Discovering literary West Yorkshire

By | Category: Travel destinations

Shibden Hall – the home of Anne Lister

I must confess that when I think of Halifax the television series Last Tango in Halifax comes to mind. Its creator Sally Wainright is now working on a new series for BBC 1.

Gentleman Jack, her latest creation, focuses on the life of diarist, businesswomen and traveller Anne Lister, described as Britain’s first modern lesbian.  A lot is known about her life in the first half of the nineteenth century as she kept details of her passionate courtship in her diaries, which were written in code.  Today, those diaries are listed on UNESCO’s memory of the World Programme.

A short walk from Halifax town centre is Shibden Hall, her home and now a museum which was originally built in 1420. Anne was a great snob and created what appears to be a Tudor mansion from what was once a simple house. The hall is closed until July 24th whilst filming takes place but then it will re-open until September.

Original Elizabethan panels that had been hidden, have since been uncovered, and are on display. Owned by the Halifax Corporation, the house has been renovated although apparently not entirely as it was. There is, for example, a nursery although children never lived there. For the BBC series, the gardens are currently being landscaped so they appear as they were when Anne lived there. A grey lady, a ghost, is said to walk along the interior balcony. The house is looked after by Calderdale Council, who organise Anne Lister tour days.

Halifax Minster where Anne Lister was baptised

On the outskirts of Halifax, I stayed at the dog-friendly Jacobean manor Holdsworth House. The hotel was also the  where Celia and Alan from Last Tango In Halifax got married; the Beatles (John Lennon had his 24th birthday here) stayed in 1964 and other famous guests have included Rudolf Nureyev, Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Victoria Wood and jayne mansfield to name just a few.

In the centre of town the 900 year old Halifax Minster was originally a Norman church. The existing church dates back to 1438 with its interior renovated in the Victorian era. Anne Lister was baptized in its font, and is buried in their graveyard although the whereabouts are kept a secret as her tombstone had been destroyed in the past. The Minster organises Anne Lister tours.

part of Piece Hall

The recently restored Georgian Grade 1 Piece Hall and the refurbished arts centre opened after a £19 million restoration, and is the centre for the city’s activities. The area is hilly, and the 18th century cloth open air trading hall is on a slope. The piazza has colonnades on several sides, topped with Doric columns, and is surrounded by quirky, independent shops. I stopped at Loafers where I was able to have a coffee, and at the same time look at their large selection of vinyl records. Another shop sold original fifties style cloths. The area has been landscaped with miniature waterspouts, and the whole complex is illuminated at night. Free heritage guided tours lasting about an hour are available at the Welcome Centre where they have a historical display. An area where historical clothes are provided, allows both the young and old to dress up, and take selfies against a back projection of the Piece Hal.

the blue plaque commemorating Ted Hughes the poet

Adjacent to the Hall in what used to be a derelict church, is their state-of-the art library. Home to the tourist information centre it will also house Anne Lister’s 27 diaries when they are finally transcribed. Worth dropping in, if only to use their Wi-Fi.

One of my stops was at Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, and where he wrote eight poems. The house is rented out to visitors on short lets. A Ted Hughes Festival, organized by the Elmet Trust, is held in October. Nearby in Heptonstall, his wife Sylvia Plath Hughes is buried in the parish church. Heptonstall is also famous for the men known as ‘the coiners’ who, in the 18th century, used to take bits off coins and melt them down to give money to the poor.

In the middle of no-where, Lumb Bank – Ted Hughes former home – now belongs to the Arvon Foundation. Surrounded by woodland, wildlife and a river valley it is now a creative retreat for people for want to be inspired in their writing whether it is poetry, play writing or fiction.

the Bronte Parsonage

Getting around by pubic transport is fairly easy. Hebden Bridge, known as the Pennine Centre, is a pretty town and creative centre with lots of quirky shops. It takes its name from the packhorse bridge over Hebden Water. The town developed in late medieval times as a river crossing and meeting point for packhorse routes, and is now a centre for walkers. One of the local drinks is rhubarb cider made in the area. Yorkshire rhubarb gin is another speciality. Although I didn’t get the opportunity of trying it, dock pudding made with dock leaves, bacon fat, and oatmeal is too as is Yorkshire Parkin, cake made from oatmeal and black treacle.

The Pennines is known as walking country, and is very hilly with designated cycle paths.

But no-ne can come to this area without being aware of the Bronte legacy. 2018 celebrates the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth. North of the Pennines, the Bronte Parsonage in Howarth, now a museum, was the family home of the Brontë Family. Emily lived there with her five siblings. Visitors can wander around the parsonage, and see where she lived and worked. In the dining room is a picture of her, and the table where she wrote Wuthering Heights. Emily died at the age of 30, the average age for the area being 25. It is said that the couch in the room is where she died. In commemoration, there is an exhibition of especially commissioned contributions from well-known admirers who share their own fascination with her life and work. Also loaned by the National Portrait Gallery, is the only known surviving portrait of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë together, painted by their brother Branwell in 1834 which is back in its original home.

the apothocary near the Bronte Parsonage

The parsonage is located at the top of a steep hill lined with shops. One of these used to be an apothocary, and it’s worth popping in to see all the old bottles lined up. Now it sells fun items for the bathroom, the sort of things that make ideal presents.

Within just a short time I had widened my knowledge of the literary heritage that this small part of West Yorkshire has provided to all of the UK. As for the rest of the county, that will wait for another day.

For more about Calderdale, click here or visit

Halifax is served by trains travelling from Blackpool South and Manchester to Leeds and onward to York. In addition, Grand Central trains run from London Kings Cross to Halifax three times a day. Natasha travelled on a Grand Central Train.

For more about Natasha’s visit to Holdsworth House, click here or go to



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