Myth Buster: Ann Walker’s Drinking Habits
Was Ann Walker prone to drinking? Short answer: no. There is very little evidence to substantiate this myth.
But what do we actually know about Ann Walker’s drinking habits? In her own diary, Ann only sporadically mentions alcohol, mostly when she was travelling in France with Anne Lister. Ann, for example, comments on the good wine they had for dinner: “dinner at 5. excellent red Vin d’Asti – but a very poor dinner” (08 July 1834)1 or the encouraging sip of Noyau she took when they first set off on horseback over the alpine mountain passes: “sat down and cried, got a little Noyau – then mounted and went to the top” (06 July 1834)2.
Ann herself makes no allusions to ever having been tipsy during their travels. This is not too surprising, since she does not use a secret crypthand in her diary and generally does not divulge overly personal or embarrassing information in it. To our knowledge there are also no letters from friends or relatives that make any references to Ann Walker drinking. The only source we have that mentions Ann being inebriated is Anne Lister’s diary.
In her diaries, Anne Lister keeps meticulous track of people’s drinking habits, from her workmen to her family members and (girl)friends. Anne even remarks on her own alcohol intake, such as how many glasses of port wine she had and if she diluted it with water4. It is important to note at this point that while Anne habitually wrote down many details of her daily life, her particular focus on alcohol might have come from the experiences Anne had with her mother Rebecca:
“Just before tea asked my father how my mother was – as to drinking he said she went to bed tipsy every night for five and twenty nights running after he went home from here last summer she was sober 2 nights then t went to bed tipsy another night which made altogether 26 nights after which she kept pretty well till Marian went home │Mon. 14 Oct. 1816│when she had a spell at it of a week“Anne Lister’s diary – 27 December 1816
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/26/3/0014 – Transcription by Leila Straub
Rebecca Lister very likely suffered from alcoholism. Her excessive drinking was not only commented on by Anne Lister but was also the topic of conversation amongst other members of the Lister family as a letter from Eliza Raine tells us:
“Your Mother gets drunk now constantly, and exposes herself sadly. Every one speaks of it, of course with horror, and pities the younger part of the family. Your father is blamed for not preventing it and keeping her at home – she can never live over the winter if she goes on in this way […] and your Uncle Joseph threatens if your Mother goes drunk there today he’ll turn her out of the house […]. [Your Aunt Joseph] has told Sam, that drunkenness is an hereditary failing on your Mother’s side, that her Sister died of it and all her relations have been inclined to it […]”Letter from Eliza Raine to Anne Lister – 29 May 1812
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/A/37 – Transcription by Kerstin Holzgraebe
Growing up with a mother who had a drinking problem might have made Anne Lister keenly aware of the potential slippery slope of alcohol addiction, especially for people who struggle with their mental health. In a conversation with her aunt towards the end of 1832, Anne Lister speculates about Ann Walker’s future:
“said how things were with Miss W- she would either marry in a twelve month no good match or go to the dogs tha[t] is be poorly and unhappy and perhaps like many such nervous people take more than she ought (drink) at last”Anne Lister’s diary – 19 December 1832
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/15/0166 – Transcription by Leila Straub
So… Did Ann Go to the Dogs?
There are not too many entries in Anne Lister’s diaries of Ann Walker being tipsy or drunk, therefore, all are covered in this blog. Hopefully, this will give people the opportunity to decide for themselves whether these instances are indicative of an alcohol problem or not. The following sections only include entries in which Anne Lister believes Ann Walker had too much to drink5 and not entries where the Ann(e)s had some wine for dinner or Ann had a sip of brandy for medicinal purposes. However, ISAW is tracking these as well for future reference.
Travelling in France
About half the entries that mention Ann Walker having too much to drink occurred when the Ann(e)s were travelling through France in 1834 and 1838, clearly enjoying the good wine there:
Both Anne and Ann particularly liked the vin d’Asti and on one night in June 1834, Anne Lister finds Ann Walker “literally tipsy” after dinner. We know that Anne Lister herself had too much to drink on this occasion as she notes the next morning: “not the better for my bottle of vin d’asti last night”. Similarly, they both enjoyed a bottle of champagne at dinner in May 1838 leaving Ann “tipsyish without her knowing it” and Anne Lister “not inclined for writing“.
The other two entries in June and July 1834 are more critical of Ann Walker’s behaviour. During their travels Ann Walker had a tendency to fidget in the carriage, which Anne Lister attributes to her having had too much to drink. It is hard to judge from these entries whether Ann Walker was actually drunk or simply uncomfortable, since Anne believes the wine “made her feverish without being tipsy“.
