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Visiting the Anna Sewell House, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England: remembering Black Beauty and the author of the novel
A book and the Nonconformist roots of its ethical and humane sense
This house, formerly a museum and now a theme restaurant, is the birthplace of the celebrated author of the novel Black Beauty , known to generations of young people and to horse-lovers throughout the English-speaking world.
The timbered frontage of this small house in Great Yarmouth, is a familiar sight, situated as it is close to the parish church of St Nicholas (1). The house dates from 1620, and among its features for which it is noted is a tiny staircase.
It is interesting that in the lifetime of Anna Sewell (1820-1878), it was her mother, Mary Wright Sewell (1797-1884)(2), who was far more well-known as a writer than her now illustrious daughter. Anna and her mother came from a Quaker background, in common with many prominent East Anglian families who were Nonconformists. (Anna Sewell and her mother did, however, later join the Church of England.) While much contemporary animal rights discourse is informed by a vigorous secularism, the strong, ethical sense of Anna Sewell's famous novel cannot be separated from the writer's Nonconformist church background.
Following an injury sustained in her youth, Anna Sewell was strongly reliant on horse-drawn transport for movement. This evoked in her a love of horses and a sympathetic interest in their welfare.
Between 1871 and 1877, Anna Sewell worked on her manuscript of her only published work. With Anna in declining health, her beloved mother assisted her daughter in preparing the novel for publication. Jarrold of Norwich issued the book in November of 1877 and the writer saw that it was quickly becoming popular. Five months after the work's publication, however, while living at Old Catton, Norfolk, Anna Sewell succumbed to longstanding health difficulties. The writer thus predeceased her then famous mother by several years.
What is now known as Great Yarmouth's Anna Sewell House would in her lifetime have been more likely known as the house where writer Mrs. Mary Wright Sewell used to live: such are the changing perception of local and literary history.
The Anna Sewell House is located at 26, Church Plain, Great Yarmouth.
(1) With the Anna Sewell House in Church Plain being so close to the parish church of St Nicholas, it might have been assumed that this church played a preponderant rôle in Anna Sewell's ethical formation as a child. This, however, appears not to have been the case.
(2) Mary Wright Sewell wrote works and poetry which were popular with young people, including 'Mother's last words'. It may be thought that, in writing Black Beauty , Anna Sewell was seeking to emulate her mother in the genre of young people's writing; this, however, if at all true, is only partly the case, since it was Anna longstanding love of horses which proved to be the spur for her writing.
Also worth seeing
In Great Yarmouth itself, the church of St Nicholas is a fine, Medieval parish church, of enormous proportions. The Britannia Monument commemorates Admiral Lord Nelson. The North-West tower, overlooking the Bure River, is a survivor of the former Medieval town walls. Nearby Burgh Castle dates from Roman times.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Great Yarmouth is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. The town is 265 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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