The Ghosts of Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall is one of the jewels in Halifax’s heritage crown and amongst Calderdale’s best-known tourist attractions. It is also increasingly one of the most haunted buildings in the area, although despite its antiquity, these ghost appear to be a relatively recent phenomena, unlike the hoary supernatural traditions of other venerable houses nearby in West Yorkshire such as Oakwell Hall at Gomersal or Bolling Hall near Bradford.

Occupation is recorded at the site from 1389 but the oak-timbered H-plan building standing today was originally constructed in 1420 with substantial improvements and additions being made in the 1520s and 1830s. Many have speculated that it was the model for Thrushcross Grange in Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights. Bronte taught at Law Hill School in Southowram in 1838 and would have been familiar with the Hall.

The hall was owned by the Lister family from 1615 until 1933, when the death of John Lister led to it being donated to the Halifax Corporation and opened as a folk museum. Its most famous occupant was Anne Lister who inherited the estate in 1826 following the death of her uncle James. During her tenure she made extensive alteration to the building and grounds but further improvements were curtailed by her death from the plague on her travels in Russia in 1840.

The reasons for Lister’s fame are numerous. Even in her own time, she was well known to be a lesbian and conducted affairs with a number of local women, whilst riding around the district in men’s clothes earned her the pejorative nickname Gentleman Jack. There was always much hostility shown towards her, with hoax marriage announcements made in the local press and reports of mobs gathering close to the house under cover of darkness.

However, she was also a formidable estate manager and landlord, investing in numerous business ventures in the area including collieries and quarries. The diaries she began keeping in 1805 from the age of 15 until her death – some of which were quite graphic in the description of her various affairs and so written in a private code – are regarded as an important primary source for 19th Century local, social and gender history.

The most prominent and enduring of Lister’s affairs was with Ann Walker, the heiress to Cliffe Hill Mansion at Lightcliffe. and the diaries record how they were “married” at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate in York. Lister left Shibden Hall to Walker in her will on the provision that she did not marry. Walker continued living in the Hall following Lister’s death until her own incarceration in an asylum in 1848. Following Walker’s death in 1854, the property reverted to the Lister family.

Walker had always suffered from mental health problems and Lister herself consulted a doctor about Walker’s mental state on several occasions. In Hauntings In Yorkshire, Stephen Wade describes Walker as the most prominent of Shibden Hall’s ghosts, her spirit haunting the red room where she barricaded herself in the years after Lister’s death and attempted to commit suicide. Upon arrival, a local constable allegedly discovered her covered in blood and surrounded by rotten food.

However, in an article for the BBC website dated 23rd October 2007, stories of a “Grey Lady” are dismissed as “just folklore” by Tony Sharpe, an attendant at the hall for twenty-six years. Instead, he relates his own experiences including an encounter at dawn with a nebulous black shape moving overhead and on several occasions the smell of pipe-smoke in the cellar and tower, thought to be an echo of the last occupant Dr. John Lister, a noted antiquarian and inveterate pipe-smoker.

There are also reports of a former curator who witnessed the spectre of a cat pass straight through her office wall; the ghost of a girl drowned in a nearby pond, who only appears in summer; and finally the manifestation of a headless coachman who drives around the grounds by night in a distinctive yellow-liveried coach made for Lord Lonsdale in the 18th Century and now on display at the Hall.

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Stunning! You have quite a treasure here!

    • Thank you kindly. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’ve got reams of material still to add. I’m quite enamoured with your blog too. I particularly like your statement “The owners of this site are two very serious people who do not believe in such things as ghosts or haunted places (don’t they?). However, we agree that there are moments in our lives when, if we look close enough, we can see the gates to something beyond our understanding.” It sums up my own attitude to these matters very eloquently.

  2. Listen, how do I subscribe to your blog?

    • Ah, thanks for mentioning this. I’d neglected to set the facility up. There should now be a button at the bottom of the right-hand column.

  3. Shibden Hall and park from 1954 were my playground as a child and I now take my grandchildren there as i did their parents, but from the age of eight i have not been upstairs in the Hall. I am now 55,and I truly believe I saw the ghost of a women in a long sweeping dress walk through the wall of one room into an other. In the 1960’s on the top landing there was a glass panel instead of a door in a door frame for you to look into the upstairs room. Inside was a dummy of a women sitting and a man standing. I can still clearly see in my mindseye a women walk past these dummimes through the wall. I was frozen to the spot., much to my older brothers annoyance as other people were wishing to view the room. I dont care if people believe me or not, I know what I saw. It was not a sinister experience but one that has remained with me all my life.

    • Many thanks for your comment, Anne. Your experience certainly fits with other recorded sightings of a “Grey Lady” at the Hall, providing a valuable contribution to the tradition.

  4. Me and my partner just went to Shibdon Hall and we both said that we felt really uncomfortable before anyone even told us what happened in the room. We took a picture of the Lister carriage and on the picture you can see someone sitting in the carriage, who looks a lot Anne Lister. Then we took a picture of the family crest on the wall and there is a head on the right hand side of the picture that looks like Anne Lister’s Aunty. Is there any other history? This article is very interesting by the way, explains a lot.

    • Thanks for your kind comment about the article and the report of your experience at the hall. It’s represents another contribution to the tradition. Would you be able to post the photos you speak of? Sadly I’m not personally aware of any further history which might account for the impression of the elder Anne Lister, although I believe there is extensive material on both the history of the hall and the family available to consult in various sources.

      • Yes we can send the photo if you would like. Upon looking at the lister crest we’ve discovered it not to be true but the other photo has all f us baffled. Do you have an e-mail added a I can send it too?

      • Excellent. Thanks Hannah. My email address is moths.galore@gmail.com

  5. In the late1980’s/early 90’s during a May Day visit to the Hall my then young son had, what we believe to be, an encounter with something or someone in a room off the tithe barn which was being used to display and demonstrate butter churns. The lady giving the demonstration invited my son to have a go whereupon he was struck on the back of his neck by some unseen hand. The rest of us saw this but were standing at the opposite side of the room, at least 8 feet away, watching, so it could not have been a person present. The lady in charge was standing closest and she certainly didn’t strike him. He was very cross, indeed I think he was crying, because the slap was quite sharp apparently. He accused each one of the 4 other people in the room of hitting him but I guarantee not one of us did. His actions when he was ‘hit’ certainly indicated that he had been struck as his head whipped forward sharply and when we tried to replicate the action (without actually hitting him), we couldn’t. On questioning immediately afterwards, he said it just felt like a hand hitting him, not a cold one as you might imagine, but a normal hand. He thought he was being admonished for doing something he shouldn’t have been.

    I wrote to Shibden at the time and received a very nice letter back stating that nothing had been seen in that area of the barn other than a figure or figures walking down the barn itself being asked by the person wishing to lock up to leave, then simply vanishing. The Grey Lady was mentioned but we didn’t see anything in the house that day.

    I wonder, has anyone else had a similar experience. I know my now mid 30’s son would love to know as he’s never forgotten the ‘encounter’.

  6. Reblogged this on Fragments – and commented:
    An interesting blog post concerning old ghosts haunting the Shibden Hall. It also retells the sad story of miss Ann Walker and her time as the owner of the Hall (1841-1848).

  7. I went in 2000 when I was 19 and enjoyed looking round the house. and was told By my parents in 70’s my great grandma who died when I was 2 was a medium and they took her to see the house and she said she could see a man sat down righting and.my parents asked about it and they said that a man use to sit in the room righting.


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