Other real people in Anne's world
"If you asked me to marry you. Again. I wouldn't say no"

Real people in Anne's world


This page is dedicated to some of Anne's lovers, friends and acquaintances that we don't meet in GJ.

The Belcombes

The Belcombes were an important part of Anne's social - and love - life. Dr William Belcombe was a wealthy York doctor. In 1832 six of his children were living: Henry Stephens ("Steph"), Anne ("Nantz"), Henrietta ("Harriet") , Louisa ("Lou"), Eliza ("Eli") and Mariana. Anne was romantically involved with four, maybe all, of the sisters.

We meet Mariana and her brother Dr Belcombe in GJ and here.

The Belcombes knew the Lawtons (including Mariana's husband Charles) from at least 1812. The Lawtons and the Belcombes are mentioned repeatedly in the diaries of the Caldwell family (jjhc.info), who lived at Linley Wood, near Lawton. Anne Caldwell (1791-1874) first mentions Dr Belcombe in this July 1812 entry: "Mr and Mrs Lawton called with Dr Belcombe for the first time". We know from Anne's diaries that Steph Belcombe was living in Newcastle-Under-Lyme (only 8 miles from Lawton) at the time of Mariana's marriage (1816); in 1812, having just been awarded his medical degree from Edinburgh University, Steph Belcombe would have been 22. As no Mrs Belcombe is mentioned, Ι think that the Caldwell's guest is likely to have been Steph, rather than his father. 'Mrs Lawton' may have been Charles Lawton's first wife or the wife of his younger brother John.[1]

Ι find the "...called with Dr Belcombe for the first time" entry most interesting: "for the first time" suggests either a retrospective comment (how would she know he would become a regular visitor?), or that Dr Belcombe was of particular interest. Could it be that Steph Belcombe was courting 21-year-old Anne Caldwell?

In September 1812 there is a very intriguing entry: "ME. L. and Ι called upon Miss Belcombe at Lawton Hall". Could this 'Miss Belcombe' be Mariana? Then there is another entry that confuses the issue: "2nd August 1813, Monday: The Lawtons, Dr Belcombe and Miss Tomison Belcombe called". Who's this 'Miss Tomison Belcombe'?[2] Then more Misses Belcombe appear: "14th August 1813, Saturday: Mrs [Lawton?], Miss Belcombes, Dr B came to dinner".

The Belcombes knew the Lawtons through Charles' first wife, Ann Featherstonhaugh, whose mother[3] was a native of Scarborough. She returned there with her children, George and Ann Featherstonhaugh, after the death of her husband in 1780. In a document[4] about George Featherstonhaugh the authors mention that Dr Belcombe senior[5] was a neighbour[6] and that the "Belcombe girls" had grown up with George and Ann Featherstonhaugh. It's looking likely that the Misses Belcombe were visiting their old friend at Lawton Hall.

Anne Caldwell's family also knew the Wedgewood (of pottery fame) & Darwin families, and Caldwell diary entries put Belcombes and Wedgewoods together - it's likely that the Belcombes would have also met some members of the Darwin family (although Charles Darwin wasn't born until 1809 so would have only been seven at the time of Mariana's marriage).

Anne Caldwell is also mentioned in Anne's diaries; a letter from Mariana mentions her marriage to Arthur Marsh: "...called for 5 minutes at Horley Green to tell Miss Ralph[7] that her friend Miss Ann Caldwell of Linley Wood near Newcastle Staffordshire was married on Wednesday last to a Mr Marsh a banker in London" (2-Aug-1817).

Mariana married Charles Lawton on 9 March 1816; a month later she, her sister and Anne are dining with the Caldwells: Wednesday 10th April 1816: "At home. Mrs C. Lawton, Miss Belcombe, Miss Lister, Mr Bent and John Bent dined". 'Mrs C. Lawton' is, of course, Mariana; 'Miss Belcombe' is almost certainly Mariana's oldest sister Anne - she (Anne "Nantz" Belcombe) and Anne (Lister) accompanied Mariana and Charles on their extended honeymoon. Anne had just started, or was about to start, an affair with Nantz, and was furious with Mariana for marrying Charles... Ι wonder what the dinner-table atmosphere was like that evening.

