About Ann

April 1843: Ann Walker and the ‘Durnford Incident’

By Steve Crabtree, March 2020

Cat Euler’s 1995 thesis on Anne Lister is an excellent read, and contains a chapter long post script on Ann Walker. In this chapter, Euler alludes to a letter written by Elizabeth Sutherland to Robert Parker. This document can be found in the MAC: 73 file of the West Yorkshire Archive Service.  Euler, citing Elizabeth, writes:

“In another, undated letter, which must have been written in the same period of time, Elizabeth Sutherland refers obliquely to some embarrassing incident which had occurred, which I would guess also involves the railway or the surveying of the railway. Again she expresses her approval of the committal process and remarks of her sister, ‘…what if she should sally forth with a number of Men and again send off Captain Dunnsford’s party.’”

I encountered Elizabeth’s letter myself, but follow-up efforts to locate anything to do with Dunnsford met with unmitigated failure. While completely agreeing with Euler’s transcription of the name ‘Dunnsford’ in Elizabeth’s letter, nothing seemed to exist which tied any Dunnsford to Shibden. However, a chance reading of the Halifax Guardian revealed that Elizabeth, or possibly Euler and myself, had copied the name incorrectly. A record does appear for a Captain Durnford:

“Police intelligence:

Wards End, Halifax.

(Before G. Pollard, Esq, J. R. Ralph, Esq, and J Rawson, Esq).

The Ordnance Survey – Miss Ann Walker was fined £2, 8s, 6d expenses, for obstructing and hindering Corporal Bernard M’Guchin, of the Sappers and Miners, and others employed in the Ordnance Survey.

Captain E W Durnford, of the Royal Engineers, appeared in support of the charge; and said that the survey was altogether at a stand still in the neighbourhood of Shibden Hall, the men having been ordered off the premises. Miss Walker complained of the damage which had been done in her grounds and garden, and said she had written to the Ordnance Office on the subject, and should refuse to permit the men to come on her property again until she had received an answer from London.”

It appears that Ann Walker had become upset with an Ordnance Survey team who were conducting business on her property. It is apparent from Elizabeth’s letter that she had railed her tenants and/or estate workers, and had driven the survey team from her land. Unfortunately, under the 1841 Ordnance Survey Act, Durnford and his men had the legal right to enter the estate and conduct the survey, and if necessary dig up ground, affix markers and carry out other tasks such as repairing boundary posts. The law would have been relatively new in 1843 and possibly obscure enough that Walker would not have been aware of it. She may have also been unaware that she could apply for compensation for any damages that might have been caused by the team in the execution of their duties.                                                                                                                                              

Anne Lister and Ann Walker had suffered numerous trespasses over the years, from thieves in the cellars to the rampaging Halifax hunt, and no doubt the intrusion of the Ordnance Survey party would have been galling.

Although they may have been working on the ‘County Series’, mapping the United Kingdom, there may have been another reason behind the 1843 visit to the Shibden Estate. Euler in her text above proposes that Durnford may have been feeding information back to the railway companies. Although this would be difficult to prove, it may have simply been sufficient for Ann to suspect that they were. The current rail line cuts through both the Walker and Lister estate, and blasts straight through the hillside and down into Halifax. Walker’s opposition to the line is well documented in later newspaper articles, as well as Elizabeth’s letter above.

However, the main issue caused by the ‘Durnford Incident’ would be how it damaged Ann’s relationship with the authorities in Halifax. Four months later, Walker would reference the event and the ‘insults’ she received from the magistrates of the town. Whether these insults were some choice remarks directed against Ann by those presiding, or whether Miss Walker was insulted over being fined for policing her own land as insulting in itself can only be speculated. What may be significant, however, is the names of the three magistrates in court that day. George Pollard, John Rhodes Ralph, and John Rawson – all men Walker would have known well. Furthermore, in 1844, the year after Ann left Shibden, the Provisional Railway Committee was formed in Halifax. It contained dozens of local influential men amongst its members, including Rawson and Rhodes Ralph. Its chairman was George Pollard.

Original article posted 05/01/2020 via Facebook

With grateful thanks to David Glover for his assistance on the transcription of various documents and insight into the OS Act, and to Diane Halford and Cat Euler for their thoughts on the ‘Durnford Incident’. Also my gratitude to Natalie Midgely of Calderdale Libraries, for her assistance with the Microfilm reader, and West Yorkshire Archive Service for access and assistance.


Halifax Guardian

MAC: 73

1841 Ordnance Survey Act

SH:7/ML – Halifax Hunt complaints

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:
Steve Crabtree (2020) April 1843: “Ann Walker and the ‘Durnford Incident”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]