About Ann,  Ann’s People

“My dearest Elizabeth”

A workshop presented by Leila Straub, ALBW, Apr 4, 2022


1. What letters do we have and what is Ann writing about?

2. What do the letters look like?

3. Ann’s style of writing

4. The process behind transcribing

5. Reading Ann’s handwriting

6. DIY Transcription


1. What letters do we have and what is Ann writing about?

Ann Walker’s letters to her sister Elizabeth can be found in the Crow Nest papers, folder CN:103/4, in the West Yorkshire Archive. The collection contains letters written between 1832 and 1835. Most of the letters were written between Ann Walker and Elizabeth Sutherland but the folder also contains letters to/from George Mackay Sutherland, extended family members, as well as letters from Halifax attorneys Parker & Adam.


In the summer of 1834, Ann Walker and Anne Lister went on their honeymoon to France and Switzerland. There are two letters in which Ann Walker recounts their travels, one written from Paris, the other one from Shibden Hall, just after their return home. Both letters give us a good insight into Ann Walker’s interests and her personality. Ann comes across as someone who is curious and very much engaged in what she sees. She mentions all the major sights they visited in Paris, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Palais Royal and the Champs Elysée, but she seemed to have been particularly taken with what she saw at the Exposition of the Arts and Trades in France.

AW to ES: “there was every thing you can possibly think of, even to Carpets, and rags, made of Cat skins, which were very dear and very pretty – the furniture and Mirrors were particularly elegant, but the most curious and interesting thing, was a model on a large scale, of the interior of a watch, it was made for the Conservatory of Arts and Trades, for the Professors to give lectures upon, and though the price is 5,000 francs, the person who constructed it, says he shall lose by it, it cost him so much labour and time.” (CN:103/4/26)


Ann also commented on the Parisian fashion and the ever-increasing size of the sleeves.

AW to ES: “the people wear their dresses as full or fuller than ever, and the sleeves are fastened at the wrist by a wristband, but the sleeve is rather wider towards the wrist, the waist rather long, and no one is seen without a pelerine, of which the size is increased within the last few months – no one must expect to get cheap things in Paris, and I have often wondered how such an idea can be so prevalent amongst the English, who have not been there, for things are in comparison dearer than in London – I got some french stays and their superiority in point of make and comfort is indescribable –” (CN:103/4/27)


We also get a glimpse of Ann Walker’s competitive nature. Unlike Anne Lister, Ann did not suffer from sea sickness, a fact she was happy to share with her sister, aunt Anne Lister¹, and she also noted it down in her own diary².

AW to ES: “Miss Lister has quite recovered her bilious attack, she suffered much in crossing the water, which I think was very serviceable, I was not at all sick, I got a little bit of fried bacon to my breakfast, and as soon as we were on board, I closed my eyes and never opened them till we were close upon Calais harbour.” (CN:103/4/26)

Based on these letters, it is clear Ann Walker enjoyed travelling, even if it was hard at times. From Paris, she wrote: “I am delighted with all I have seen, am quite well, and very happy” (CN:103/4/26) and after their journey, she concluded: “We have had hard travelling, but on the whole really very few inconveniences, of them even the scenery has always amply repaid us – indeed I have not been disappointed in any thing I have seen” (CN:103/4/27).



Much of the content of the letters in the CN:103/4 folder, however, revolves around business, as Ann Walker called it: “My dearest Elizabeth, I will despatch business before I advert to any thing else” (CN:103/4/28).

At this point in time, Ann and Elizabeth still shared joint property, which meant that a large part of their correspondence was about discussing business matters, such as damages to the property, hiring and letting go of tenants, collecting rents, managing their accounts, or dealing with legal disputes.

AW to ES: “You ask if I have any objection to remove widow Ellis? we cannot in fact remove her but by giving her a notice to quit, and really considering all circumstances, her case seem so pitiable I should not like to do it at present, she has five young children to bring up all under nine years of age, and she herself is I believe not more than twenty six, and works very hard to maintain them; in a year or two I should hope something may be done for the children, and then she may continue to pay her rent.” (CN:103/4/31)

With Elizabeth being in Scotland, it was Ann and their mutual steward Samuel Washington, who were on site to inspect the property and report back to Elizabeth. Towards the end of 1834, Ann was particularly aggravated by a hunting party that repeatedly went over the joint Walker property and caused a fair amount of damage, and both Ann Walker and Anne Lister were sending out notices to the hunt and threatened to bring legal action against them³. Ann Walker was particularly annoyed with Eastwood, the overseer of the wood, and asked Elizabeth to join her in immediately hiring someone else.

