Gentleman Jack

Lots of people do not know who Anne Lister was. Especially if you are from outside of Yorkshire, in Northern England. In her time she earnt the rather disrespectful nickname of ‘Gentleman Jack’ , but now it is plain to see she was one of the most remarkable women of her time.

Anne Lister (1791-1840)

Anne Lister was born in 1791 in Halifax, the second child of a gentleman soldier. She was one of several children, but only herself and a younger sister made it past 20 years of age. As she grew older, she spent a lot of time with her Aunt and Uncle. They owned Shibden Hall estate, a large country estate in-between Halifax and Bradford. As was common at the time, at first Anne and her sister had a tutor. But as Anne grew older she was sent to the Manor House School in York. 

It was here she met Eliza, who was the daughter of a rich East India Company surgeon. And they started a love affair. Anne had realised that she loved women more than men. And thus started a series of clandestine relationships.

She wasn’t always fair with her lovers. She cheated on Eliza with other pupils at the school. Eliza ended up in despair in an asylum. Anne went on to have a catalogue of female lovers, and she documented them all in her faithful diary. She even devised a cypher from zodiac and mathematical symbols with Greek and Latin letters and words to discretely record all aspects of her intimate encounters. 

Gentleman Jack

Anne dressed in a manly fashion, and was given the nickname ‘Gentleman Jack’. But she was a woman of means. Unusually, she had inherited Shibden Hall on the death of her aunt, and had her own income from tenants and produce from her land. As a woman in the early 19th Century, it would have been quite difficult to be forceful against the men of the age, and do business with them. It was definitely believed that women were not meant to be business owners. Anne combated this by her masculine dress. She wore a long coat and hat, and went about all dressed in black. She made sure that she was educated well, and exuded confidence. Ultimately, she was determined to learn as much as any man could.

The Piece Hall in Halifax West Yorkshire, where cloth was bought in 'pieces'. Gentleman Jack may have visited here.

Over the years she discovered a love of travel, and carried on wooing women across Europe. Again she recorded all this in code in her diary. She travelled to Paris. Then into the Pyrenees and Spain. This was so unusual for a woman in this time, and she was so brave. But when her money started to run out, she needed to come home.

And that was where she rekindled a relationship with a wealthy heiress from a neighbouring estate. Yes, Anne needed Ann Walker’s money, but they did truly fall in love. Anne asked her new love to move into Shibden Hall. To live together like a married couple. This was a move fraught with danger in these times. 

Scandal

At the age of 42, Anne and Ann made wills in each others favour and they wore each others rings. Their ‘wedding’ took place at the Holy Trinity Church in York on Easter Sunday 1834. They obviously could not have an official ceremony, but they shared a communion. Anne’s promiscuous days were over.

But there was a lot of outrage over their relationship. The couple endured harsh treatments by acting like a married couple. An anonymous advert appeared in a Leeds newspaper announcing their marriage, and they received mocking letters. Anne and her wife endured these, though it really must have been so horrible.

A few years after they were married, Anne wanted to go travelling again, so the couple returned to the Pyrenees, and then travelled across Europe to the Black Sea. But it was here that sadly Anne Lister died. It is thought that she was bitten by an insect, and the fever that followed killed her.

Her wife Ann inherited the Shibden estate. But scandalously, her ownership was cut short when her family accused her of having mental health issues. They broke into the hall and Ann was sent to an asylum.

Anne’s Diaries

Anne Lister’s diaries were found by her descendant John Lister in the 1890s. With his friend Arthur Burrell, they deciphered the code and translated the diaries. Again, in the Victorian age this story of female love was abhorrent to the two men, and the diaries were almost destroyed. But luckily they lived to be rediscovered and deciphered again. 

The diaries tell us so much about lesbian life in the 1800s. It wasn’t all romance and flowers. But did need to be clandestine as it was considered to be so scandalous. Anne shows herself to be intelligent, extraordinary and a little bit ruthless. But at the same time she was incredibly brave to go against the grain of womanhood and follow her passions and business so well. In a time when it was definitely a man’s world.

