How to read Anne Lister's original diaries The Real Anne Lister Blog

Where to find Anne Lister’s original diaries and how to read them

Part 1: Where to find the diaries and how to read the crypthand

Several people have asked me recently how they can get to read Anne Lister’s original handwritten diaries so I thought I’d do a post on it.

Thankfully, some tireless person or persons at West Yorkshire Archive Service have painstakingly scanned each of the (approximately) 6,600 pages of Anne’s diaries and made them available on their website.

Here’s the link: https://www.catalogue.wyjs.org.uk/CalmView/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=CC00001%2f7%2f9%2f6%2f26

You will see that there is initially a list of 7 ‘folders’ (for want of a better word), constituting all of the Lister-related documents the archive service has.

Once you’ve clicked the link above you should see this:

First of all click the + next to folder 7 ‘Lister correspondence, diaries, etc.’

You then get a list of 9 more folders. Click the + next to 9 ‘Anne Lister – correspondence, diaries, etc.’

You then get another 12 folders. Click the + next to 6 ‘Diaries.’

You now have 26 (!!!) folders containing all of the Anne Lister diary material the archive service has from 1806 to 1840.

Here’s what date ranges are in each folder:

1 – 21 March 1817 – 25 January 1818

2 – 26 January 1818 – 10 April 1819

3 – 11 April 1819 – 22 November 1819

4 – 26 November 1819 – 10 February 1821

5 – 11 February 1822- 8 May 1822

6 – 9 May 1822 – 25 April 1823

7 – 26 April 1823 – 9 June 1824

8 – 20 June 1824 – 31 July 1825

9 – 1 August 1825 – 23 October 1826

10 – 25 October 1826 – 29 May 1828

11 – 30 May 1828 – 15 April 1829

12 – 16 April 1826 – 28 February 1830

13 – 1 March 1830 – 31 December 1830

14 – 1 January 1831 – 31 December 1831

15 – 1 January 1832 – 12 January 1833

16 – 13 January 1833 – 9 March 1834

17 – 10 March 1834 – 21 March 1835

18 – 22 March 1835 – 29 March 1836

19 – 1 March 1836 – 8 January 1837

20 – 1 January 1837 – 30 November 1837

21 – 1 December 1837 – 26 August 1838

22 – 27 August 1838 – 20 March 1839

23 – 21 March 1839 – 4 February 1840

24 – 5 February 1840 – 11 August 1840

25 – Extracts from Anne Lister’s diaries

26 – 1806 – 1814 loose diary pages; August – November 1816; November 1816 – March 1817

Within each of the 26 folders there is a listing for each individual diary page (even the front and back covers of the book the diary is written in). When you click on one of these you get the record for that particular diary page. The bottom row of the table contains a thumbnail image of the diary page. You can click on it to get a big image of that diary page. And there you go! You can now read that page of Anne Lister’s diary. It’s a bit of a faff moving between different pages of the diary, but unless you are able to go to the West Yorkshire Archive Service in person I’ve not found an easier method (please let me know if you know of one).

As you will see Anne Lister’s handwriting is very, very, very difficult (at times impossible) to read. Additionally approximately 10% of her diary entries are in code, what she called her ‘crypthand.’ Strangely enough, with the benefit of the handy key you can find here: https://wyascatablogue.wordpress.com/exhibitions/anne-lister/, the crypthand is actually easier to read than the plainhand.

I’ll do a post soon with some tips on reading Anne’s plainhand. The way I approach deciphering it is to have an image of the diary page and a Word document open on the screen at the same time, and then go through the diary entry typing in the Word doc the words I can make out and leaving dots (…) for words I can’t read. If I can make out some of the letters I might put, for example ‘th…’). Then I just keep reading the diary page again and again and adding in more words as they become apparent within the context of the words that I know.

It’s kind of hard work but also incredibly rewarding to see Anne Lister’s words emerging from the page, and to imagine her sitting down writing them 200-ish years ago.

Good luck and have fun!

2 thoughts on “Where to find Anne Lister’s original diaries and how to read them

  1. It would be great if a team transcribed an assigned part of the diaries in order to have everything in readable format. I’m sure the Lister Sisters (GJ fans in Facebook groups) would love to have an assignment like this. Thank you so much for the info. (PS: There’s a typo on the title of this article.)

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