AW to ES: “indeed it seems Eastwood has not behaved well about it he was the person who the last time encouraged the hunters to go into Holcans wood saying he was the master of it, and that as for me, I had neither the right to discharge any body from it, nor to give any one leave to shoot in it. I think his salary for taking charge of the wood might be given to some person who would deserve it better, and I hope you will join me in immediately discharging him from that office indeed I think him much too far off to overlook the wood.” (CN:103/4/32)

Elizabeth’s reply to this letter delayed matters for some weeks as she was initially confused about who was currently in charge of the wood. She writes: “Eastwood never could have had any charge of Holcans Wood as if you recollect Hebble Thwaite had a cottage given to him for which we formerly received rent on condition of his overlooking the wood” (CN:103/4/33). After double checking with Washington that she, Ann, was right and it was indeed Eastwood who was the overlooker, the two sisters agreed to discharge Eastwood and engage Hebble Thwaite instead, at least until the property was divided4.

Property Division

The property division was a major event that occurred during 1834 and 1835 and took up a lot of paper. It might have been the reason why these letters were kept together as the last letter in the collection was written shortly before all parties involved came to an agreement.

When their brother John Walker died in 1830 intestate (i.e., without leaving a will), according to their father’s will, Elizabeth inherited the Crow Nest estate and Ann the Cliffe Hill estate. The rest of John’s property was given to the two sisters as joint property. A letter written by William Priestley, the executor of the will, to George Mackay Sutherland explains this nicely.

WP to GMS: “You cannot, I presume, be ignorant, in what manner my late Uncle’s Will must operate under existing circumstances: – Walker having died without issue, the entail will now take effect, the Crownest Estate devolving to your Wife and the Cliffhill Estate to Ann – the road leading from Knowl top to the Bridge being the division of the two estates – […] Now, under these circumstances, all Walker’s Real Estates that are not entailed, as well as his Personal Property will devolve upon your Wife, and Ann Walker, as Co-heiresses. After this explanation, it would be needless in me to urge the necessity of you coming to Crownest, in order that, you may make such arrangements with Ann as may be thought desirable for the further division and management of the property.” (CN:107/2)

William Priestley’s letter indicates that the joint property was always meant to be divided. This is also confirmed by George Mackay Sutherland in one of his draft letters to Ann Walker, in which he states: “I assure you we have long been anxious for a Division of the Property situated as the Estates at present are, We could make no definite or at all events satisfactory settlement on our younger Children, while half the property on which it was secured belonged to you” (CN:103/4/24).

However, it was Ann Walker who really started pushing for the division in December 1834, and while both parties agreed a division made sense, the process would not be straightforward.

After the initial letter was sent by Ann in December 1834, in which she asked Elizabeth how she would like to divide the property, giving her a few options to choose from, Ann did not hear back on this issue from her sister until late February 1835. Ann’s next letter, dated 2nd March 1835, shows her frustration at this delay.

AW to ES: “I should have been very glad had your reply to my letter of the 2d of December, been more explicit – I particularly asked you what mode of division you would like best – whether according to contiguity to the entailed estates; or whether the whole should be divided into two shares as equal in value as possible, and let us draw lots for our respective shares. as however you merely replied that you had no objection to a division, without giving any opinion whatever on the mode to be adopted, I desired Washington to make the valuation as carefully as he could, and then to give us his own idea of what had best go according to contiguity (the value on either side being adjusted by an equivalent in money) and then to divide all the rest into two equally valuable shares for which we should draw lots –” (CN:103/4/38)

Having made no progress in the last three months and still without a clear answer from Elizabeth, Ann decided to ask Washington to go ahead with the valuation of the property in the manner that she deemed best. Elizabeth did not have any major objections to this plan, but her draft letter makes it clear that she and Sutherland did not want to agree to the valuation without first coming down to Halifax to inspect the various buildings themselves.

ES to AW: “I think the division of the Estates very fair so far as appears on paper, and I doubt not Mr S. Washington has paid the greatest attention to the subject – I am most anxious that the division should be made in such a way as to leave no room for after reflections, consequently I think it an act of justice to you and to myself that Sutherland should see each farm and compare it with the value put upon it by Mr S. Washington.” (CN:103/4/41)

Meanwhile, Ann found out that after their brother’s death, Elizabeth signed over all her unentailed property to Captain Sutherland, essentially cutting Ann from the line of inheritance. This sparked a swift change in the proceedings of the property division; Ann started consulting Jonathan Gray, the attorney in York, and informed her sister that from now on, all communication will be directly with Captain Sutherland.

