About Ann

Ann’s Education

By Ivana Nika

Twitter: @Ivana_Nika

Blog: https://sex-lies-and-boiled-milk.tumblr.com/

Ann’s and Elizabeth’s Education

A Visit to the Boarding School by George Morland (1763-1804), painting, oil on canvas, c. 1788
Credits: The Wallace Collection (CC BY-NC-ND)

Nothing is known of Ann Walker’s early education. By the time Ann and her siblings were born, their parents could have afforded to provide them with decent schooling opportunities. In 1809, when Ann was 6, her father John inherited a substantial sum of money from his older brother which improved his children’s prospects for life. The family moved to Crow Nest where Elizabeth, Ann and John (and their sister Mary born in 1799, died in 1815) spent their childhood. It is not known (yet) if Elizabeth and Ann attended any kind of school that existed in Halifax or surrounding areas at the time, and by reading Anne Lister’s diaries we learn of quite a few. However, it is likely that the girls were educated at some of the girls’ schools and even privately in the safety of their home. John and Mary Walker would have only followed the tradition of providing their daughters with basic knowledge required for a gentlewoman of that time. In the early 19th century education for women meant preparing them for adult roles as wives and mothers. While boys were sent to boarding schools and then to various colleges, girls were usually either sent to girl’s boarding schools or taught by governesses and/or private tutors. These schools regularly offered English, French, Writing, Needlework, Arithmetic, Geography and History. For women of the “genteel” classes the goal of non-domestic education was often the acquisition of accomplishments, such as the ability to draw, sing, play music, or speak modern languages (generally French and Italian). Lessons would include art, music in particular, the study of classics, French or Italian, and classes in social graces and etiquette. 

On a day in York when Anne Lister visited several different schools in the company of Mr Duffin, we get to know a bit how diverse those schools could have been in the Regency era. The diary entry of 2nd December 1818 is worth reading in its entirety. (SH:7/ML/E/2/0086, SH:7/ML/E/2/0087)

We know a lot about Anne Lister’s education, from various schools in the Halifax area, including a school in Ripon, and a school kept by Miss Sarah and Miss Grace Mellin and later Manor School in York, all thanks to her keeping a detailed journal of her daily activities. In one of the entries we find out that Anne’s sister, Marian Lister, had an idea to attend a school in Paris, but this never came to be realized. 

13th September 1818
“Found Mr. Jarry had set Marian all agog about going to a school in Paris, where the whole expense would not exceed £50 per annum where there are several English girls, among the rest, a Miss Tolston, niece to Dr. Hartley of Bingley, and among the French girls a daughter of General Junot’s - I strongly seconded Marian’s wishes, and both my uncle and aunt approved” 
(West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/2/0066). 

But while she mentions this type of information relating to many other acquaintances of hers, Anne Lister doesn’t say anything in regard to Ann Walker’s education in her early diaries. We can only speculate whether Elizabeth and Ann attended any of the locally available schools, or whether they were educated solely at home.

Read more about the education possibilities for girls during the Regency era here and here

John Walker’s Education

Oxford University Alumni, 1500-1886
Credits: www.ancestry.co.uk

John Walker probably went to a boarding school before enrolling at Brasenose College at Oxford on January 14th in 1822, when he was 17. We don’t have any evidence of him graduating, possibly because his father died the next year.

Anne Lister mentions John Walker travelling to Oxford in a diary entry, with a note added a couple of weeks later providing the name of the college.

14th October 1822
“[…] and at 11 5/60 my aunt and I set off in the gig to call at Cliff hill and Crownest on the death of Mrs. Mary Walker — sat 1/2 hour at the former place (Miss Walker apparently very cheerful) and 20 minutes at the latter with Miss Walker and her friend Miss Rawson (Catherine) – Miss Ann Walker not up in consequence of tooth-ache and ear-ache, and Mrs. Walker gone with her son to Halifax, on his way to Oxford – his debut at I forget what college§

In the margin:

" § Saturday 2 November 1822. Brazen nose, I believe – “ 
(West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/6/0060)

Caroline Wyvile Walker (1774-1831) was a relative to the Walkers of Crow Nest and resided in nearby Walterclough. She noted social encounters with Mr and Mrs Walker of Crownest and their children, as well as with Miss Walkers of Cliff Hill in her diary. In the entry from 1822 we can read:

“Thursday, 31st November. -  We took tea at Crownest yesterday. When John Walker arrived at Oxford, there was not a soul that he knew. How different from my lamented brother's first reception at Cambridge! 'I was introduced into the Hall at Trinity by twenty Fellow-Commoners, all Etonians' - such were his words in the first letter home.” 9

Read more about the education possibilities for boys during the Regency era here

A governess for Ann?