Dr William Belcombe

Born 1757.
He was married to Mariana (d. 30 July 1842). They lived in York and Scarborough.
William Belcombe died in 1828 and is buried in the same Scarborough churchyard (St. Mary's) as Anne Brontë.

Anne Belcombe

Born Sarah Anne Sherson Belcombe in 1785, in Scarborough. She was known as "Nantz".

Anne seduced, and then dropped, Nantz not long after after Mariana's marriage: "had a very good kiss last night. Anne gave it me with pleasure not thinking it necessary to pretend to refuse any longer" (11-Nov-1816). There are some diary transcripts from the period here.

A few years later, in 1820 at a house party at Langton Hall, Anne flirts with Nantz again: "...staid two hours. At first rather lover-like reminding her of former days. Ι believe Ι could have her again... she let me kiss her breasts..." (5-Dec-1820).

Nantz never married and died on 8 October 1847, at "The Grove", Church Lawton. Harriet is also recorded (in 1851) as living at "Grove".

Henrietta Milne née Belcombe

Born Henrietta Willan Belcombe in Germany in 1787, she married army officer Alexander Milne on 21 September 1808 at St. Michael Le Belfrey, York (where Mariana married Charles Lawton). Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Milne died of fever in Demerara, South America on 5 November 1827.

She had at least one child, William Alexander Milne, who pre-deceased her in 1834: there is a plaque in St. Michael Le Belfrey dedicated to William and his grandmother, Mrs Mariana Belcombe. The diaries also mention a "Hamlyn Milne", who Ι believe to be another son, Constantine Hamlyn Milne, who was born in 1816 and followed his father into the army.

Known as "Harriet", Anne refers to her as "Mrs M-" in the diaries. In 1825 there was some sort of intrigue between Anne and Harriet. From a letter from Harriet copied into the diary: "you dwell in my heart and in my head"; Anne adds: "full of Mrs M's letter - Ι must not get into any scrape with her" (31-Dec-1825). The following day Anne writes in plain hand: "from 8 ½ to 10 ¼ writing to Mrs M- musing whether to disguise my hand or not...", and then in code, quoting from the letter she eventually sends: "what have you done to me Harriet? For Ι know not - cannot tell - but Ι am wretched... Ι dare not see you again" (1-Jan-1826). Two days later Anne is fantasising about Mrs M-: "fancying Ι had a penis and was intriguing with her in the downstairs water closet... to which she would have made no objection. Ι will never forget her way of saying just before we parted 'you have me'" (3-Jan-1826).

Harriet and Nantz probably lived together, near Mariana, in Church Lawton until their deaths.

Harriet died on 1 January 1860 at The Limes, Church Lawton and was buried at All Saints Churchyard, Church Lawton - to be followed by Mariana eight years later.

Eliza Miller née Belcombe

Born Eliza Hibbert Belcombe in 1793, she was known as "Eli".
On 10 December 1829 she married Rev Michael Hodsall Miller at St. Michael Le Belfrey, York.
Eli died on 23 September 1869 aet. 76 and was buried at St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard, London[8]. Her husband joined her there the following year.

Louisa Belcombe

Born Louisa Meynell Travis Belcombe in 1796, she was known as "Lou".

In her PhD thesis[9] Catherine Euler classifies Anne's relationship with Lou as "genital sexual contact" (but no diary reference); in a rather rambling coded entry after describing a day's shopping in London with Mariana and Lou, Anne relates the following as part of a conversation on marriage with Sibella Maclean: "...told her Ι had six offers in the course of my life. In my mind [I] meant from Anne Belcombe and Louisa and Miss Vallance Mrs Barlo[w] and Madame de Rosny" (1-Apr-1829). In 1825 Anne had this conversation with Lou: "Perhaps Ι should fall in love with Lou. Ι never felt anything more like it. 'Why should you not?' Ι said 'What engaged to one sister and in love with another? 'Yes' said Lou 'with two of her sisters' alluding to Mrs M" (28-Dec-1825). Obviously something was happening between them.

