Anne Lister – Gentleman Jack – visited North Wales in 1822 and although she enjoyed her time in Wales, she wasn’t very impressed with Bangor, describing it as “a very poor little town“ with a “very paltry cathedral”.
The life of Anne Lister is the focus of the new BBC drama series Gentleman Jack, with Suranne Jones playing the part of Lister. The series explores Anne’s life and those who lived in Shibden Hall and Estate.
Lister was born in Halifax in 1791 and was brought up in Skelfler House, Market Weighton. She made frequent visits to her Aunt Anne and Uncle James who lived at Shibden Hall. In 1815 Anne moved in permanently with her Aunt and Uncle, and when her Uncle James died in 1826 Anne started to manage the estate. In 1836 when her Aunt and Father died Anne fully inherited Shibden Hall and Estate.
She wrote a detailed diary of her daily life and left behind twenty-six volumes of 7,722 pages, of an estimated five million words. The diaries give a great insight into Anne’s life as a landowner, business woman, intrepid traveller, mountaineer and lesbian.
During her visit to North Wales 11-27 July 1822, Lister visited Penrhyn Quarry, which she said as “very well worth seeing” – describing in detail the workings of the quarry and how slate was transported to Port Penrhyn.
Lister said she particularly admired ‘the small scattered town & very neat-looking church of Llandegai’ and she would have liked to have visited Penrhyn Castle, if she had more time, also observing the building work had not finished.
When Lister arrived in Bangor she described it as “surely the most paltry city & cathedral in his majesty’s dominions – yet the situation of Bangor is beautiful & had the inn (The Castle) been better we might have enjoyed ourselves more.”
The Castle was described as “the best inn in the place, but bad enough & dirty enough – quite full – 2 very small hot uncomfortable looking rooms at the top of the house – and a sitting room on the left of the entrance on the ground floor next to the street”
Suspecting she should have stayed at the Penrhyn Arms – at Port Penrhyn – Lister walked down to see for herself, only to find as she described “a dirty bustling coach-house”.
Lister was advised to avoid staying at the George Hotel on Holyhead Road which was known as the “Bangor Ferry” as the ferry between Bangor and Anglesey left from here. The hotel was taken over by the Normal College in 1919 to accommodate students.
Before heading off to Caernarfon the next day Lister had a dinner in Bangor which consisted of mullet which she described as “well dressed & good” – a “large too-short-a-time-kept leg of mutton and a goodish currant pie.”
Lister was more impressed with Menai Suspension Bridge, which was under construction at the time of her visit, she recorded: “I am delighted with it & think it so far the gem of the finest thing I ever saw”
The full transcript of Anne Lister’s Diary, Tour of North Wales 11-27 July 1822, can be found here: https://editions.curioustravellers.ac.uk/pages/show.html?document=0023.xml