The Governess by Richard Redgrave (1804-1888), painting, oil on canvas, 1844
Credits: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In her diary entries through the years Anne Lister mentions many schools attended by girls of her age, as well as their Mistresses and Masters. She notes down even the names of governesses tutoring some of her friends. However, we don’t get to find out if Ann and Elizabeth had a governess and for how long. This could perhaps be because of the social distance between the Lister and Walker families, or Anne simply neglected to write down this information.

Despite us not having confirmation that the Walker sisters had a governess, it is very likely that they did have one. Taking into the account that later in life Elizabeth and Ann showed a range of cultural affinities and skills connected to what girls were taught at the time, it’s possible they had been tutored. Elizabeth and Ann knew how to play piano, Ann practised her French and loved her painting. Ann probably had lessons in needlework and other fibre crafts considering she noted down in her journal how she knitted on a few occasions and even taught Mrs Rodgers how to knit. (West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/39)

Catherine Rawson, Ann Walker’s close friend for years, and an acquaintance of Anne Lister, shared a governess with her sisters, as this entry from Anne Lister’s diary shows. It seems that taking young ladies to interesting lectures was another way in which a governess could broaden her charges’ horizons.

23rd June 1821
“At 10 1/4 set off with my aunt to the Saltmarshes’ to meet a party to go and see the 3 pieces of mechanism (worth seeing) styled in the Microcosms, of “Monsieur Theweneti from Germany” admittance 1s each - these works cost the present proprietor £8,000. Monsieur Theweneti is from near Vienna. the maker of these things a Frenchman – forgot his name – saw the whole in little more than 20 minutes, tho’ having waited for one or other about 1/2 hour at the court-house – the party Mr. and Mrs. Saltmarshe; Mrs. Waterhouse and Miss Hotham; Dr. and Mrs. Kenny, waited for the Dr. who went for Miss Tipping and Miss Elizabeth Whitaker; Miss Rawson (Catherine) and her 2 younger sisters and their governess Miss Holmes – Mrs. Waterhouse’s governess (Miss Green) and Ellen and Anne Waterhouse Miss Crackenthorpe Mr Edward Ferguson, my aunt and myself – ”   
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/5/0037) 

We also learn the name of the governess to the Norcliffe sisters – Isabella, Charlotte and Mary, Anne Lister’s society from York.

5th July 1819
“IN. [Isabella Norcliffe] having seen in the Leeds Intelligencer the advertisement of Kean’s performing there in 4 of his principal characters, determined to go to L- [Leeds] for the time to Miss Fryer, who has a flourishing school there, and was formerly governess to IN. [Isabella Norcliffe] Charlotte and Mary -”  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/3/0068)  

Read more about the role and the status of a governess during the Regency era here

Miss Bramley

In 1818 Mrs Mary Walker (Ann’s mother) engaged Anne Lister to help her find a job for Miss Bramley, a governess. Anne is very helpful and in the course of four months Anne and Mrs Walker exchange a great number of letters on the topic. Miss Bramley eventually finds a position with a family near Cambridge. It isn’t clear in any of these of Anne’s entries if Miss Bramley was governess to Ann and Elizabeth prior to searching for another job position. 

Miss Bramley used to be one of regular Anne Lister’s acquaintances in her early diaries. In the diary entry of 27th February 1809, Misses Bramley (two sisters) went to London to finish their education.  This information implies that the Bramleys moved in the same social circles as the Walkers, and when things got worrying for Miss Bramley, Mrs Walker offered a hand of help.

Also, in none of these entries is Mrs Walker the person who gives letters of recommendation for Miss Bramley, implying that Miss Bramley wasn’t previously employed by her.

30th May 1818
“Mrs Walker (Crow nest) called about 5 and sat 1/2 hour to talk over what I should say about Miss Bramley - Miss Hoyle recommends her Mrs Wilcock evades the thing“  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/2/0032)
18th August 1818
“Mrs W- [Walker], on my inquiring, after Miss Bramley, said she had got a good situation in a family near Cambridge which was well known to the reverend Charles Hoyle and to which she was recommended by him - She is to go to it, I understood, any day after next Thursday - “  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/2/0055)

Maybe in one of many letters Mrs Walker and Miss Lister exchanged between April and August of 1818 we could have found out the definite answer to this question. Unfortunately, in a diary entry in 1822 we read Anne has burnt all the letters related to this episode. (West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/6/0014)