In 1832 after the Vere Hobart episode in Hastings ("Ι have been an Icarus"), and just before GJ takes up the story, Anne was considering engaging Lou as a "dame de compagnie" or "lady companion". A dame de compagnie was not a servant but also not quite a social equal; it was a paid position. This no doubt would have been difficult for all parties, especially when considering Anne and Lou's romantic past. Lou was apparently for it - she was 36, unmarried, and possibly in love with Anne - but the idea was abandoned.

Lou died unmarried on 11 January 1871, aet. 75 at number 66 "Finchley New-road"[10] (Finchley Road?), Hampstead. Shortly before her death she was placed at 7 Belsize Park: Mariana's address at the time of her (Mariana's) death.


The Norcliffes

The Norcliffes were an aristocratic East Ridingnow N. Yorkshire family - directly descended from William the Conqueror. In 1807 Isabella's father, Colonel Thomas Dalton, changed the family name to his grandmother Frances Wray's maiden name when he inherited Langton Hall. All of his children had already been christened "Norcliffe Dalton", so they all became "Norcliffe Norcliffe". This lack of planning meant that Isabella's eldest brother Norcliffe Dalton became Norcliffe Norcliffe. The Norcliffes lived at Langton Hall, near Malton in Yorkshire; Anne was a regular visitor there. According to the Halifax Courier the Norcliffes were originally from Southowram, less than two miles from Shibden.

Thomas Dalton (1756-1820) married Ann(e) Wilson (1762-1835) in 1784; Ann's dowry was £8,400 - they were very rich, even before inheriting Langton. They had eight children: three boys and five girls. Two of the boys (William and Thomas) died before reaching adulthood. One daughter, Mary Anne, died in infancy and the youngest, Emily, died in 1817, aged 18. Mrs Norcliffe was a friend of Anne's; she and all three surviving sisters are mentioned in the diaries. (Anne also mentions Emily's death.)

Isabella Norcliffe

Born Isabella Norcliffe Dalton on on 9 November 1785, she was one of Anne's lovers (see here).

Isabella died on 11 May 1846, and is buried with her mother and sister Charlotte at St Nicholas' Church in West Tanfield, North Yorkshire. The memorial plaque gives her age at death as 61; if Anne is correct about Tib's birth date she would in fact have been 60.

Charlotte Norcliffe

Born Charlotte Norcliffe Dalton on 14 September 1788.
It seems from the diaries that Charlotte was aware of Anne's relationships with her sister and Mariana.
Isabella and Charlotte bought Number 9 Petergate, York together in 1837, and the "Misses Norcliffe" are recorded living there in 1838[11] and 1840.[12]
Charlotte died unmarried in London on 10 January 1844, aet. 55, and is buried with her parents and Isabella at St Nicholas' Church.

Mary Best née Dalton

Born Mary Norcliffe Dalton on 1 February 1790, she married Dr Charles Best (1779-1817) in 1807 when she was just 17. Best was - like William Belcombe - a York physician specialising in mental illness. In 1813 he was physician to the York Asylum[13] when a new board of governors was appointed: they soon found that "instances of financial and physical abuse dated back years".[14] On the 28th of December a fire destroyed part of the asylum, killing several inmates. Arson was suspected, but not proved. All of the staff were dismissed and Best resigned.
In September of the same year Best had published a letter attacking Dr Belcombe and the humane methods he employed at The Retreat, another institution which had been established after a previous scandal at the York Asylum. Ι think we can be sure that the doctors Best and Belcombe were not on friendly terms.

The Norcliffe and Belcombe girls, however, certainly were friends. Both families had houses in Petergate and Anne records get-togethers both in York and at Langton Hall. Mary Best had been widowed by the end of 1817 and was often present at these predominantly female gatherings.

The Bests lived at Lop Lane (now Duncombe Place)[15] York, and had two daughters: Rosamond (1808-1881) and Mary Ellen (1809-1891) - who became a successful artist.[16] There is a blue plaque dedicated to her at 14 Clifton, York.

Mary Best died on 17 March 1837 aet. 47, and was buried in the chancel of St Andrew's Church, Langton.


The Atkinsons

Ann's aunt Elisabeth was married to Law Atkinson - making him Ann's uncle. We don't meet the Atkinsons in GJ, but one of Law & Elisabeth's sons - probably Edwards - is the "cousin Atkinson" who (in episode 2) wants to borrow money from Ann, and gets "a well-worded letter" instead.

