What’s on : Activities

Visit to Shibden and Farnley Halls

6 Jul 2023
Start time
8:30 AM
Visit to Shibden and Farnley Halls

Event Information

Thursday 6th July 2023 Meet at 8.20 am, Cost £45 pp
*Cost includes coach, entrance fees and tea/coffee and cake at Farnley
(Lunch at own cost in Otley Garden Centre)

Shibden Hall – home of ‘Gentleman Jack

Many of us may have watched the BBC drama Gentleman Jack, based on the real Anne Lister (1791-1840) who lived at Shibden Hall.  The Hall dates back to 1420 and offers visitors a fascinating insight into the people who lived and worked here, including Anne herself.  Shibden Hall has a Tudor frontage but its architecture is a mixture reflecting its varied history.  The Hall is surrounded by beautiful gardens and park with a boating lake. Sadly, there are some accessibility restrictions: there is a long uphill walk from the coach to the entrance, and restricted access for wheelchair users. The historic barn is accessible to a degree, but there are uneven cobbles on the floor. The Folk Museum is not wheelchair accessible. An accessible toilet is available.

ⴕFarnley Hall and JMW Turner

Farnley Hall is not generally open to the public, so this is a rare opportunity to visit this beautiful house in its tranquil setting, and view the collection of paintings by JMW Turner, a frequent visitor in the early nineteenth century. John Ruskin described the hall as ‘a place where a great genius has been loved and appreciated, who did all his best works for that place…’

The building we shall visit is in two parts. The four-square block at the south end was built by John Carr of York. Adjoining it to the north is the older wing, now used as a separate house.  Dating from the late 16th or early 17th century, it was built by the Fawkes family, who had lived in the area since the 13th century. The conspirator Guy Fawkes was descended from them, and a branch of the family still lives in the Hall – our host is Guy Horton-Fawkes!

ⴕNote – There are two Farnley Halls in Yorkshire. This is in North Yorkshire, the other in West Yorkshire.

*Catering. Limited opportunities at Shibden, though coffee is available at reception. Lunch (own cost) at Otley Garden Centre, and tea or coffee and cake is included at Farnley.

Transport will be by York Pullman coach, boarding at Memorial Gardens at 8.20 am

Member’s report

Thanks are due to Margaret Leonard for leading this study tour and also to YPS member Manuela Sowter, who developed the concept of this coach tour, to contrast two lesser-known Yorkshire historic homes with fascinating but very different architectures and history.

Our first visit was to Shibden Hall, Halifax, which dates back to 1420. For most of the period 1619 to 1933 the estate was owned by the Lister family, wealthy mill-owners and cloth merchants. The most famous resident was the controversial diarist Ann Lister (1791-1840), the lead character in the BBC drama ‘Gentleman Jack’. Interestingly for the YPS, Ann was a student at Kings Manor School, York.

The Hall has a Tudor frontage, but its architecture is an eclectic mixture that reflects its varied history and gives it a great deal of character. Ann Lister herself was responsible for many innovations and improvements to both the house and gardens. As examples, she removed the Tudor ceiling of the main room and added a gallery, creating the effect of an open medieval manor hall. She also created an area of parkland within view of the Hall and, following the fashionable Romantic style, she included a wilderness garden with waterfalls.

In 1933, the Lister family donated the estate to Halifax Corporation, which opened the hall as a museum in 1934. The hall now has a folk museum including a variety of restored workshops, a brewery, a basket weaving shop, a tannery, a stable and an extensive collection of horse-drawn carriages. The hall is built on the side of a steep hill, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland with a boating lake. Both the hall and the 32 hectares of gardens are Grade 2 listed, and are now operated by Calderdale Museums.

After navigating Bradford and having lunch in Otley, we visited the nearby Farnley Hall. We were greeted by the present owner, Guy Horton-Fawkes, who has complicated family links to the Guy Fawkes of gunpowder fame. The Hall was originally built in the 17th century, but was extended for Walter Fawkes in 1780 by the York architect John Carr. It is now a finely decorated Grade 1 listed stately house, lived in by the family, with many old family portraits and fine furniture, and with wonderful views over Wharfedale. A major attraction is the large collection of watercolours by JMW Turner, who was a family friend and frequent visitor between 1790 and 1824. At its peak, the Turner collection comprised over 250 watercolours and six large oil paintings, but many of these were sold in 1890. Another regular visitor in the early 1800s was the Victorian artist and philosopher John Ruskin, who was suitably impressed by all the Turners. About 1900, a weeping beech tree was planted in the gardens very near the Hall. It is now an enormous spreading tree supported by many branches that have rooted in the soil, and is reputedly the largest weeping beech in England.

Rod Leonard