.  We shall have money enough.  She will look up to me and soon feel attached and I, after all my turmoils, shall be steady and, if God so wills it, happy….I can gently mould Miss W- to my wishes – and may we not be happy? How strange the fate of things! If after all, my companion for life should be Miss Walker – she was nine and twenty a little while ago! How little my aunt or anyone suspects what I am about!”

27 Sep 1832 – written in Anne’s journal (SH:7/ML/E/15)


Other Exhibition Pages

Anne Lister – An Introduction

Anne Lister – Early Years

Anne Lister – The Journals

Anne Lister – Shibden Hall

Anne Lister – A Window into History

Anne Lister – The Traveller

Anne Lister – Reading Anne’s Diaries

Anne Lister – Diary Transcription Project