AW to ES: “as I find that by the settlement which you made in February 1831, you have relinquished all power and control over your share in this property to Captain Sutherland, and placed it entirely at his disposal, it seems to me that no progress in the division would be made by any further correspondence between you and me on the subject – I have therefore referred it to Mr Jonathan Gray on my behalf, and begged him to write by to night’s post to Captain Sutherland, with a view to completing the division as soon as possible, as I particularly wish to have it done before the next rent days, as I mentioned to you some time ago.” (CN:103/4/42)

It is not clear how Elizabeth took this, but George Mackay Sutherland, having received Jonathan Gray’s letter and Ann Walker’s letter to her sister, was deeply insulted. In an overall dramatically written letter, he states: “When I say that the natural inference deducible from both [letters], pains me in the extreme, I but feebly indeed express what I feel” (CN:103/4/24). We only have a draft version of this letter and it is not clear if he sent it like this, but based on Anne Lister’s comment, it likely did not change much: “Ann had letter from Captain Sutherland who has taken amiss her having instructed Mr Jonathan Gray to write to him and will not answer Jonathan Gray’s letter till he (Captain Sutherland) has heard from Ann whom he charges with involving him in ruinous law expenses – a long rigmarole silly letter of 3 pages and ends” (SH:7/ML/E/18/0022).

The next few letters that Ann sent to Captain Sutherland (at this point often drafted by Anne Lister) were mostly about appeasing Sutherland by assuring him that involving Gray is for the best and will be worth the extra costs, while also pushing Sutherland to make up his mind. Unable to come down to Halifax, he eventually agreed to Washington’s valuation.

GMS to AW: “I regret to say that the state of health of poor John is still [bad] and has been such for several weeks back as to preclude the possibility of my leaving home with any degree of comfort and as postponing the division of the Property over for a few weeks seems so contrary to your wishes we must adopt Washington’s scheme of division with some but probably unimportant exceptions which I will print out by tomorrows Post –” (CN:103/4/48)

In one of the last letters in the CN:103/4 folder (ostensibly written by Ann Walker, but entirely drafted by Anne Lister5), the two parties congratulate each other on having come to an agreement: “I very sincerely return your congratulations on the subject of our having come to an agreement so easily: it will be a great saving of expense and trouble; and, I trust, we shall all be equally well satisfied” (SH:7/ML/854/2). Elizabeth and Captain Sutherland (and Sackville, the eldest son) did eventually come down to Halifax in September of that year, and the property division, by and large, was settled the way Ann Walker wanted it to.

The Priestleys

Another ongoing discussion between Ann and Elizabeth was their cousin William Priestley and his wife Eliza (referred to as Mr and Mrs Snip by Ann in her diary6). After Ann moved to Shibden Hall, the already strained relationship with the Priestleys deteriorated to the point of no recovery.

AW to ES: “I have never been in her [Eliza’s] house since September, and I shall probably never enter it again, so long as the Priestleys continue there. I told my Aunt this in plain terms, about a fortnight ago, in explanation of having met Mr Priestley at Cliff hill a few days before, and of having hardly spoken to him.” (CN:103/4/43)

The reason for this final rift was likely the continued rudeness William and Eliza Priestley showed towards Anne Lister. They did not inquire after Anne when paying social calls at Shibden Hall7 nor shook hands with her when the Ann(e)s called on them: “she (Mrs William Priestley) held out her [hand] to Ann but not to me – yet talked civilly to us both – of course I shewed no sign of hand-shaking on coming away” (SH:7/ML/E/17/0086). For years to come, the Priestleys would try to sway aunt Ann Walker at Cliffe Hill against the Ann(e)s: Mrs Ann Walker asked Ann this afternoon if she did not think she would have been better at her own house at Lidgate than at Shibden Hall   answer no   well but had she never regretted it   answer no   she wondered at being asked such a question   and her[e] the subject ended   how strongly this savours of Priestlyism!(SH:7/ML/E/22/0138).

In the spring of 1835, Ann started a legal dispute with William Priestley, after having familiarized herself more closely with her father’s and uncle’s wills8 and noticing some discrepancies. The first matter she contested was waste (i.e. land or property that was changed and devalued by a tenant9) that was claimed by William Priestley under the plea of allotment to High Sunderland, which Ann thought belonged to her estate. The second matter was a house at Hall End in Halifax, and Longley farm in Norland, which was apparently given to William Priestley and his brother John by their father (Ann’s uncle) but was entailed upon Ann’s father by their grandfather and, consequently, should have been given to her and Elizabeth. Ann informed Elizabeth that she was consulting Jonathan Gray in York on these matters and hoped she, respectively Captain Sutherland, would join her, while also making it clear that she herself was going to pursue it in any case: “let me have an answer immediately, whether you will join me in the claim, or not. […] Captain Sutherland will see the advantage of our all putting in our joint claim; but, if he does not, I shall put in my claim separately for my own moiety of right” (CN:103/4/43).

Jonathan Gray looked into these matters and found that the house and farm were actually conveyed by Ann’s father to the Priestleys and thus was rightfully theirs10; however, William Priestley had no right to have claimed the waste.

