Ann’s People

“…some little whispers…”

Robert Parker, the Halifax-based solicitor for both Ann Walker and Anne Lister, maintained a regular correspondence spanning 17 years with his father, Alexander North Parker, who lived at Heaning, Lancashire. During this letter-writing exchange, Robert was residing in the centre of Halifax. Amongst numerous business and legal exchanges, current affairs, health and family matters, the letters reveal some fascinating and amusing anecdotes of life in Halifax in the 1820s to 1830s, mentioning many notable families and the goings on in their lives. These letters can be found at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Calderdale.

This article will cover the portions of letters that include links to the Walker and Lister families and what Parker had to say. The title of the blog is a quote from one of Parker’s letters and is included below. The blog ends with an external view of the relationship between Ann Walker and Anne Lister, which is by far the author’s favourite quote.

John Walker (Ann Walker’s brother)

Ann Walker was one of 3 children of John and Mary Walker who lived into adulthood. The youngest child, her brother John, inherited the Crownest estates from his father once he turned 21 years old. This made him a very wealthy young man. He was studying at Brasenose College, Oxford when his father died and though remained for a while, did not finish his studies. Parker mentions his inheritance:

“Mr Walker of Crow Nest died on Tuesday leaving an immense fortune to his son who is not twenty years of age” 25 April 1823

Parker, who had not been living in Halifax very long and was only 6 years older than John, soon became part of the younger man’s circle.

“…a few invitations this Xmas. On Friday I dine at Pye Nest, on Monday at Crow Nest…” 29 December 1824

He was also invited to John Walker’s 21st birthday celebrations, celebrating not only coming of age but also inheriting the entire Crow Nest Estate.

“On Monday last Mr Walker came of age, & had a most sumptuous Entertainment. There was a large party but not many from Halifax.” n.d 1825

13 October 1825 Leeds Intelligencer article about John Walker's coming of age party.

13 October 1825 Leeds Intelligencer©The British Library Board

John’s Wedding

Among the area’s eligible young men, there was camaraderie, each looking for a suitable wife – not always an easy task.

“We have not yet got my friend Mr Walker married, & at present I think we are tolerably quiet in the matrimonial way.” 11 April 1829

It did not take long, however, for John to announce he was marrying Frances Esther Penfold, known as Fanny. Parker mourns the loss of his friend while he is on his honeymoon, unaware of the real loss that will come while John is away.

“On Tuesday morning Mr Walker leaves Crow Nest for London & will be married very soon. I regret to say he will be absent from England for many months, which to me will be a real loss. he has turned off all his servants, & sold all his horses.” 11 July 1829

Although Parker did not attend the wedding (way down in the south of England) he was delighted to get remembered by receiving some wedding cake.

“This week Mr Walker took unto himself a Wife. the marriage would take place in Sussex I believe on Tuesday last I have been remembered with Cake and felt much gratified by the attention.” 31 July 1829

31 July 1829 Morning Post article about the wedding of John Walker and Frances Esther Penfold.

31 July 1829 Morning Post ©The British Library Board

John’s death and widow’s return

For Parker, the death of 25-year-old John on his honeymoon (read more here) came as a big shock. The news hit Halifax very quickly, just over a month after his death. They did not know, at this time, that the new Mrs Walker was pregnant with the heir to the Walker fortune, although this was considered, it was generally thought that she was not pregnant.

“On my return home never was I more shocked than by the account of poor Mr Walker’s death, which altogether is most afflicting – to the neighbourhood it may justly be said that his Loss will be severely felt and I have lost a valuable and very sincere friend – and in the way of business too it will be seriously felt by us. From the paper you would see that he died poor fellow, at Naples, where Mrs Walker, her sister, and Miss Edwards of Pye Nest, are still confined by the State of the Roads without any Gentleman – their situation is really deplorable. It is generally thought that Mrs Walker is not enceintè in which case Mrs Sutherland and Miss Walker will have immense fortunes.” 23 February 1830

The inconceivable idea of women travelling unaccompanied in Europe was dealt with by the family sending out a courier (Giovanni Baroncelli) and Fanny’s brother to meet the party and bring them home. Giovanni eventually married Fanny’s sister upon return to England. The Halifax gossips were in fact wrong and Parker had learned that Fanny was indeed pregnant.

“Mrs Walker has not yet arrived in England, altho’ she is on the Road. From a little private information I have received I rather hope it will be very necessary for her to be careful how she travels. Should there be a family it will in all probability be a most fortunate thing for us.” 14 April 1830

As the remaining bridal party got closer to England, anxiety about the child that Fanny was carrying heightened. Ann Walker and Christopher Rawson (Fanny’s uncle by marriage) met the group in Dover.

“Mrs Walker is expected in England this Week, several of the family have gone to meet her at Calais. She will remain in the South until after her confinement. Should the child live to attain 21 it will be an immense fortune. ” 27 May 1830

Unfortunately, the child Fanny was carrying did not survive and a legal battle commenced over John Walker’s estate. The Walker sisters and Fanny both vying for the administration of John’s estate. Parker is, however, more worried about too many solicitors coming to Halifax and what they may do for his business.

