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The Museum of…Our pick of the UK’s specialist collections

Louise Gray hears how Shibden Hall is more than just the home of Anne Lister, its most famous owner
Louise Gray
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Where

The 90-acre Shibden Park estate is less than two miles east of Halifax, West Yorkshire.

What

Shibden Hall is a timberframed building, dating back to the 1420s; the Folk Museum is housed in an aisled barn in the courtyard.

Opened


Shibden Hall was opened to the pubic in 1934 and the Folk Museum in the 1950s.

Collection

“In the hall, we have a very good collection of local furniture, chiefly in a 17th-century heavy carved-oak style,” says the hall’s collections manager Richard Macfarlane.

There are also some long-cased clocks, many made in Halifax, and Anne Lister’s travelling box, which was recently acquired from a private seller in Paris.

“We have quite a bit that relates to Anne” – the hall’s most famous resident, a 19th-century lesbian gentlewoman who kept a coded diary – “like her music books, though her diaries are in the West Yorkshire Archives in Halifax,” says Macfarlane. The Folk Museum has a collection of tools and horse-drawn vehicles, including the Lister chaise, a mid-18th-century carriage.

Help at hand


Shibden Hall, the Folk Museum and park are run by Calderdale council’s cultural services department, so staff cover different areas across the whole council. The council’s social history curator is based at Shibden; other full-timers are an estate manager, a visitor services manager and four front-of-house staff, four gardeners, two park rangers and two cafe staff.

Budget

Funding comes from the council’s cultural services budget. Adult admission is £3.50.

Visitors

20,052 in 2009-10. “After the BBC’s drama and documentary on Anne Lister were broadcast in May, a lot more people have visited,” Macfarlane says. “What most people don’t know is that the drama was filmed at nearby Oakwell Hall, Kirklees, which has bigger rooms. They got the hassle and we got the publicity.”

Highlights

“The hall itself is the prime exhibit,” says Macfarlane.

Sticky moment

“The Lister family’s crest includes a lion and outside the hall we have a five-foot stone lion on a plinth holding the shield in his paws,” says Macfarlane. “In 1996, the lion was stolen. He was recovered just as he was about to cross the Channel on a ship bound for Belgium. Last year, the lion was returned to his plinth, and secured with steel pins.”

Survival tip

“Diversify and keep your profile high,” Macfarlane says. “We are benefiting from the renewed interest in Anne Lister, especially from people of a similar sexual persuasion, but we are very keen to represent the whole house and estate. She was just one of the hall’s owners. For all the juicy bits in her diaries, there is a wealth of important historical information relating to ordinary daily events.”

Future projects

Shibden has little texts and no audio guide. “We’re looking at what we need to do to improve and allow people to access the relevant information and heighten the visitors’ experiences,” he says.



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