AW to ES: “It seems to be Mr Gray’s opinion, that there is little doubt of substantiating our claim to the waste. On referring to the conveyance of the estates Mr Edwards and Mr Priestley made to me in 1831, I find they have conveyed this very piece of disputed waste under the names of the tenants who had it in 1825. this must make the case appear so strong against Mr Priestley that I think he will give up quietly, on the receipt of Mr Gray’s letter, instead of letting the business go into Court.” (CN:103/4/46)

Indeed, after receiving Jonathan Gray’s letter, William Priestley gave up the waste, which made Ann very happy “Ann in great glee about it this morning, and did not spare William Priestley to Washington this evening” (SH:7/ML/E/18/0042).

At the same time, the Sutherlands had a falling out with the Priestleys, with consequences for Ann. Eliza Priestley had a day school on Elizabeth’s property and for reasons that are not explicitly stated in the letters, the Sutherlands told the Priestleys to quit these premises. Ann writes to Elizabeth: “I think […] your notice to quit, will be a bitter pill to Mr Priestley – but, as far as you are concerned, what could he expect after his impertinent reply to S. Washington” (CN:103/4/42).

Ann Walker was in charge of the Sunday school on the same premises, and shortly after the Priestleys received Captain Sutherland’s letter, Eliza Priestley informed Ann that her Sunday school teacher quit. Ann copied Eliza’s entire letter and sent it to Elizabeth.

EP to AW: “My dear Ann – I conclude you are aware that Mr Priestley has received notice from Captain Sutherland to quit the school premises as soon as convenient […]. Mrs Batty informs me that she wishes to decline teaching after next Sunday – Previous to our having received notice to leave the school premises it was her intention to have resigned her situation as teacher in the Sunday school at midsummer solely in consequence of her delicate state of health […]. I beg to assure you that her resignation is in no way influenced by the circumstance of Captain Sutherland wishing us to give up these premises which of course he has a perfect right to do.” (CN:103/4/43)

This was clearly meant to rattle Ann, as she now had a Sunday school without a teacher. However, Ann assured her sister that, since she herself did not get a notice to quit the premises, she would teach the Sunday school, with the help of Anne and Washington, until she found a new teacher.

AW to ES: “I have just had S. Washington, and read to him Mrs Priestley’s note – he is not at all in despair about Mary Batty’s leaving me in such a hurry, and has promised that, till I can provide myself, he will help me to teach. Miss Lister, also, made the same promise, immediately on hearing Mrs Priestley’s note to which I do not mean to return any answer.” (CN:103/4/43)

The endeavour to find a Sunday school mistress would take the Ann(e)s longer than they probably anticipated and after a few months of teaching the Sunday school, they started advertising for both a schoolmaster, to take over the day school, and his wife, who could teach the Sunday school. It was not until early 1836, however, when they finally engaged someone11.

Aunt Ann Walker

Another recurring topic in Ann’s letters to her sister is their aunt Ann Walker Senior. Ann, who frequently visited her aunt at Cliffe Hill, would inform her sister about what was going on there and report back on her aunt’s health: “With regard to your remark about my Aunt I never thought her so much altered till the other day, or, I should have named it, I then saw her get up to walk across the room when I perceived that she stooped exceedingly and leaned much more than she used to do to one side” (CN:103/4/29). It is clear from the letters that Elizabeth was also in regular contact with her aunt, who kept close track of whose turn it was to write.

AW to ES: “she said she thought you would be writing to her soon as you were a letter in her debt, and as she mentioned this exactly in the same way, when I was there last week, I hope you will write to her as soon as you can. I told her that I knew you had been very busy, and that I had no doubt she would be having a letter in a few days –” (CN:103/4/31)

After Ann moved from Lidgate (a 10 min walk away from Cliffe Hill) to Shibden Hall (ca. 45 min away), a few attempts were made to have someone live with Ann Walker Sr who could look after her.

AW to ES: “you may probably have heard already that Mary Rawson went to Cliff Hill on the 2d of October, Miss Lister was told, and from good authority to reside, and at my Aunt’s own proposal – I can only tell you that I have never heard one word of this myself, that I called at Cliff hill the day Mary arrived without knowing she was there, and that my Aunt told me of her stay, as if it was by mere accident she had come for the day and been kept – I am really very glad and thankful that my Aunt has at last got some one, for I have long thought she ought, and I have often felt very uneasy about her –, as it was not in my power to do more than I had done – I was the only unmarried Niece who could be with her, and I really did make her the proposal to live with her […] she took a fortnight to consider of the proposal and then said she thought ‘old and young people did not suit’ I then fitted up Lidgate (you know at not a little expense).” (CN:103/4/29)

Ann was generally kept in the dark by her aunt about the comings and goings at Cliffe Hill, and either learnt of it after the fact, as with Mary Rawson, or was given a heads-up by Elizabeth, who realized that her sister was not being informed about these matters by the other members of her family.

