September 1843: What Happened to Ann Walker?
By Steve Crabtree, March 2020
This research was inspired by a re-reading of Jill Liddington’s Presenting the Past back in June 2019, during my perusal of the book, it became apparent that Liddington had missed one crucial detail – Ann Walker’s forced removal from Shibden Hall, specifically the fantastical tales of her being snatched from the Red Room by her brother in law, Captain Sutherland and his thugs as she desperately loaded her a brace of pistols. What followed was a critical re-examination of the original source material, starting with Parker’s Memorandum, an infamous document and only surviving primary source regarding the events of the 9th of September 1843. What I found caused me to not only re-evaluate my opinions of what happened that day, but also critically re-examine other previously accepted narratives I’d encountered. For completeness, a transcript of Parker’s memorandum is below.
Memorandum of Robert Parker, Shibden Hall, 9th-11th September 1843
“9th September 1843.
Memorandum that this morning Captain Sutherland wished me to accompany him as his Solicitor to Shibden Hall. We took a fly and arrived there about half-past ten o’clock. The persons in the house were Mr. Short, Surgeon, York, Arthur Hedges, the Groom, John Jennings the Constable of Southowram, a little girl, the daughter of Thomas Pearson, and a daughter of Robert Mann. George Thomas and Samuel Booth were in the Courtyard. Found from Mr. Short the Surgeon that Miss Walker had been removed that morning in a carriage to the neighbourhood of York under the direction of Dr Belcombe. Found every Room in the House locked except the little Dining Room, the Hall, the Kitchen and Butler’s Pantry. On the Dining Room table was a Reticule containing a great number of keys and various papers – Captain Sutherland after waiting about half an hour took the Fly for Mrs. Sutherland to Pye Nest, who returned with him to Shibden Hall – that after hearing all particulars of Miss Walker’s departure from Shibden Hall. Mrs Sutherland and the Captain in order to obtain requisite wearing Apparel proceeded to Miss Walker’s Red Room which they found locked and not finding any key that would open the door they directed Jennings the Constable to open it which he did by taking it off the Hinges – the Room was in a most filthy condition, and at the side of the Bed were a Brace of loaded Pistols, a pile of Lucifer matches, the Bedclothes were turned down a little on one side, and had the appearance of a person having thrown herself down, and there were marks on the sheet as if she had laid down in her shoes – there was no nail or tooth brush, the shutters were closed. An old dirty candle stick was covered with tallow as if the candle has melted away in it. The furniture in the Room might not have been dusted for months. The room adjoining Miss Walker’s Red Room was as dirty as her Red Room. Papers were strewn about in complete confusion. In the Red Room were a many handkerchiefs spotted all over with blood. Left the House about Six O Clock. Captain & Mrs Sutherland went to Cliff Hill, and at the same time I returned home. The persons left in the House were Jennings the Constable, Arthur Hedges and the two Girls, Mann and Pearson. RP.
11th September 1843
Captain Sutherland and myself walked up to Shibden Hall after breakfast. Mrs Sutherland came in Mr. Edwards carriage about Eleven O Clock. I was occupied the whole day in taking down the depositions of Arthur Hedges, Robert Mann, George Thomas, John Jennings and Samuel Booth and returned home with Captain and Mrs. Sutherland in the carriage about 7 O Clock. RP.
The persons left at the Hall were Jennings, Hedges and the two girls. RP.”
With the original document in front of us, what can we hope to learn from Parker’s Memorandum?
- First off, that Jill Liddington’s omission of Walker’s desperate last stand in Presenting the Past is perfectly justified. Indeed, we can be assured that the forced removal from the Red Room, as traditionally told, is folklore. It never happened, no matter how compelling the narrative, it is clear that Ann had departed the Hall prior to the arrival of Sutherland and Parker, and before the Red Room door was taken from its hinges. The Red Room door was likely locked by Ann herself, who then took the key with her to York.
Preceding letters and Parker’s memorandum make it clear that AW left the Hall of her own volition, as she could not lawfully be forcibly removed. She may have been intimidated into leaving, however. Coercion is expressed as an option to encourage her into Dr Belcombe’s care in archive material previous to Parker’s Memorandum. There may be some support for this in the fact that Elizabeth arrives to collect spare clothes for her. That said, Ann did not neglect to lockdown various parts of the house and cupboards before she left – an issue that would later cause Sutherland no end of frustration. The fact that Parker does not find her nail or hair brush may also indicate that she had packed them.
What is clear she was not in the room when Jennings removed the door. It is also clear that her family and Jennings could not legally act to force her removal, as she was not yet formally declared a lunatic or under their protection. She must be convinced, coerced, or otherwise tricked into leaving Shibden. While the certificates and opinion of two medical men were enough to place someone into care, only one medical person – Dr Short – is present for the removal and her certificates are signed following her departure.
- Guns, matches and candles are all important and explainable phenomena in this instance. As discussed in here – a recent home-invasion and a backlog of threatening letters would cause Ann Walker to take steps to secure herself and her property through force if necessary. Matches, too, are significant in terms of her being deprived of ‘fire and light’.
- The odd things that Parker notes – depressions on the bed, the condition of the room, and the bloodstained handkerchiefs are harder to explain. Ann is referred to in later correspondence as being in perfect bodily health. Unlike his private correspondence, Parker would have likely known the memorandum would potentially be required as evidence at Walker’s Inquisition into Lunacy. At the time, there is talk of a Commission, but Elizabeth Sutherland is only gradually warming to the idea. It is not guaranteed. However, it had been discussed in the build-up. Belcombe himself mentioned it in a letter from early September. Thus, we have to ask – is Robert Parker a reliable narrator, or is he playing to a prospective audience?
However, the general uncleanliness could be indicative of Ann’s mental health issues. Her ‘torments of the mind’ as she called them, are well-documented and could have caused a loss of focus on the routine maintenance of the Hall. In addition to coping with the loss of her wife, alone and in a world where no word for such love existed, enormous pressure had been leveraged on Ann Walker in regards to outstanding debts and business transactions for the preceding months. This in turn had caused what appears to be a withdrawal by Ann from several very pressing concerns, and her deteriorating mental health had negatively influenced her subsequent actions and perspective of her situation.
What happened next?
Thanks to the work of Anne Boyens – a record of Ann’s committal to an asylum has been found. She was not placed in Dr Belcombe’s Clifton Asylum, or the Retreat, as previously speculated, but in the House of Elizabeth Tose in Osbaldwick, a district in the neighbourhood of York. Records indicate that her medical certificates were signed by Dr Short, who was present at the Hall on the day of her removal, and a Dr Goldie who signs a few days later on the 12th. Belcombe’s signature does not appear on the document. She would remain there for what is presumed to be a number of months, while her lawyers and relatives attempted to untangle complex legal matters and decide on a course of action.
Original article posted 23/12/19 via Facebook
With grateful thanks to Anne Boyens for her work in tracking down the Osbaldwick Records, also to S J Riocain for Elmer’s 1844 book on lunacy, to David Glover of HAS for his assistance with the transcription of Parker’s Memorandum, and West Yorkshire Archive Service for access and assistance.
WYAS: MAC: 73/26 – Parker’s Memorandum
WYAS: MAC: 73 – AW lunacy file.
WYAS: CN: 100&103 – Crow Nest Papers for supporting context
NYCC: Osbaldwick Record – from Anne Boyens.