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Local History Society Report

A Brief History of Shibden Hall

Speaker: David Glover

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Shibden Hall is a much loved and much visited landmark in Halifax and David Glover set himself the challenge of outlining 600 years of its history to an audience at Hebden Bridge Local History Society in just sixty minutes.

The Otes family

The house was built by clothier William Otes on a site with good water supply and south facing fields in Schepedene - the valley of sheep. It was a timber built house, with a slightly different configuration than the current building. The front was set back, and inside there would have been galleries around the large central open area of the housebody. Over the years different owners made changes according to a sense of status or fashion. The Otes family were related to some prominent Halifax families – the Waterhouses and the Saviles, and after William's death a tussle for inheritance was fought out in the Chancery Court. Interestingly, the court decided in favour of the eldest daughter, married to a Savile, over the claims of a son born to a second wife.

The Saviles

During the period of Savile ownership in the early 16th century, some significant changes were made to the building, notably encasing the housebody front with stone, and internally dividing it in two. Some changes are still being discovered – recently a large stone fireplace was uncovered behind panels in the parlour. After 1522 ownership passed to Robert Waterhouse, who gained wealth and prestige by acquiring public offices including the right to collect the tithes that had to be paid to Lewes Priory, and the office of Ulnager, who checked and sealed wool cloth to guarantee a standard, collecting a fee for each piece.

The owners of Shibden Hall seemed to veer between grandeur and poverty - Robert Waterhouse Junior made more alterations, including decorative features such as stained glass and decorated timbers. A later Waterhouse, Edward, was knighted, but fell into serious debt and re-mortgaged to such an extent that he eventually lost ownership of the hall.

The Listers

By 1615 the house was owned by the Lister family, and it was during this period that the aisled barn was added. Some notable Listers were Thomas, a Republican who fled to Lancashire when the Royalist army arrived in Halifax, and James Lister, an apothecary who was memorialised with a fine carved monument in Halifax parish church. The Lister family seemed prone to remaining unmarried or at least childless, and the property passed between brothers until the assumed heir Jeremy Lister, father of the hall's best known owner Anne Lister, was deemed to be incapable of managing the estate and by-passed in favour of his daughter.

Anne Lister

When she inherited in 1826, Anne Lister was certainly one of those who wanted to improve Shibden, which she described as 'shabby'. She employed John Harper of York as her architect, and drawings exist of a much enlarged house with a fanciful tower to claim its place in the landscape. It seems Anne's reputation as a better manager than her father was justified - she went ahead with the tower, and an impressive lodge on Godley Lane, but not the more grandiose improvements. She also developed the coal mining on the property, naming the pit for her partner Ann Walker - the tall ventilation shaft still stands. Her energy is evidenced in her many travels, and she famously died from an infected insect bite while in Georgia, her body being returned to Halifax in a seven month journey. She was buried in Halifax parish church; in 2000 her broken tombstone was uncovered, but the actual site of her burial is not clear. Ann Walker, who inherited Shibden Hall suffered from mental ill-health, and was removed from ownership as incapable in 1843.

John Lister

The last Listers remained at Shibden until 1933, with Dr John Lister making changes and improvements to the hall and gardens, including the garden based on a paisley pattern and the extension at the back of the hall. His three children remained unmarried, and so the last Lister at Shibden was John Junior, a generous and civic minded man. It was he who found the Anne Lister diaries and published some edited extracts in the Halifax Guardian illustrating the life of a 'Halifax Lady'. It was not until later that the code was cracked and much later that the work of Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington made the remarkable content of the diaries accessible to the public.

John Lister was active in politics, being appointed as the treasurer of the Independent Labour Party and was also the founding president of the Halifax Antiquarian Society. Unfortunately he followed in the tradition of falling into debt, and in the 1920s his financial problems necessitated the sale of the estate. However, another philanthropic citizen, Henry Charles McCrea, bought the house and land, enabling John Lister to continue living there till his death, on condition that the park itself be opened to the public. It was officially opened in 1926 by Edward Prince of Wales. A Folk Museum was established at Shibden Hall in 1953, displaying many historical artefacts. The hall and grounds have been much improved in recent years through Lottery Heritage grants, and with the publicity generated by Sally Wainwright's dramatisation of the life of Anne Lister, its fame has never been greater.

The next meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society will be discovering something about the poet Sylvia Plath's Yorkshire connections, when Heather Clark, Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield will hopefully join us on-line from America for her filmed presentation. Meeting on Wednesday 27th October at Hebden Royd Methodist Church, at 7.30. All welcome, visitors £4.

Details of the talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on this website and you can also follow the Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

See also

Hebden Bridge History Website

HebWeb History section