AW to ES: “It was very good of you and I am very much obliged to you for writing so immediately to tell me that Miss Rodgers was coming to Cliff hill (for your supposition of my knowing nothing about it was quite correct) as it saved me a little awkwardness yesterday Mrs Rodgers, so my Aunt calls her, came to speak to me after service yesterday afternoon, and had I not got your letter, the night before, I believe I should not have recollected her (she is looking so much older) […] –” (CN:103/4/32)

At the end of the day, Ann Walker Sr seemed to have been reluctant to tolerate anyone living with her for long, and Mrs Rodgers was sent away. Soon after that, Ann got a pony to facilitate her (almost) daily commute to Cliffe Hill12.

AW to ES: “You will be surprised to hear Mrs Rogers leaves the end of this month, I knew not a word of it till friday morning, when my Aunt left the room for a few minutes whilst I was shewing Mrs Rogers how to knit the slippers with two shades of worsted, in speaking of the knitting she said ‘you know I am going next month’, I replied no I did not know, and I am very sorry to hear it […] my Aunt returned and here the conversation ended – the next day in going to Cliff Hill I met Mrs Rodgers in the hill, and she told me she was going to take a walk down Green lane, when I got into the house I mentioned to my Aunt that I had met Mrs Rodgers, and where she had told me she was going to walk, indeed, said my Aunt she talks of taking a great many walks, but she must be quick I think, for she is going next month, I said is she, yes, said my Aunt, she only came for a quarter, and the tone and manner convinced me she does not suit, and that my Aunt will not be sorry when the time is expired tho’ I should not have suspected it, but for this story.” (CN:103/4/35)

For anyone interested in learning more about Ann Walker Sr, for example, how and why she cut William Priestley from her will in 1837, please check out the blog on (Aunt) Ann Walker.

The Sutherlands

While we do not have many letters from Elizabeth to her sister, we learn a few things about her, Captain Sutherland, and their children in Ann’s letters, as she usually spends a paragraph or two referring to whatever Elizabeth wrote in her letter.

Elizabeth, who spent most of the 1830s pregnant, received encouraging words from her younger sister before the birth of little John: “I sincerely trust dearest Elizabeth, that you will have quite as good a time as the last, […] you know it is always said that every successive confinement becomes less and less painful and God grant you may find it so” (CN:103/4/27). Elizabeth also had a shower bath that she enjoyed very much: “I am glad you like your shower bath so much, I once had some thoughts of getting one like it, but now I think I shall do without” (CN:103/4/27). And both Elizabeth and Captain Sutherland participated in tea parties with their eldest child Mary: “I can fancy how busy she [little Mary] will be making tea in her little teacups, and saucers – and how busy she will be inviting you and Papa, Hannah, Sack and Baby to have some of her ‘good tea’ ” (CN:103/4/28).

Ann Walker seemed to have been fond of her nieces and nephews, who she called Elizabeth’s “dear little pets”. At the time, the Sutherlands had 4 children, Mary, Sackville, Elizabeth, and John.

AW to ES: “I was disappointed at not finding in it the locks of hair of your dear little pets, perhaps in the haste of sending off the parcel they escaped your memory, but I hope you will remember them when another opportunity occurs.” (CN:103/4/28)

Mary (1829 – 1845) was referred to by Ann as “little Mary” or “my own dear little Mary”. After her first weeks of school lessons, in which she made great progress learning to read and write, little Mary started writing letters to Ann: “tell dear little Mary I should be delighted to receive her letter” (CN:103/4/33). Ann would write back, directing the letter to Mary herself13, and telling her about the pony she is riding to Cliffe Hill.

AW to ES: “Miss Lister and I have just been buying two very nice chestnut ponies of Mr Bateman, – they are to go off to York tomorrow morning, to be broken in and rode at the Barracks, – the one I mentioned to little Mary, we shall, by and by, turn over to the servant –” (CN:103/4/46)

Little Mary also visited Ann in 1837 and spent seven weeks at Shibden Hall with Ann and Anne: Romp with little Mary who will soon I think like my society as well as Ann’s (SH:7/ML/E/20/0072).

Sackville (1831 – 1843) is often referred to as “Sack”: “I am quite amused at Mary’s communicativeness, as well as at Sack’s patience and politeness waiting till she had said her say before he began his” (CN:103/4/27). He joined his sister Mary in the school lessons, which were a great relief to Elizabeth14 and preferred wearing a kilt over trousers15. Ann, who always remembered her nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays, congratulated Sackville: “Pray give my best love and a great many kisses to Sackville, and tell him, I wish him many many happy returns of the day, for I conclude you will get this one on the 11th [of March]” (CN:103/4/39).

Elizabeth (1832 – 1872) was called “baby” until John was born, and once also “little fussy”: “I long to hear how you all are, and if little fussy can walk” (CN:103/4/26). We know Ann would send her and the other children clothes, as she inquired about their measurements16.