“Mrs Walker’s brother, a Sol[icito]r is down here, & there are some little whispers that he may settle here, which I hope may be a false Report, for we are already sadly overstocked” 8 July 1830

Captain and Elizabeth Sutherland

Ann’s other surviving sibling, her older sister Elizabeth, was born in 1801. She had several suitors but eventually agreed to marry an officer in the 93rd Highlanders who were stationed in Halifax at the time. Parker has things to say about their traditional Scottish dress and their ability to get the local ladies to marry them!

“The Depo of the 93. Regt. (Highlanders) are quartered here, which from their very peculiar dress at first caused great amusement.” 4 December 1827

On 29 October 1828, Elizabeth married Captain George Mackay Sutherland at the parish church, now known as the Halifax Minster.

“This morning Miss Walker of Crow Nest was married to Captain Sutherland of the 93rd and last week Miss Stead was married to Captain Smith of the same Regiment. These Highland Gentry make sad havoc amongst our Ladies” 29 October 1828

12 November 1828 Aberdeen Press and Journal article about the marriage of Capt Sutherland and Elizabeth Walker

12 November 1828 Aberdeen Press and Journal©The British Library Board

Parker remained friendly with the Sutherlands, heralding the news to his father when their children were expected or born. Mary, the firstborn child, came in 1829 while John Walker and his new wife were still travelling in Italy.

Mrs Sutherland (late Miss Walker) has bought forth a little girl – the Crow Nest Bridal party are at Genoa.” 2 Nov 1829

“Captain and Mrs Sutherland have come to Crow Nest with their little girl: & I find that another youngster will in due time be expected-” 18 Nov 1830

“I had a letter the other Day from Captain Sutherland – who has now four children – 2 Boys and 2 Girls.” 13 December 1834

“Mrs Sutherland has already four children, & likely soon to have another, – Mrs Sutherland and Miss Walker have lately divided the whole of the property to which they succeeded as the coheirs of their brother.” 13 October 1834

The Sutherlands had four children by 1834 as Parker stated. Mary born 1829, George Sackville born in 1831, Elizabeth born in 1832 and John Walker born in 1834. The fifth child born in 1835 was Evan Charles who would go on to inherit the Walker estates from his father and his aunt, Ann Walker. The last child of the Sutherlands Ann Walker who was born in 1837. More can be read about these children in their blogs and in the letters between the Walker sisters, Elizabeth and Ann in this blog here.

The Sutherlands stayed at Parker’s house overnight on their way back to Scotland, catching a paddle steamer from Liverpool to Glasgow.

“Captain & Mrs Sutherland have been over, but are returned. They stopped the last night at my House in order the more conveniently to take an early Coach – they returned by way of Liverpool from whence they took a Steam Boat to Glasgow” 13 October 1834

Anne Lister

Ann Walker’s partner, Anne Lister also does not escape the gossip of Parker, seeing events in her life as newsworthy but also a way to earn money. He became involved in her estates in 1826 after the death of Anne’s uncle James. Parker remained involved in the estate until his death in 1856. The following quotes reflect how Parker, and others more widely, think of Anne.

“Mr Lister of Shibden Hall died yesterday morning at a moment’s warning; he broke a blood vessel, and before the Dr could get there the old gentleman was gone. Miss Lister, his Neice, comes in for the good things-” 27 January 1826

“Mr Lister of Shibden Hall is dead after a very short illness, the Estate which is extremely valuable is left to his Niece, whom you may have heard of as being an extraordinary character.” 23 February 1826

“Since Mr Lister’s death of Shibden Hall I have been a good deal engaged with Miss Lister (who you may perhaps have heard is a most eccentric Lady) and I think it is very probable I may be fortunate enough to become her Steward. The Lady proposes taking up her Residence in the South of France.” 5 May 1826

Later on, when Anne and Ann are making plans to improve the Shibden estate and renovate Shibden Hall, Parker’s father lends Anne £250 at 4.5%. It was common practice in those days for wealthy people to loan contemporaries money at a better rate than they would get at the bank.

“Miss Lister has been making another small purchase & is laying out a Deal of money so that I think she must want some money” “22 January 1835

“I lost no Time in putting out the £250 left by you in the Bank – this sum was on 2nd February lent to Miss Lister and 4 1/2 per cent…” 12 March 1835

Ann Walker and Anne Lister

This quote from Parker is delightful. It sums up how he and perhaps the rest of Halifax thought of Ann and Anne’s relationship. The “strongest intimacy”…

“Miss Lister of Shibden Hall and Miss Walker of Crow Nest are gone upon the Continent – these two Ladies most different in appearances & pursuits have formed the strongest intimacy” 24 June 1834


All quotes are with kind permission of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale FW:3/3 and FW:4/4


Thanks to Deb Woolson for help with the article!

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:

Diane Halford (2024) ”…some little whispers…”: In Search Of Ann Walker [Accessed *add date*]

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