In 1805 the 14 year old Anne Lister was sent to the Manor School in York, an elite girls’ boarding school. 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. Following the death of their father, Eliza and her sister, Jane, had been placed under the guardianship of William Duffin, a York surgeon. Anne and Eliza began a friendship which developed in intensity, reaching the point where they wanted to spend their lives together. After Anne had left the school, the girls began to correspond 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 circle of that day 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, a woman five years older than herself, who was to prove a hugely formative influence on Anne’s life. Eliza, unfortunately, suffered a mental decline and in 1814 was put under the care of Dr Belcombe, a York doctor specialising in the treatment of the mentally ill. Anne paid many visits to her there. She died in York on the 31st December 1860, aged sixty-nine.
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.
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 Lister and died at her sister’s home in London at the age of seventy-eight.
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 the September of 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