Mr Knight

The following entry in Anne Lister’s diary shows that Catherine Rawson was privately tutored by Reverend Samuel Knight (1759-1827), the same Vicar who gave Anne Lister private lessons. Anne studied Arithmetic, Geometry, Mechanics, Rhetoric, Latin and Greek with him. It seems this type of education was also available for young ladies, and probably used by those with more interest and will to advance in specific areas of knowledge. Unfortunately, there is no mention of Elizabeth Walker taking lessons with Mr Knight here, although she was also present that day [noted as Miss Walker in Anne’s diary], taking afternoon tea at Cliff Hill in a mixed company. As we know, Elizabeth and Catherine belonged to the same social circle, so it would be logical to assume that their methods of education were compatible. Anne and Marian maybe didn’t get to talk to Elizabeth on this occasion, and Catherine Rawson had no reason to mention her friend during the conversation. Again, it is the reasonable assumption that neither Elizabeth nor Ann Walker took private lessons with Mr. Knight.

14th July 1818
“– I think Miss R- [Rawson] a handsome, elegant looking girl – she told Marian she was 14 – had read Demosthenes and was now reading Anacreon – she has been 5 years with Mr Knight – seldom missed a day -“  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/2/0045)


Lady Reading in an Interior by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837), painting, oil on canvas, between 1795-1800
Credits: Web Gallery of Art PD-US

An important part in women’s education was, as in Anne Lister’s example, played by self-instruction. Better-off families were able to afford having a library at home and (regular) subscriptions to books and magazines. Libraries existed in larger towns and attracted locals who could afford to pay annual library subscriptions. The opportunities to attend lectures or become members of various cultural societies promoting an interest in history, literature, music, or any other form of intellectual activity largely varied according to one’s social status. We are not aware of Ann Walker being a member of any such group pursuing cultural/intellectual interests.

Ann Walker attended a lecture on a topic connected to meteorology in Halifax, on 19th May in 1818, a day before her 15th birthday; the lecture was also attended by Anne Lister and described by her as tiresome and dull.

19th May 1818
"As soon as tea was over, my uncle and aunt and I walked to the lecture at White hall - on the causes of the seasons - most tiresomely and dully explained - and the room as hot as the dungeon at Calcutta – […] (Mrs. John Priestley senior Miss Ann Walker Cliff hill, Miss Ann Walker Crow-nest, Miss Armytage Lightcliffe, Misses Martha and Hannah Hudson - Mr. Hudson Mr. Edward Priestley, and the Hipperholme boys, and about 1/2 dozen youngish men, the audience at the lecture" 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/2/0030) 

Ann’s and Elizabeth’s idea for a local book society in 1821

It is evident from an entry in Anne Lister’s diary that both of the girls, Ann and Elizabeth, were fond of books and reading from an early age. In 1821 Ann would have been 17 and Elizabeth 19 when they came up with an idea of starting a book society based on a subscription of its members. Mr Edward Priestley, their cousin and Anne Lister’s social acquaintance, presented the idea to Anne with the intention of her joining in.

Thursday 25th January 1821 
“[…] In the afternoon from 3 3/4 to 5 1/4 walked to the 1st houses beyond Lightcliffe church and back – In returning met with Mr. Edward Priestley about Whitehall standing by the men mending the road – we began talking of roads, the new wall falling and 1 thing or other that he came as far as Shibden but could not come in – perhaps his chief object was to ask me if I would be a subscriber to a book society they wished to establish about 12 subscribers at one guinea per annum each, the books to be disposed every year to the highest bidder of the subscribers, but if none wished to purchase the recommender of the work should take it at 1/2 price – I said I should be sorry their plan fell thro’ for want of a subscriber but that such a thing was quite out of my way who went so often to the Halifax library and had there as much reading as I had time for – the thing originated with the young ladies at Crownest, tho’ Mr. Edward Priestley had long ago thought of it, it was so long before they could get proper new works from the Halifax library; but I have no difficulty of this sort – […]” 
(West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/4/0121)

We don’t know if this idea ever got realized, but Ann proved to be a keen reader and a bookbuyer in her later years. From her own journal we find out she regularly visited Whitley’s in Halifax, and during her tour of the continent in the summer of 1834 bought many books and prints and brought them to Shibden Hall. She was also a diarist and enjoyed that kind of intellectual reflection during all of the years she lived with Anne Lister at Shibden.

Ann’s education and interests she cultivated inspired her to open a school later in life. We know that Mrs Eliza Priestley, Anne Lister’s good friend and Ann Walker’s relative, also had a school of her own at Lightcliffe. (West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/15/0112) 

Ann learns French

The most common and best examples of Ann’s individual studies reflect in her wish to perfect her French and resume with her painting. There are many examples again in Anne Lister’s diaries of Ann working on her grammar and spelling, copying passages of French in her notebook and buying and reading books written in French. Anne, being more advanced in French language, would often help Ann in understanding the material.

