Ann Walker Cause of Death: The Tragic End of a Pioneering Lesbian Landowner

Ann Walker was a wealthy landowner and philanthropist who lived in the 19th century in West Yorkshire, England. She is best known for her relationship with Anne Lister, a fellow landowner and diarist who is often called “the first modern lesbian”. The two women exchanged vows and rings in a church in 1834, considering themselves married. They travelled together until Lister’s death in 1840, after which Walker returned to England and lived a secluded life. She died on 25 February 1854, aged 50, after suffering from a series of fits. What was the cause of her death and what were the circumstances surrounding it?

The Last Days of Ann Walker

According to In Search of Ann Walker, a website dedicated to exploring the life and legacy of Ann Walker, she had moved back to her childhood home, Cliffe Hill, after her aunt died in 1848. She lived there with Lydia Fenton, a long-term friend and housekeeper, and six servants. In the 1851 census, she is listed as “landed proprietor” and “lunatic”. This suggests that she had been declared insane by her relatives, who wanted to take control of her estate.

On 18 February 1854, Robert Parker, Ann Walker’s local solicitor, wrote to an acquaintance that she had suffered a severe fit that day, which would probably prove fatal. He also wrote to Dr John Lister, Anne Lister’s heir to Shibden Hall, informing him of Ann’s condition. He wrote again on 23 February, saying that the fits had come on in rapid succession and that she was very sick. On 25 February, he wrote to Dr Lister once more, announcing that Ann had died that afternoon.

The Cause of Death: Congestion of the Brain

According to her death certificate, Ann’s cause of death was “congestion of the brain, effusion”. This means that there was an accumulation of blood or fluid in the brain, causing pressure and damage to the brain tissue. This could have been caused by a stroke, a brain tumour, an infection, or a head injury.

According to Medical Research into Ann Walker’s Death, an article by In Search of Ann Walker that examines the medical aspects of her death, Ann most likely died of an internal cerebral haemorrhage or stroke. The article cites Hooper’s Physician’s Vade Mecum, a medical manual from the 19th century, which describes the symptoms and treatment of various forms of fits. The article argues that Ann’s fits were consistent with those caused by a stroke, which could have been triggered by stress, hypertension, or atherosclerosis.

The article also suggests that Ann may have suffered from mental health issues throughout her life, such as anxiety and depression. These could have been exacerbated by the loss of Anne Lister, the social stigma of being a lesbian, the legal battles over her estate, and the isolation and neglect she faced in her later years. The article concludes that Ann’s death was “a tragic end to a remarkable life”.

The Legacy of Ann Walker

Ann Walker was buried in Old St Matthew’s Churchyard in Lightcliffe, West Yorkshire. Her grave was unmarked until 2018, when a memorial stone was erected by the Friends of Friendless Churches. The stone bears the inscription: “Here lies Anne Lister’s ‘beloved’ Ann Walker co-owner of Shibden Hall Halifax”.

Ann Walker’s life and relationship with Anne Lister have been portrayed in various books, documentaries, and films. The most recent and popular adaptation is Gentleman Jack (2019), a BBC/HBO series created by Sally Wainwright and starring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker. The series is based on Anne Lister’s diaries, which reveal intimate details of their love story.

Ann Walker was a pioneering lesbian landowner who defied the conventions of her time and lived authentically with her partner Anne Lister. She faced many challenges and hardships in her life but also experienced joy and companionship. She deserves to be remembered as more than just Anne Lister’s wife or a victim of madness. She was a complex and fascinating woman who left behind a rich legacy.

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