The Atkinsons were an influential family from the Kirkheaton area of Huddersfield, although they originated from Sowerby Bridge just ouside Halifax.

Elisabeth Atkinson née Edwards

Born in 1764 (or possibly 1767), she was the youngest child of John and Elizabeth Edwards - Ann's maternal grandparents.

Elisabeth was the "Mrs Atkinson" of the diaries; her death in Huddersfield on 1 March 1834 happened while Anne & Ann were in York cementing their union, and is mentioned in the diaries.

She married Law Atkinson in 1795; they had five children:
Edwards (1797-1861) - married Ann Clark in 1854[17]; buried in Singleton, Lancashire
Charles (1799-1857) - emigrated to Argentina some time before 1833; married Inocencia García in Buenos Aires in 1852; buried there at the Victoria Cemetery
Elizabeth (1800-1875) - died unmarried in London - possibly at Clyde villa?
Charlotte (1803-1862) - died unmarried at Clyde villa, St. John's Wood and buried in Highgate cemetery
Lucy (1805-1889) - also died unmarried at Clyde villa

Ι think that Elizabeth, Charlotte & Lucy were the "Miss Atkinsons" of the diaries.

Law Atkinson

Born in 1759 the eldest son of Joseph Atkinson (d.1807) and Ann Law.

Law first married his cousin Susannah Atkinson (1768-1794), before marrying Elisabeth a year after Susannah's death.

Law's neice, Emmeline Ramsden, married David Gladstones who was the uncle of William Gladstone (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom).

He died in Huddersfield in 1835, just one year after Elizabeth.

Thomas Atkinson

Law's youngest brother was born in 1779. Although not mentioned in the diaries, he was a mill owner famous for his part in actions against the Luddites, and was their next target after William Horsfall - whose 1812 murder featured in Charlotte Brontë's Shirley. A letter from the Luddites stated "those who are among our greatest persecutors, Mr Horsfall and Mr Atkinson will soon be numbered among the dead".

In 1818 a fire at Thomas Atkinson's Colne Bridge mill killed 17 of the girls working there. The mother of two of the victims claimed that she witnessed "Mr Atkinson, the owner, upbraiding the foreman in the mill yard on the morning after the fire, for trying to save the bales of cotton rather than the mill hands."


Footnotes: 
[1] Charles had two living brothers in 1812: William, who never married, and John, who married Elizabeth Carter (1791-1868) in 1812(?) or 1815(?).
[2] 'Tomison' is an unusual surname, virtually unknown as a given name, and Ι can't find any trace of a Tomison Belcombe. Ι suspect that this is a mis-transcription.
[3] Dorothy Simpson Featherstonhaugh.
[4] George William Featherstonhaugh The First U.S. Government Geologist, by Edmund Berkeley & Dorothy Smith Berkeley.
[5] Not a historical document, but The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (film) suggests that Charles Lawton was an "old friend" of Dr Belcombe senior.
[6] The Scarborogh Guide, 5th edition (1817): "We are particularly obliged to Dr, Belcombe, lately resident physician at Scarborough... Dr. Belcombe has since removed to York."
[7] Probably Sophia Ralph (1784-1861).
[8] The churchyard website records her name as 'Eliza Stibert Miller'.
[9] Moving Between Worlds: Gender, Class, Politics, Sexuality and Women's Networks in the Diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire, 1830-1840
[10] London Gazette, 10 February 1871.
[11] Letters on Paraguay, by J.P. and W.P. Robertson, List of subscribers.
[12] White's History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire, 1840.
[13] The York Asylum is now Bootham Park Hospital, which still includes a unit for those detained under the Mental Health Act.
[14] Bedlam: London's Hospital for the Mad, by Paul Chambers (2009).
[15] The houses on Lop Lane were demolished to create Duncombe Place in the 1860s.
[16] The World of Mary Ellen Best, by Caroline Davidson (1985).
[17] Their only daughter (b.1856, Singleton) was named Ann Elizabeth Innocencia, presumably after Edwards' sister-in-law.
Page updated 23-Aug-2020