AW to ES: “It is rather hard I think to deprive poor little baby (for baby I suppose she must be till another supplants her) of her tippet and sleeves, I expected the tippet would nearly fall to her ankles, it was intended in some measure as a substitute for a little cloak –” (CN:103/4/27)

John (1834 – 1836), who is just referred to as “baby”, was born in September 1834, and interestingly, his hair colour was a point of discussion in multiple of Ann’s letters.

AW to ES: “I should have been glad if his hair had been any other color, but never mind, we shall not like him a bit the less for that, and if you say not a word about it, perhaps few will discover it whilst he is a baby and it may perhaps change […] –” (CN:103/4/29)

It is fair to assume that little John had red hair, a fact that seemed to have occupied his mother’s mind for at least a little while because, a few months later, they apparently shaved his head as Ann writes: “I am glad to hear baby’s hair coming off and I hope it will be a darker color the second time” (CN:103/4/32). We also learn that baby got vaccinated17 and was troubled by teething pain. This is mentioned a few times, and got quite bad, according to Elizabeth’s draft letter: “last night Baby slept a little better and to day is much in the same state he was last week – I fancy his being so young to cutting the four teeth at once must be the cause of his extreme sufferings as he was a stronger child than any of the others” (CN:103/4).

Sadly, about a year after this draft letter, John died. It is not clear what he died of, but according to a letter written by Ann to Captain Sutherland, it must have been an illness or accident that would have caused him much suffering, had he survived.

AW to GMS: “poor dear little boy! After such sufferings as he had endured, I fear, if he had been spared, he would not have had health; and I am sure you would not have desired his life prolonging, to be only one of suffering –” (CN:107/2)


The Listers

Every now and then, the Lister family is mentioned in Ann’s letters as well, especially Aunt Anne Lister and her health.

AW to ES: “Mrs Lister has occasionally got out into the garden in her chair during our absence, but for the last fortnight she has been quite confined to the house, partly by the weather which has been very unfavorable and wet here, she suffers as much or more than when we left, but is very cheerful when free from acute pain.” (CN:103/4/27)
AW to ES: “Mr Lister has just got a very nice carriage from Piercy very much like yours – only he mans it with one horse.” (CN:103/4/29)



There is also a fair amount of gossip and chit-chat in the letters about the extended family and the town’s people, such as who moved where, who married whom, and who is ill or dead.

In January 1835, one of Ann Walker’s relatives from London, Ann Plowes, visited her family in the north, and stayed with Ann at Shibden Hall for a night. The young woman was described by Anne Lister in her diary as “a fine looking, dark complexed girl, of 18, two inches, at least, taller than I who am 5 feet 5 inches without shoes on – shy perhaps or very stupid” (SH:7/ML/E/17/0136) and Ann Walker writes to her sister: “I cannot say that Ann Plowes is decidedly handsome but she is a fine looking girl, and very tall” (CN:103/4/35).

2. What do the letters look like?

Picture of a densly cross-written letter adressed to Mrs G. M. Sutherland, Udale House, Fortrose, Ross-shire, North Britain.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/29.

Since the postage for letters back then was paid by weight, every last bit of the paper was used to keep the letter as light as possible. There were no separate envelopes, instead, the letter was folded in a way it could also serve as an envelope.

Page order of a normal letter.

While a “normal” letter can be read quite intuitively, a crossed letter can be a bit confusing at first. Most importantly, crossed letters follow the normal letter structure for pages 1 to 3. It is only then that people return to page 1, turn it 90° clockwise, and start writing across it (4). The ends are again written last (7), and can be crossed as well (8), sometimes written across both ends, other times crossed one end at a time (Ann Walker mixes it up from letter to letter, to keep the reader on their toes). Lastly, if there is still more to say, one can also write on the small bit of empty paper that is hidden under the seal (9).

Page order of a cross-written letter.

These crossed letters usually cover a vast amount of content. In one of Ann’s most densely cross-written letters, she first starts with throwing some shade on Christopher Rawson because his bank did not allow any interest to be paid out on the administration money that Ann and Elizabeth had in their account: “I should not have had any objection to write to Mr Rawson, if writing would have served us; but he so unceremoniously says and unsays things, that as a safe and secure release is of the utmost consequence to us, it would really have been great folly in us to have any thing to do with him, but through Parker and Adam” (CN:103/4/29). Ann then continues writing about the hunt that went over the property, rent collection, evicting a widow (her grandsons should take care of her), sending distress to a tenant who is not paying rent, the coal lease, more Rawson shade, inspecting her property with Anne Lister, more accounts, Aunt Ann Walker’s health, Mary Rawson moving in at Cliffe Hill and the gossip it sparked in town, little John’s christening, his hair colour, Sarah (Ann’s former maid) working for Mrs Priestley, Mr Lister’s carriage and lastly, the Sutherlands at Udale.