There are two more mentions of Ann Walker in connection with alcohol when they were travelling that are difficult to interpret. The first entry is from July 1834. At lunch, Ann Walker finishes her open bottle of vin d’Asti from the day before. After making their way across mountains and glaciers, they arrive at the hotel in Courmayeur where she lies down before they have dinner and a new bottle of vin d’Asti. Anne Lister comments on this:
“Dinner at 5 ¼ in an hour – Miss W- had previously lain down and had a fresh bottle of vin d’asti“Anne Lister’s diary – 08 July 1834
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/17/0053 – Transcription by Leila Straub
The second entry takes place in May 1838. On a rainy afternoon in Épernay, Ann Walker has a couple of glasses of champagne at lunch and then lies down while Anne Lister, not having taken any champagne, spends the next four hours writing her diary:
“after breakfast till 12 and from the time A- went to lie down (at 2 10/..) to 6 ¼ wrote out the whole of Saturday and Sunday […] dinner at 6 ½ – had had a bottle of champagne of the landlord at 2. A- had two glasses and I did not taste it so A- lay down”Anne Lister’s diary – 28 May 1838
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/23/0111 – Transcription by Leila Straub
Anne Lister does not explicitly say Ann Walker had too much to drink on either occasion and nothing that happened during the day indicates excessive drinking. However, it is worth noting that the entries are written in crypthand. Even though Ann Walker may not have been tipsy on these days, Anne Lister still seems to consider Ann’s behaviour worth commenting on.
Ann being tipsy over the years
Back at Shibden Hall, there are a few more instances scattered across the years where Anne Lister thinks Ann Walker had too much to drink:
In September 1834, Anne finds Ann “literally tipsy” having had three glasses of sherry at luncheon. Three days later, Ann had four glasses of Madeira at dinner, which makes Anne think she “talked as if it was in her head“. The next time Ann Walker was tipsy and “talked much” occurred almost a year later in August 1835 after having had three and three-quarters glasses of wine at dinner. While Ann only has one and a half glasses of Madeira at lunch in March 1838, she also gets into an argument with Anne Lister, which leaves Ann crying and Anne thinking “she will drink in the end and had had too much today“. Despite Anne’s ominous prediction, more than a year passed before Ann got tipsy again after sharing a bottle of champagne with Anne Lister in May 1839.
These are all the entries – as far as we are aware – that describe Ann Walker as being tipsy, talking too much, or fidgeting due to drinking. Less than a dozen times in six years of marriage and all in relation to having had lunch or dinner. Moreover, these entries show that what Anne Lister considers ‘too much’ seems to vary from about one and a half glasses to four glasses, perhaps depending not a little on the mood she or Ann Walker was in.
This begs the question, where does the idea come from that Ann Walker was a heavy drinker or prone to drowning her sorrows in alcohol? The answer to this might lie in the year 1836.
Ann(e)’s fear of drinking
From March to around June in 1836, Ann Walker goes through a period in which she is feeling low, stops eating lunch and does not want to take any alcohol because she is afraid of drinking too much:
Anne Lister first notices that Ann Walker is not well at the beginning of March:
“A- would not take luncheon till I got her persuaded at last told me she had been unhappy these past two or three weeks had not pleasure in anything never felt as if doing right would not take wine was getting too fond of it afraid she should drink was getting as she was before afraid people would find it out and began to look disconsolate“Anne Lister’s diary – 10 March 1836
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/19/0006 – Transcription by Leila Straub
The “was getting as she was before afraid people would find it out” most likely refers to Ann’s previous bouts of ill mental health in 1828 and 1833, which were talked about among her relatives6. Over the next month, Anne Lister comments a couple more times on Ann Walker not taking any luncheon or wine, “fearing to take too much“. Then, in early June, Ann frets at having taken three or four glasses of wine, still “afraid she shall drink“, a fear that is echoed by Anne Lister again towards the end of June after Ann Walker had two glasses of wine. However, this fear never came to pass. As previously shown, there were only a couple more instances after this where Ann had too much to drink, some years later in 1838 and 1839.
