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Happy 200th birthday to Anna Sewell – a real Norfolk legend

PUBLISHED: 06:55 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 06:55 01 April 2020

Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty, one of the best-selling children's books of all time. Picture: Keith Skipper

Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty, one of the best-selling children's books of all time. Picture: Keith Skipper

Archant

A much-loved Norfolk author, who wrote the first book of its kind, would have celebrated her 200th birthday this week.

This rare 1915 edition of Anna Sewells novel Black Beauty was auctioned to raise funds for Redwings Horse Sanctuary. Photo: supplied by RedwingsThis rare 1915 edition of Anna Sewells novel Black Beauty was auctioned to raise funds for Redwings Horse Sanctuary. Photo: supplied by Redwings

And the legacy of Anna Sewell, born in Great Yarmouth, who wrote the novel Black Beauty, continues to live on through the centuries.

The masterpiece, which is still in print, was penned from the writer’s home in Old Catton in the 1870s while she was struggling with ill health.

It is said Ms Sewell, who was bed-bound, dictated the text to her mother and later wrote extracts on pieces of paper which were transcribed, also by her mother.

Written from the first-person perspective of a working horse, the book became an instant best-seller and is now one of the top 10 best-selling novels for children ever written. However, Ms Sewell originally wrote the book for those who worked with horses and said: “[the] special aim was to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.”

The house in Old Catton on Spixworth Road where Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty. edp 06/07/02The house in Old Catton on Spixworth Road where Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty. edp 06/07/02

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The novel was first published by Jarrold and Sons for an outright payment of £40 in November 1877.

But Ms Sewell died of hepatitis or tuberculosis in April 1878 just five months after the book was published – although it is said she lived long enough to enjoy the initial success.

It was Ms Sewell’s only publication and the first English novel to be written from the perspective of a non-human animal. The book has been adapted multiple times into
film and television, including the 1994 film Black Beauty which starred Sean Bean and Andrew Knott.

Mrs Sewell and Anna Sewell, who was born in Great Yarmouth and became a top-selling author. Picture: Archant ArchiveMrs Sewell and Anna Sewell, who was born in Great Yarmouth and became a top-selling author. Picture: Archant Archive

Ms Sewell was born in Church Plain in Great Yarmouth in 1820 to Quaker parents Isaac Sewell, a draper, and Mary Sewell, a writer who had some success as a children’s author.

When she was 13, Ms Sewell slipped and injured her ankles and, for the rest of her life, could not walk easily or stand without crutches. In order to travel she relied frequently on horse-drawn carriages which spurred her
love of horses and animal
welfare.

Ms Sewell was buried on 30 April 1878 in the Quaker burial-ground in Lamas near Aylsham.


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