Revealed: The groundbreaking name of a new college in York

24 Jan 2021 @ 5.58 pm
| Changing city

A new college in York is to be named after Anne Lister, the Yorkshire business woman, landowner and diarist often described as “the first modern lesbian.”

Anne Lister College is the first of the University of York’s colleges to be named after a woman, and also the first to be named for someone who was part of the LGBTQ community.

It is part of the university’s Campus East development

Matt Rogan and Dan Loyd, the York University LGBTQ officers, welcomed the news.

“We both advocated for this, and are thrilled that the university has taken a step forward for diversity and inclusivity by naming Anne Lister College after a well-known LGBTQ+ figure with ties to the city,” they said.

Inspired TV series

Suranne Jones films Gentleman Jack in York. Photograph: Jtu_photography

The college is expected to have over 300 rooms available to postgraduate and continuing undergraduate students, as part of the university’s 1,480 room Campus East redevelopment, with the remaining rooms available in September 2022.

Lister’s diaries, written in code, detailed her romantic and sexual relationships with women, and were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2011, with the organisation recognising her “comprehensive and painfully honest account of lesbian life.”

Her diaries later inspired the 2019 BBC series Gentleman Jack. Starring Suranne Jones as Lister, scenes from the series have been filmed in York.

In 1834, Lister took communion with Ann Walker at the Holy Trinity Church in York in a marriage ceremony (without legal recognition). A mocking advert in the Leeds Mercury announced the marriage of “Captain Tom Lister … to Miss Ann Walker.”

Biographer Helena Whitbread described the church as “an icon for what is being interpreted as the site of the first lesbian marriage to be held in Britain,” and Lister was recognised there in 2019 with the UK’s first ever rainbow-bordered blue plaque.

Matt Ward-Perkins story originally appeared in the University of York student newspaper York Vision