On this day in history : 30th March 1820 – The birth of English novelist Anna Sewell, who brought to us the story of the horse called ‘Black Beauty’….

Anna Sewell c.1878 – Public domain

Anna was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk…. Her father, Isaac Phillip Sewell, owned a small shop and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, was a successful writer of books for children…. She had a younger brother, Philip and they were educated at home by their mother…. They were a devout Quaker family….

In 1822 Isaac’s shop went out of business and the Sewells moved to Dalton, London…. The family relocated again in 1832 to Stoke Newington – and for the first time in her twelve years Anna went to school…. It was two years later, as she was walking home in the rain, that she slipped and fell…. She injured her ankles so severely that she had to use a crutch for the rest of her life and was unable to walk any great distance…. She took to using horse-drawn carriages for her mobility and this is perhaps where her love of horses came from…. She was particularly concerned for their welfare and whether they were treated well….

In 1836 the family moved again, this time to Brighton with the hope that the climate and sea air would help Anna’s health and then in 1845 they settled in the village of Lancing…. Anna also travelled to Europe around this time to visit spas for treatments…. On her return the family were on the move again, to Wick in 1858 and Bath in 1864…. The family had grown, Philip had married but in 1866 his wife died – leaving him with seven young children to care for…. Anna and her parents returned to Norfolk, to the village of Old Catton, near to Norwich, so that they could help him…. It was here that ‘Black Beauty’ was written….

Anna Sewell’s house in Old Catton – Northmetpit – own work – Public domain

Anna wrote ‘Black Beauty’ between 1871 and 1877, it was to be her only book…. During these years she was often too weak to even leave her bed, she would often dictate her words to her mother…. Once complete ‘Black Beauty’ was sold to local publishers Jerrold & Sons…. The book broke all records for sales – it was the first of its kind, telling a story from the perspective of an animal rather than human….

‘Black Beauty’ tells the story of a black horse from his days as a colt with his mother, through his hard, cruel life of pulling cabs in London, to his retirement in the countryside…. The story deals with the difficulties in Victorian London, particularly amongst the horse-drawn cab drivers and the welfare of their animals…. It is a story of happiness, sadness, joy, fear and pain…. It brought awareness to its readers as to how many of the horses were treated…. Within two years a million copies of ‘Black Beauty’ had even been sold in the United States – where sympathy for these working horses grew….

Back in the United Kingdom animal rights activists widely distributed copies of the book…. It caused outrage amongst the public, many had been unaware of the amount of cruelty these animals had to endure…. Eventually legislation condemning the abusive behaviour was brought in….

On the 25th of April 1878, just five months after the publication of ‘Black Beauty’, Anna died – either of tuberculosis or possibly hepatitis…. She was buried in the Quaker burial ground in Lamas, near to Buxton, Norfolk….

First edition Jarrold & Sons – Public domain

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