3. Ann’s style of writing

It is important to note here that not all of Ann’s letter are necessarily written in her own voice. We know from Anne Lister’s diary that Anne sometimes helped Ann with her letters: “Ann busy writing to her sister and pothered sat down and wrote her a copy of all she needed [to] say(SH:7/ML/E/18/0018). This is not something that Anne did solely for Ann Walker, as we also have diary entries that show Anne drafted notes and letters for other family members, such as her uncle18 and her sister Marian19. Out of the two dozen letters written by Ann Walker in the CN:103/4 folder, Anne Lister drafted about 1/3, most of them pertaining to the later stages of the property division once Captain Sutherland and Jonathan Gray got involved. We also know from Anne’s diary that Ann Walker went over the drafted letters to approve them: then came upstairs and wrote copy of letter for Ann to write to her sister Ann did not like what I had written   I was not in a humour for writing […] Wrote letter for Ann to her sister   quite anew and to Ann’s satisfaction(SH:7/ML/E/18/0021).

Letters written by Ann Walker herself show that she is quite capable of discussing business with her sister and that she can be persistent in persuading Elizabeth to do what she wants.

AW to ES: “I dare say you will remember my mentioning to you when in Scotland the inconvenience of our receiving so much rent in Bills, and your quite agreeing with me, I observe that at the last Rent day, Bills to the Amount of £660 […] are entered in my Banking Account, perhaps if when you write to Washington you mentioned to him your own determination, not to receive any Rent in bills, he would then see himself, that we really do agree in this resolution.” (CN:103/4/28)

There are some telltale signs, however, whether a letter was conceived and written by Ann Walker versus Anne Lister. Ann’s letters can sometimes be less cohesive, and her train of thought tends to meander a bit. For example, in the letter she wrote after her travels in France and Switzerland, she recounts her journey back home. She starts with leaving Paris and arriving in London, notes she had no time to visit any relatives there, and then continues describing their arrival back at Shibden and seeing her aunt, who told her about the marriage of Anne Rawson (there was some bride cake waiting for Ann at Lidgate). Next, Ann is back in Paris, and she writes about the Parisian weather and fashion, then remembers her dentist visit in London, which is followed by more chit-chat about the aunt.

Another one of Ann’s characteristics is the abundant use of commas in her very long sentences, which pack in a lot of information. In general, Ann can be quite elaborate and detailed in her recounting of conversations or encounters she had with people.

Most notably, the tone differs between an Ann Walker letter and a letter drafted by Anne Lister. Ann Walker has the tendency to be more defensive and explanatory, especially if she perceives something as unjust. Anne Lister, on the other hand, is much more future oriented and tends to focus on assuring people that everything is under control and to everybody’s satisfaction.

This is nicely illustrated in two letters; the one about Eliza Priestley and the school mistress business, which was drafted by Anne Lister, versus the one about Mary Rawson moving in at Cliffe Hill.

The letter on the left was drafted by Anne Lister, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/18/0021.


4. The process behind transcribing

Transcribing old handwritten documents can be daunting. At first sight, it might appear to be illegible scribble (and at times it is), but it is important not to get discouraged. While it might take some time and patience to familiarize oneself with a person’s handwriting, it is doable, and there is solace to be taken in the fact that Ann and Anne had their own struggles at times: “then with Ann till 4 helping her to make out words in her old wills she was copying” (SH:7/ML/E/18/0033).

For anyone new to the transcription process, here are some tips and tricks:

  • Try not to get hung up on words you cannot read. Start with transcribing what you can read, and if there is one or multiple words you cannot read, insert a [?] and move on.
  • You will discover that transcribing and understanding is not the same thing (this is especially true in Ann’s case, whose long sentences can form whole paragraphs covering a range of topics). Reread your transcription and see if it makes sense. Words you thought you read correctly might turn out to be something else (e.g., any vs. my) and context can now help you fill in the [?].
  • Do not feel bad if there are whole bits you cannot read. Even with practice, there will always be some question marks at first (especially in crossed letters). The more you go over it, the more gaps you can fill.
First attempt at transcribing crossed ends of one of Ann’s (hurriedly) written letters.

Remember to take a break. Oftentimes, when you reopen your document, you will find you can suddenly read a word you have struggled with the previous day. However, if content and a coffee break does not help, it is time to get into the nitty gritty of the transcription process.

  • Try to trace the handwriting and focus on how the pen moves. Where are the letters connected? Does she start drawing the line clockwise? Counterclockwise?
  • If you are unsure whether a word starts with, for example, ‘re’ or ‘ce’, find another word that starts with the same syllables and compare the two.
  • There are plenty of online resources that can help, such as online dictionaries, Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion, which is especially useful for names, or even scrabble word finders.
  • Lastly, consider that it might be a spelling mistake. Ann does not make many mistakes, but it can occasionally happen.

