Anne Lister’s Secret Diary Code

Introducing Lister’s secret diary code

In her 24 volumes of preserved diaries, Anne Lister (1791-1840) of Shibden Hall, Halifax located in West Yorkshire sometimes used a secret coded alphabet when she wanted to express her most private thoughts. She developed this coded system in her early teens together with her school friend Eliza Raine whom she met at the Manor boarding school in York. They used this code system in letters to each other. The only known persons in Lister’s life who could understand the secret code was Eliza Raine and later lover and friend, Mariana Lawton (née Belcombe). Most likely, neither Raine or Lawton knew that Lister used this code in her diaries. Lawton probably had an own key of the code to solve Lister’s crypt hand in her sent letters.

Cracking of the Code

Lister didn’t leave any keys or hints to the secret alphabet, or the diary code made by her secret “crypt hand”. However, after publishing several drafts about Anne Lister in the local Halifax newspaper, John Lister (d. 1933) became very intrigued by the passages he couldn’t interpret.  He contacted a friend and together they did much hard work trying to solve the code and finally did so. His friend was very shocked over the content and seriously tried to convince John Lister to burn all the 26 volumes! He didn’t take this advice but instead hid the volumes behind the panels at Shibden Hall.

The letters and numbers of the code

A                                                    2

B                                                     (

C                                                     )

D                                                     0

E                                                      3

F                                                       ✔️

G                                                      ^


I                                                        4

J                                                        4

K                                                        |


M                                                       –


O                                                        5

P                                                         +

Q                                                          ||

R                                                           p

S                                                            =

T                                                            ~

U                                                            6

V                                                             8

X                                                            w

Y                                                              7

Z                                                             9


And a few other signs

th= ✔️

sh= ^

ch= 🔻( a triangle upside down, not red or filled)

and = x


To be cont.,

5 thoughts on “Anne Lister’s Secret Diary Code

  1. Do you, by chance, have the complete key to the code or have access to completing it? I would really like to get a tattoo with a phrase or something written in her code so I’d like to be able to do a direct translation. Thank you so much!


  2. The following comment was posted here by “A Sharp Mind, Yet Sharper Tongue, as pingback. For some reason text didn’t show: […] Anne had eleven female sexual encounters, though the extent of the relationships varies. Anne Choma criticizes the widespread selective excerpts of Anne’s diaries, which all invariably cast her as the “rapacious lesbian” stereotype. Choma argues that “attempting to view her as a predatory stereotype diminishes her legacy and ignores the complexity of an identity that was formed at a time when there was no script for her to follow, no language to articulate what her place in the world might be.” 1 I agree with her, in part. Rakish men have been historically praised for their relentless quest for women while Anne has been denigrated years later by scholars handpicking the most sensationalist portions of her intimate writing, much of which was fantasy written in her special “crypt” language. […]

    My answer:

    I think rather the opposite since I’ve read and transcribed unpublished portions of the the microfilmed diaries that some Lister Scholars has tried to censor and surpress Anne Lister’s descriptions of her sexlife in code. This was very clear from reading diary portions on her Paris love affair with a Guernsey woman. Also, we still don’t have any critical edition of her diaries published yet so we don’t have the full context. Anne was a very rational woman so I don’t really understand where you got the idea she wrote down “fantasy” in crypt language. Anne Choma is not an historian either, she writes historical fiction which means her Anne Lister is a fantasy product.


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