Anna Sewell

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Anna Sewell
Anna Sewell, c. 1878
Anna Sewell, c. 1878
Born(1820-03-30)30 March 1820
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England[1]
Died25 April 1878(1878-04-25) (aged 58)[1]
Old Catton, Norfolk, England[1]
Resting placeQuaker burial ground, Lammas
Period19th century
GenreChildren's literature
ParentsMary Wright Sewell
Isaac Phillip Sewell

Anna Sewell (/ˈsjəl/;[2] 30 March 1820 – 25 April 1878)[1] was an English novelist who wrote the 1877 novel Black Beauty, her only published work. It is considered one of the top ten best-selling novels for children, although the author intended it for adults.[3] Sewell died only five months after the publication of Black Beauty, but long enough to see her only novel become a success.


Early life[edit]

Sewell was born on March 30, 1820, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, into a devout Quaker family.[4] Her father was Isaac Phillip Sewell (1793–1879), and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell (1798–1884), was a successful author of children's books. She had one sibling, a younger brother named Philip. The children were largely educated at home by their mother due to a lack of money for schooling.[5]

In 1822, Isaac's business, a small shop, failed and the family moved to Dalston, London.[5] Life was difficult for the family, and Isaac and Mary frequently sent Philip and Anna to stay with Mary's parents in Buxton, Norfolk.[6]

In 1832, when she was twelve, the family moved to Stoke Newington and Sewell attended school for the first time.[7] At fourteen, Sewell slipped and severely injured her ankles.[8] For the rest of her life, she could not stand without a crutch or walk for any length of time. For greater mobility, she frequently used horse-drawn carriages, which contributed to her love of horses and concern for the humane treatment of animals.[4]

Adult life[edit]

In 1836, Sewell's father took a job in Brighton, in the hope that the climate there would help cure her. At about the same time, both Sewell and her mother left the Society of Friends to join the Church of England,[5] though both remained active in evangelical circles. Her mother expressed her religious faith most noticeably by authoring a series of evangelical children's books, which Sewell helped to edit, though all the Sewells, and Mary Sewell's family, the Wrights, engaged in many other good works. Sewell assisted her mother, for example, to establish a working men's club, and worked with her on temperance and abolitionist campaigns.[5]

In 1845, the family moved to Lancing, and Sewell's health began to deteriorate. She travelled to Europe the following year to seek treatment. On her return, the family continued to relocate – to Abson near Wick in 1858 and to Bath in 1864.[5]

In 1866, Sewell's brother Philip's wife died, leaving him with seven young children to care for, and the following year the Sewells moved to Old Catton, a village outside the city of Norwich in Norfolk, to support him.[6]

Black Beauty[edit]

While living in Old Catton, Sewell wrote the manuscript of Black Beauty – in the period between 1871 and 1877.[5] During this time her health was declining; she was often so weak that she was confined to her bed. Writing was a challenge. She dictated the text to her mother and from 1876 began to write on slips of paper which her mother then transcribed.[3][5]

The book is considered to be one of the first English novels to be written from the perspective of a non-human animal, in this case a horse. Although it is considered a children's classic, Sewell originally wrote it for those who worked with horses. She said "a special aim was to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses".[9] In many respects the book can be read as a guide to horse husbandry, stable management and humane training practices for colts.[5] It is considered to have had an effect on reducing cruelty to horses; for example, the use of bearing reins, which are particularly painful for a horse, was one of the practices highlighted in the novel. In the years after the book's publication, they eventually fell out of favour.[4][5]

Sewell sold the novel to Norwich publisher Jarrolds on 24 November 1877, when she was 57 years old.[5] She received a single payment of £40 (£3,456 or US$4,630 in 2017) and the book was published the same year.[6]


After the publication of her only novel, Black Beauty, Sewell fell seriously ill. She was in extreme pain and completely bedridden for the following months, and she died on April 25, 1878, aged 58 of hepatitis or tuberculosis, only five months after the publication of Black Beauty.[10] She was buried on 30 April 1878 at Quaker burial ground in Lamas near Buxton, Norfolk, not far from Norwich.[4][11]

Memorials and monuments[edit]

Anna Sewell's home in Old Catton

Sewell's birthplace in Church Plain, Great Yarmouth has been the home to a museum and a tea shop and is leased by Redwings Horse Sanctuary.[12][13][14] The house in Old Catton where she wrote Black Beauty is known as Anna Sewell House.[6]

There is an Anna Sewell memorial fountain and horse trough outside the public library in Ansonia, Connecticut, in the United States of America. It was donated by Caroline Phelps Stokes, a philanthropist known for her work supporting animal welfare, in 1892.[15]

A memorial fountain to Sewell is located at the junction of Constitution Hill and St. Clement's Hill in Norwich, which also marks the entrance to Sewell Park.[4] The fountain was placed in 1917 by Sewell's niece Ada Sewell.[6]

On 1 September 1984, the graveyard at Lamas was bulldozed by contractors under the direction of Mrs Wendy Forsey without prior warning or permission. Tombstones, graves and cypress trees were removed and dumped at the edge of the burial ground. The act was condemned by locals and Council Chairman John Perkins, who said: "I know the land belongs to a private person but I would almost say it was as bad as vandalism. I know Quaker ground is not consecrated, but for anybody to just pull down gravestones of any Quaker, whether it's Anna Sewell or not, well, I think it's despicable". The gravestones of Anna, her parents and maternal grandparents were subsequently placed in a flint-and-brick wall outside the old Lammas Quaker meeting house.[16][17]

In 2020, a street in Chichester, West Sussex, was named in Sewell's honour on the Keepers Green estate.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The Oxford guide to British women writers by Joanne Shattock. p. 385, Oxford University Press. (1993) ISBN 0-19-214176-7
  2. ^ "Sewell, Anna". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b "Dark Horse: A Life of Anna Sewell – Adrienne E. Gavin". Archived from the original on 23 April 2017. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Cameron. "Anna Sewell". Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Guest, Kristen (2011). Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions: the Autobiography of a Horse. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-3382-0.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Anna Sewell, Black Beauty and Old Catton" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  7. ^ The maker of the omnibus by Jack Hodges. p. 85. Sinclair-Stevenson (1992) ISBN 1-85619-211-3.
  8. ^ "Anna Sewell". Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  9. ^ Victorian fiction and the cult of the horse by Gina M. Dorré. p. 95. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. (2006). ISBN 0-7546-5515-6.
  10. ^ Dark Horse: The Life of Anna Sewell by Adrienne E. Gavin. p. 165. Sutton Publishing (2004). ISBN 0-7509-2838-7.
  11. ^ "Anna Sewell Memorial". Archived from the original on 22 April 2017. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  12. ^ Plumtree, Leanne (21 July 2022). "Redwings takes on historic Anna Sewell House". Redwings Horse Sanctuary and Equine Veterinary Centre. Retrieved 21 July 2022.
  13. ^ Tea shop info Retrieved 10 May 2014
  14. ^ The literary guide and companion to Middle England by Robert M. Cooper. p. 306. Ohio University Press. (1993) ISBN 0-8214-1032-6.
  15. ^ "Sewell Memorial Fountain, AnsoniaCT | CT". Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  16. ^ Dark Horse, A Life of Anna Sewell, by Adrienne E. Gavin, p. 219-220
  17. ^ "Contractors bulldoze author's grave". Chicago Daily Tribune. 6 September 1984. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Minutes of the Planning and Conservation Committee" (PDF). Chichester City Council. 17 October 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 May 2021. Retrieved 4 May 2020.

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