5. Reading Ann’s handwriting

Anyone who sits down and tries their hand at transcribing one of Ann’s letters or her diary will quickly realize, if Ann Walker is anything, she is inconsistent in how she writes. Her handwriting changes depending on who she is writing to, how much in a hurry she is, and sometimes, seemingly at random. Even the way she signs her own name can change from one letter to the next.

Ann switches up the way she capitalizes the ‘A’ in her signature.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/32 and CN:103/4/39.

Her inconsistency, together with the more ornamental writing style of the 19th century, can make deciphering Ann’s handwriting quite challenging. The following slides show a collection of the most common issues people might encounter when they first start transcribing Ann’s letters. These slides can also be downloaded as a handout here.

Snippets were taken from West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/39 and CN:103/4/44.
  • The wandering i: The ‘i’ can be difficult to find. Usually, the dot is where it should be but sometimes, it is somewhere towards the end of the word, other times, it is either missing or there are too many dots. Keep in mind that these are old, folded documents written in ink. If in doubt, try moving the dot, add a dot, or ignore a dot.
  • t beginning vs. t end: Letters are not always written the same way, depending on where they occur in the word. Ann’s ‘t’ at the end of the word is written differently, she does not lift the pen anymore to cross it, and it looks a little bit like an ‘l’. However, her ‘l’ is loopy, as can be seen in the word ‘will’.
  • Open “lazy” a: The ‘a’ is sometimes very neatly written, as in ‘that’. In certain words, especially ‘have’, ‘had’, or ‘am’, but also when she is in a hurry or tired, the writing gets wider, and the ‘a’ opens up. This can cause difficulties, because it can look like ‘u’, or even like separate letters.
  • Capital T vs. F vs. J (=I): This is not unique to Ann’s handwriting but can be confusing for people used to a more modern handwriting.
Snippets were taken from West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/39 and CN:103/4/44.

  • r vs. c beginning: The ‘r’ is written pretty consistently and starts with a little squiggle. However, Ann is quite inconsistent in how she writes ‘c’.
  • p vs. ss vs. f: At first glance, these might look the same in the beginning. It is useful to look at how she draws the line. The ‘p’ tends to start clockwise, the ‘ss’ counterclockwise, and the ‘f’ is a bit more angular than the ‘p’.
  • Capital M vs. W vs. N: The ‘M’ is usually connected to the next letter, the ‘W’ ends with an open little tick, which the ‘N’ does not have.
Snippets were taken from West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/39 and CN:103/4/44.

  • Mr vs. Mrs: These can be written very neatly, like in the example. If not, it is useful to pay attention to the tick at the top, if it points upwards, it is likely ‘Mr’, if the line is drawn downwards, it is likely ‘Mrs’.
  • E vs. C: These too are sometimes written very neatly, other times, not so much. Again, the pen movement helps, ‘E’ starts clockwise, ‘C’ counterclockwise.
  • u vs. v: The ‘u’ can sometimes look like an open ‘a’. The ‘v’, however, is quite distinct from it, and always starts a bit higher up than where it ends, giving it a slightly slanted look.
  • &/&c/to: Frequent abbreviations. Not specific to Ann Walker.
  • Last letter: Ann has the habit to draw out the last letter (Elizabeth does the same). These are NOT dashes. She is very consistent in this, as can be seen in other words (e.g. David, upon, valuer). If there is a ‘you’ that seems to stop short, consider that there might be ink missing, rather than putting down a dash.
  • Number 8: Out of all the numbers, the ‘8’ is the only lopsided one.

6. DIY Transcription

West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/43.

Solution: normal letter

West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/32.

Solution – crossed letter


  1. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/781
  2. Ann Walker’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: WYC:1525/7/1/5/1
  3. e.g. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/17/0112
  4. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/35
  5. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/854/2
  6. Ann Walker’s Diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: WYC:1525/7/1/5/1
  7. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/17/0081 and SH:7/ML/E/17/0107
  8. e.g. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/17/0100 and SH:7/ML/E/18/0012
  9. ‘Waste’: https://law.jrank.org/pages/11239/Waste.html
  10. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/18/0024
  11. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/18/0168
  12. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/18/0021
  13. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/43
  14. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/33
  15. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/38
  16. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/25
  17. e.g. West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: CN:103/4/35
  18. e.g. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/6/0017
  19. Anne Lister’s diary, West Yorkshire Archive Service, ref: SH:7/ML/E/19/0022


Special Thanks

Diane Halford – In Search of Ann Walker

Kerstin Holzgraebe

Mandy Mellor

To cite this article:

Leila Straub (2022) “My Dearest Elizabeth” Insearchofannwalker.com [Accessed *add date*] 

Leila Straub

#AnneListerCodeBreaker whose heart beats faster for Ann Walker. Lives in Switzerland. “shy perhaps, or very stupid”