Interestingly though, while Anne Lister is worried that Ann Walker’s lowness or nervousness will result in her drinking, Anne also tries a few times to persuade Ann to drink in an attempt to make her feel better:
“dinner at 6 25/.. – sat over our wine till 7 50/.. I had a bottle of claret – 4 glasses, and persuaded A- to take 3 ½ glasses of port – She all the better for it”Anne Lister’s Diary – 06 April 1836West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/19/0023 – Transcription by Leila Straub
“A- on the sofa asleep ever since coming upstairs low so gave three and a quarter glasses of wine she nothing loth and this quieted her“Anne Lister’s Diary – 19 June 1836West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/19/0062 – Transcription by Leila Straub
“went into the cellar for a bottle of burgundy the 2d we have had of our Quillacq-Calais stock – Poor A- having had no wine yesterday or Saturday determined to tempt her today”Anne Lister’s Diary – 25 March 1839West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/23/0008 – Transcription by Leila Straub
Alcohol was (and still is if we think about it) used as a “medicine” to strengthen your body and calm your nerves. This can be seen from Jubb’s prescription in 1839, when Ann goes through another prolonged period of lowness and again is not eating well:
“Mr. Jubb came about 5 for ¼ hour – will give A- pills calomel colocynth and a carbonate to dissolve, make them pass off better – she is starved to death – ought to take 3 or 4 glasses of wine a day and live well”Anne Lister’s diary – 08 April 1839West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/23/0016 – Transcription by Leila Straub
The important take-away of these repeated discussions surrounding alcohol in 1836 is that they all stem from a fear of drinking. Ann Walker, for the most part, was not actually drinking, not even when she was feeling low. This shows a level of self-control on Ann’s part, which arguably someone with a drinking problem might not have.
Let’s Turn the Tables
After this comprehensive list of Anne Lister’s critical observations on Ann Walker’s drinking habits, it would be remiss not to mention that Anne Lister herself occasionally lost track of the number of glasses she had. One of the most entertaining examples of this is a particularly wild evening in 1828. Anne Lister gets “absolutely drunk” (according to her diary index)7 while drinking port with Charles Lawton:
“Mr. C L- had a bottle of his fine old port, 15 years in bottle — Excellent, but unluckily took, as Mr. C L- said, 3 glasses of it, having had 2 before, and felt it a little too much — Got steadily out of the dining room about nine π [Mariana] came upstairs with me would have a kiss directly on the sofa in my dressing room which she said lasted twenty minutes and I covered her with blood and water thro even her black velvet and after this I know not much about it — she led me upstairs a story higher where I was to sleep (thought the new plastered dressing room disagreed with me) and left me in my great chair I was sick and threw up twice at long intervals slept till one in the morning then awaking pretty sober undressed and got into bed – fine day”Anne Lister’s diary – 31 March 1828West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/10/0144
The purpose of this blog is to reveal everything we know about Ann Walker’s drinking habits, based on Anne Lister’s observations, and to debunk any incipient myths surrounding it. Considering that there are relatively few entries in Anne Lister’s diaries, and often years apart, there is no indication in Ann’s behaviour that points towards a dependency on alcohol. Alcoholism looks very different. It is a serious disease and comes with a great deal of shame and secrecy, rather than the occasional glass too many at dinner. Had Ann Walker been a heavy drinker, we would probably have many more entries similar to those Anne Lister wrote about her mother.
- Ann Walker’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1
- Ann Walker’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1
- “Crème de Noyau”, The Spirit of History Tempus Fugit Spirits, 2020, https://www.tempusfugitspirits.com/blank.
- e.g. “Took hot port-wine and water (2 glasses) which rather warmed me again”, Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/18/0049
- Entries were found by conducting a word search for too much, tipsy, glasses, tumbler, wine, vin, champagne, and noyau in the years 1832-1840
- e.g., Henry Lees Edwards’ letter to Elizabeth Walker, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:103/1
- Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/10/0174
Quotes from Anne Lister’s diary courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale. See individual quotes and images for catalogue number.
Diane Halford – In Search of Ann Walker
Mandy Mellor – Editor
Kerstin Holzgraebe – Transcription of Eliza Raine’s letter
In Search of Ann Walker’s research into Ann’s life is ongoing, therefore new discoveries may change the way we chronicle her life in the future.
How to cite this article:
Straub, Leila. “Myth Buster: Ann Walker’s Drinking Habits”, In Search of Ann Walker, 19 May 2023, insearchofannwalker.com/ann-walkers-drinking-habits/. Accessed [add date]
Excellent research. Maybe one should keep in mind that alcohol increases appetit and that therefore doctors and Anne gave Ann some alcohol to get her to eat something/more.
Just a link. Fanny Walker’s brother, Christopher Rawson Penfold, prescribed fortified wine for medicinal purposes as did many doctors. As you know continued to do this when he emigrated to Australia until he found selling his wine, Penfold, was more profitable than being a doctor.
Well done for all the research.