Ever since their regular encounters started in the summer of 1832, Anne encouraged Ann to renew her interest in sketching and French lessons.

29th September 1832
"I begged her to take up her French and sketching again and we already begin to feel at home together and very much (however little she may understand it) like engaged lovers"  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/15/0123)

In January 1834, while Ann was in York under the care of Dr Belcombe, Anne recommended Ann to go on with her activities.

25th January 1834
"laid down a plan for the daily spending of her time in French drawing reading working and walking – always to be out from 12 to 3"  
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/16/0162)

Ann answered in a letter written to Anne in French, asking her to correct it. It seems Ann’s French was a bit rusty.

27th January 1834 
"kind letter from Miss Walker (Heworth Grange, York) 1 3/4 pp. [pages] in French such French as I never read before but I contrived to make out her meaningshe begs me to send it back corrected but that is quite impossible without changing every word poor girl was she in better spirits than usual made her write? – wrote 3 pp. [pages] to Miss Walker kind enough, and cheering, and about business of one sort or other." 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/16/0162)

In Ann’s own journal, there are references to Ann improving her French.

Ann bought this book published in French, in Geneva, Switzerland:

“July 26th ... went to Bookseller’s shop bought Precis de l’Histoire Moderne – Par Monsieur Michelet – Bruxelles – 1824 – 5th Edition & a parcel of other works” 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/19)

Ann bought this book, also in French, on August 4th in Grenoble, France:

"August 4th ... at another booksellers bought a History of Grenoble & its environs, from its foundation, under the name of Cularo, to our times. by P. P. A. Pilot [J. J. A. Pilot]” 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/22)

At Voiron, France:

"August 7th ... after breakfast read several pages in Histoire de Grenoble" 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/23)
"August 13th ... read l'Histoire" 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/26)

in Clermont, France, this work Ann was reading, might have been in French:

"August 16th ... then read a description of geological society at Clermont ... learnt 2 columns of French conversation" 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/29)

The next day:

"dearest slept til 8 – & I then went to her – at 9.15 we got up, explained to me all words I had written down that I could not find in Dictionary" 
(West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/29)

Ann continued practising French in the years with Anne at Shibden Hall, as well as enjoying her painting.

We are looking forward to uncovering more of Ann’s life, through research and in Anne Lister’s diaries that are currently being transcribed as part of Anne Lister – Diary Transcription Project organised by West Yorkshire Archive Service.


1 – Journal of Ann Walker, Including travels in France and Switzerland with Anne Lister, (previously attributed to Anne Lister), June 1834 – February 1835, 1 volume, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, WYC:1525/7/1/5/1


Transcription credits:
Team ISAW for Ann Walker’s journal: Alexa Tansley, Diane Halford, Dorjana Širola, Ivana Nika, Leila Straub 

2 – Extracts from Diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, available on West Yorkshire Archive Service website:


3 – Diary of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, 10 March 1834-21 March 1835, 1 volume, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/17 


Transcription credits and additional help: 

Dorjana Širola Twitter: @d_sirola Blog: https://the-deeds-to-shibden.tumblr.com/

Frankie Raia Instagram: gentlemanjackthelass

Leila Straub

4 – The Regency Boarding School, James Hobson. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


5 – To Be An Accomplished Lady, Maria Grace. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


6 – Female Education, Claire Zernich. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


7 – Early Education of up-and-coming Gentlemen, Maria Grace. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


8 – A History of Women’s Education in the UK. Oxford Royale Academy. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


9 –  Papers, reports, &c., read before the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1908., Halifax: ‘Guardian’ Printing Works, George Treet. Kindly provided by Martin Walker.

10 – Regency Culture and Society: The Governess, Anne Glover. Retrieved 21 May 2021.


11 – The Friends of St Matthew’s Churchyard, https://www.lightcliffechurchyard.org.uk/

12 – Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion, http://www.calderdalecompanion.co.uk/

13 – Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.co.uk/

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:
Ivana Nika (2021) “Ann’s Education” : In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]


  • Lis

    “27th January 1834
    “kind letter from Miss Walker (Heworth Grange, York) 1 3/4 pp. [pages] in French such French as I never read before but I contrived to make out her meaning​ she begs me to send it back corrected but that is quite impossible without changing every word ​poor girl was she in better spirits than usual made her write? – wrote 3 pp. [pages] to Miss Walker kind enough, and cheering, and about business of one sort or other.”

    Amazing work, thank you. This part made me laugh, actually, because it reminds me of broken english (that I could speak sometimes) and it’s funny to think about them maybe playing a joke to each other for this.
    Is there something about that (playing jokes or having fun) in the diaries of these two?