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The Gentleman Jack Connection — Ann Walker & Lightcliffe Church

Author: Ian Philp

If you’ve watched the Halifax -based BBC/HBO series ‘Gentleman Jack’ you might have linked Lightcliffe,  the village where Ann Walker & the Priestley family lived, with the iconic tower of Old St Matthew’s church that the Friends are responsible for.  In this blog, Ian Philp, Chairman of the Friends of St Matthew Lightcliffe, explores the iconic story.

Ann Walker and Lightcliffe church

Ann Walker’s grandfather, William, had largely funded the Georgian church which replaced a Tudor foundation. At the same time he remodelled Crow Nest mansion (later lived in by Sir Titus Salt) and built Cliffe Hill, which is where Ann lived, just a short walk away. He, his son and Ann gave generously to the poor and he and some of the fellow benefactors are named on the board which is now stored in the tower.

Cliffe Hill, Ann Walker's home
The tower of Old St Matthew's and the churchyard remain at Lightcliffe

Green velvet

Ann and her family would have worshipped at St Matthew’s and, of course, had family pews. When she became a companion of Anne Lister ('Gentleman Jack') of Shibden Hall, the latter bought a pew and had it refurbished in green velvet so that they could worship together (and, probably, to be away from the potentially more hostile environment at Halifax Parish Church).

St Matthew's, Lightcliffe before its demolition

Ann accompanied Anne around Europe for several years but, in 1840, Anne died whilst they were in Georgia. Ann arranged for the body to be embalmed in Moscow and returned for burial in Halifax. Anne Lister bequeathed Shibden Hall to Ann for her lifetime provided she remained single. Ann suffered from depression, was treated in York and then returned to Cliffe Hill in Lightcliffe. She died in 1854 and was buried under a pulpit with a plaque on the wall alongside.

Her large estate was given to her nephew Evan Charles Sutherland Walker (a stipulation of the will made him add Walker to his name, though he dropped that as soon as he could). He sold the estate in Lightcliffe in the early 1860s and moved to Skibo Castle in Scotland. Eventually this was sold to Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist. 

Ann Walker memorials

The church was replaced in 1880 and demolished in the early 1970s. The Friends of Friendless Churches were able to save the tower of Old St Matthew's, Lightcliffe; they rescued the memorials that were on the walls of the church and these are stored in the tower. Three memorials are key to the Walker family: Ann’s parents, John & Mary; their son John who died on his honeymoon in Naples (his wife, Fanny Penfold, had a brother who emigrated to Australia and founded a wine growing estate); and to Ann.

The brass plaque commemorating Ann needs restoration; the writing is difficult to decipher, though we have a transcription. It is dedicated to Ann and some young children of her sister Elizabeth.

(Update from the Friends of Friendless Churches: We have since worked with In Search of Ann Walker to restore the memorial to its former glory, and it looks wonderful — see the picture below. Learn about the restoration project here.)

Ann Walker memorial
The restored memorial to Ann Walker which now hangs in the church tower

As there is no external memorial to Ann, the Friends of St Matthew’s Churchyard have installed a small brass plaque dedicated to her, as well as a simple stone marking the location of her grave.

Visits to the tower

There are open days at the tower of old St Matthew's throughout the year. Please check the visitor info on our website, or the Friends of St Matthew's Churchyard, for upcoming open days. When the tower is open, it isn't possible to enter, for safety reasons, but you will be able to see the memorials on the wall, including Ann's, and this beautiful monument to her brother John.

Monument to John Walker