Contributor: Helene Grøn
Location: Calderdale, West Yorkshire Archive Service
Description: Anne Lister’s diaries were written between 1806 and her death in 1840, containing four million words mostly written in legible hand that detail her life as a high-class, Tory landowner residing in Shibden Hall. A small portion, like this entry, is written in the coded language that Lister called her ‘crypthand’, which makes for a mysterious-looking and illegible document in its mix of ‘Greek letters with symbols of her own devising’ (Lister and Whitbread 2010, xiii). The use of crypthand ‘allowed her the freedom to describe her intimate life in great detail’ (xiii), and with assured secrecy from any prying contemporary who might get it into their heads to read her diaries. It took until sixty years after Lister’s death until her relative John, the last Lister living in Shibden Hall, decided to attempt to decode the crypthand passages together with his antiquarian friend Anthony Burrell. What they found was so disturbing that Burrell suggested the diaries be burned, and John responded by hiding them behind a panel at Shibden Hall. Here they remained until his death in 1933, where Shibden Hall and its inventory passed to Halifax Town Council, making the diaries public property. Even so, it took until the 1980s before it came to light, beyond a narrow circle of scholars and historians, what had been so shocking for John Lister and Burrell: the ‘sections written in code discussed Lister’s romantic affairs with other women’ (Campbell 2022, 2).