Who and what

This page is put together and edited by Yvonne Haugen, member of the grand transcription project dubbed Anne Lister Code Breakers #AnneListerCodeBreaker

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

On this page you will find a short introduction to the diaries and the West Yorkshire archives, some recommended reading plus a link to the Gentleman Jack tribute animations and more.

Anne Lister and her diaries

Anne Lister
Portrait of Anne Lister
at Shibden Hall

Anne Lister (1791-1840) was a truly remarkable woman; landlord, private student of medicine, traveller, mountaineer (the first person to officially ascend the mountain Vignemale, France, In 1838), an unapologetic lesbian in a time when male homosexuality was a crime. (There was no concept of lesbianism, simply “romantic friendships” before traditional marriage.) Anne Lister restored and expanded her family estate and grounds of Shibden Hall, dealt with all the estate’s tenants, engaged in politics, ran her aunts canal transport business, sank her own coal pit despite the dirty competition, and traveled the World. Despite having her hands full with all of the above, she wrote a consistent and detailed diary covering every aspect of her life. She began the diary in 1806 and kept writing up until her untimely death (by an infectious tick bite in Georiga) in  1840. The more sensitive subjects such as gossip,  commentary and personal and romantic activities she disguised in a code she deviced herself.

Her diaries comprise of some 7.720 pages, an estimated 5 million words, with about one sixth of the entries written in the cryptic code that she created herself to protect more sensitive content.

West Yorkshire Archive Service
Anne’s diaries are part of the extensive collection of Lister Family of Shibden Hall records, covering 13th century to 1933. The collection is fully listed on the West Yorkshire Archive Service online catalogue (collection reference SH).

UNESCO Memory of the World Register
In 2011 Anne’s diaries were added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in recognition of their substantial cultural significance to the UK. They are an important resource in the field of Gender Studies and Women’s History, as well as providing a wealth of information about politics, business, religion, education, science, travel, local and national events, medicine and health.

Anne Lister Diary
A random diary page and detail (SH:7/ML/E/15/0140)

Making Anne Lister’s diaries available to the public
Although the diary pages have been photographed and made available online, Anne’s handwriting, prolific use of abbreviations and the secret code means the contents of the diaries is not immediately accessible. So the West Yorkshire Archives – with the help of a growing group of volunteers – are having the diaries meticulously transcribed so that it will be easily accessible to the public. This massive undertaking goes under the name of the Anne Lister Diary Transcription Project, and since late summer 2019 I have been a volunteer transcriber for the project.

Some of the travel journals from 1839 never made it into the diaries and are not included in the ongoing transcription project. Being a Norsie myself I knew it would be very interesting to transcribe and explore the Norwegian part of these last travels of Anne Lister and Ann Walker. It’s a fun read, especially for anyone familiar with Norway and its traditions. There is a lot of nature descriptions, food commentary and bits and pieces of sosio political information and customs, plus a dash of gossip.

Looking into the places and people etc that Anne mentions has led to some good findings and illustrations, and also newspaper clippings and even objects. An exhibition including visuals and texts from the Norway travels has been in the making for some time, but has been forced to take the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration.


The BBC/HBO hit series Gentleman Jack by the multi award winning Sally Wainwright is based rather closely on Anne Lister’s diaries and Wainwright’s generosity were instrumental to getting the diaries photographed and avaiable.

Claymation Gentleman Jack is a tribute animation series by yours truly, and the silly little snippets can be viewed at yhAnimation.com

There are several books written on the topic of Anne Lister, most recommended are the works of Jill Liddington, Helena Whitbread and special advicer during the making of the Gentleman Jack TV-series, Anne Choma.

The Oslo gallery KUNSTPLASS has been commissioned by Norsk Kulturhistorisk Musem to curate the summer exhibition (as they have done for several years now). This year’s exhibit is called “De te fabula narratur”. I have been teaming up with Kunstplass for the Anne Lister part of this exhibit; an installation based on Anne Lister’s travels in Norway. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the physical exhibition was postponed until 2021. In its place Kunstplass put together a digital preview exhibit.

My name is Yvonne Haugen and if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to get in touch by email or twitter handle: @yvonnehaugen

A special thank you to Dr Kerry D Hudson for invaluable contributions to the gathering of information and details.