Anna Sewell is one of our highly esteemed ‘Norfolk literary heroes’. She was the author of Black Beauty which went on to sell 50 million copies to date, all over the world. Her novel also had a huge influence on horse welfare and paved the way for many reforms in the subsequent years.
Image: an illustration by Cecil Aldin, from Black Beauty.
Image: an illustration by Cecil Aldin, from Black Beauty
Though she was born in Great Yarmouth in 1820, her family moved to London whilst Anna and her brother were still young. Anna injured her ankle when she was 4 years old and suffered with pain and impaired mobility for the rest of her life, having to use a crutch to help her walk. She also often used horse-drawn carriages, which may have contributed to her great love of horses.
When Anna was in her late 40's the family moved back to Norfolk, settling in Norwich, where Anna wrote Black Beauty. It’s thought that Dudwick Farm in Buxton, where their grandparents lived and where Anna first learned to ride, inspired Birtwick Park in the novel. Anna wanted to draw attention to the horrible way horses were treated in the 19th century, and some of the particularly cruel practices. After Black Beauty was published there were welfare reforms for horses both in the UK and the US, and one practice which was highlighted in the book - using the ‘bearing reign’ to keep the horse’s head upright – fell out of fashion after the book became more popular.
Black Beauty, which was first published by Jarrold & Sons in 1877, has sold 50 million copies worldwide to date, but sadly Anna died in 1878, shortly after Black Beauty was published, so she never got to see how popular and effective the novel became.
2017 is the 140th anniversary of the publication of Black Beauty, and there’s plenty going on around the city to celebrate! If you head down to The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell this summer you can see their exhibition of fantastic Cecil Aldin watercolours; Aldin illustrated the 1912 edition of Black Beauty, so this is a great chance to find out more about not only the novel but also about Anna Sewell, Jarrolds as the publisher, and Cecil’s paintings. The paintings can only be on display for short periods at a time, to protect the vibrant colours of the work. Cecil Alden: The Art of Black Beauty opens on 25 July and runs until 25 November 2017.
Image: The Black Beauty cocktail at The Library Restaurant
The Library Restaurant and The Birdcage are also getting into the spirit of celebration by creating special edition Black Beauty cocktails! You can try The Library’s ‘Black Beauty’ cocktail, with a blend of Dark Rum, Galliano, Brown Creme de Cacao and iced coffee, all served in an Irish Coffee glass. Sewell ’77, the cocktail which The Birdcage has created, is a mix of Bacardi white rum, Kahlua, Martini Rosso and lemon juice over ice, topped up with coke and decorated with some edible rose petals!
However you celebrate Anna’s legacy here in Norfolk – whether it’s through the exhibition which deserves your unbridled (sorry!) enthusiasm to spur of the moment (sorry again!) cocktails, you’re bound to have a great time. It certainly won’t be lame… (right, we’re off).
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