 Anne Lister has been described as ‘the first modern lesbian’. Whilst I don’t think she was the first, she certainly gives us a wonderful snapshot of how lesbian women were certainly able to exist in an era where it is rarely documented. The diaries of Gentleman Jack are such a treasure. 

A Visit to Auschwitz

In 2015 I visited Krakow in Poland. Krakow has a long and complex history spanning hundreds of years. But in living memory, it has become a place visited for its darker times. Needing to see this place for myself, we took a visit to Auschwitz.

A Visit to Auschwitz

A Visit to Auschwitz

The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and less than a week later they had occupied Krakow, taking up residence in the beautiful Wawel Castle in the town.

A Visit to Auschwitz - wawel castle

The Nazis had a plan in mind called their Final Solution. This involved an ethnic cleansing of Europe under their occupation.

40 miles west of Krakow is the small town of Oswiecim, and it was here that they took control of an existing Polish Army camp. They opened the first camp, Auschwitz I in 1940.

Auschwitz I

The gates bear the infamous motto ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – Work Brings Freedom. As you enter, you get a huge sense of the forbidding that the inmates must have felt.

A Visit to Auschwitz - gate

The barrack blocks are severe and heavily guarded, with high barbed wire fencing and bars at the windows. Many of the blocks now house a museum and tribute to the inmates that would have been placed here. Firstly, the Nazis imprisoned and tortured anyone who opposed their plans, so many of the first inmates were local Polish academics and dignitaries.

A Visit to Auschwitz - fences

There are some very dark areas, such as the small dungeon room where 4 people were squashed together, barely able to breath but left to stand in total darkness for weeks on end. And an outdoor wall that was the designated area for the firing squad.

Saddest of all, there are rooms full of the possessions of those that passed through these areas. Vast mounds of shoes, suitcases and clothes all bearing the names of those lost in these darkest days.

A Visit to Auschwitz - shoes

Finally, there is a recreated chamber where the Nazis started their plan to systematically exterminate a whole race by gassing.

Auschwitz II

However, the first camp pales into insignificance when you pass through the gates at the second camp. Auschwitz II (or Birkenau) was built in 1942, two miles away from the first camp.

A Visit to Auschwitz - II gate

By this time, the Final Solution had been officially approved, and three-quarters of the Jewish inmates brought into the camp were immediately taken away and murdered in the massive gas chambers. Train lines came from all over Europe right into the camp.

Above all else that you notice is the fact that there is very little left to see at this camp except a few housing blocks. Because these few blocks were all that was needed for the few inmates allowed to survive.

On discovering that they were about to be seized at the end of WWII, the Germans tried to destroy all evidence of Birkenau by detonating bombs at the site. It did not fully succeed, and thank goodness that it didn’t . For this may be a place of unspeakable evil, but it is also a monument to the fact that these atrocities should never be repeated. May we never forget.

 

Revisiting The Past

Revisiting the Past is great in small doses. More than that can get you melancholic. I certainly don’t believe that you should live in the past. But remembering it, good or bad, can be very good for realising how far we have come. Or how little we have learnt.

Revisiting The Past

Revisiting The Past

I have always been a huge fan of history. I never studied it for any examinations. But I find parts of it fascinating. Thoughout life I have been drawn to history sites.

Firstly, as a 70s child I am a huge fan of the era. Maybe it is the romantic in me, but I have very happy memories of the era. Even if it is the decade fashion forgot!

I decided to start a blog about all the places that I know or have visited. I want to take you on a journey back through times both ancient and modern.

You could think of it as a historical travel blog. As well as talking about the current places, I will be digging further back into the history of the places I visit. Who lived here, and more importantly, how did they live their day to day lives?

My Journey

My journey will take me all over this green/blue planet, to places you may think you know well. And to places that you may not have thought of or visited. Sometimes the most interesting places are on the road less travelled.

Some of these places are full of wonder. Some are more likely to churn your hearts and minds, and make you wonder how such horrible events could happen. The history of the human race is not pretty.

In fact my next post post intends to take you into one of the deepest, darkest and most troubling section of history. In 2015 I paid a visit to Krakow, in Poland. On a day excursion from this beautiful city, I visited a place where some of the most horrible events of the last 100 years took place.

Do read more in my next post and start revisiting the past with me!