Horse sanctuary takes on ‘Black Beauty’ pilgrimage site

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Sewell House has been a Listed Grade II building since 1953.
Sewell House has been a Listed Grade II building since 1953. © Colin Smith / Great Yarmouth – Anna Sewell

The birthplace of Black Beauty author Anna Sewell is to go into the care of Britain’s largest horse sanctuary, Redwings.

Sewell House in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is owned by a Redwings supporter and horse owner who approached Redwings about occupying the property.

It has been in the ownership of its current owners for several decades, after the owner’s mother convinced her husband to buy the house to protect it, when a fan of Anna Sewell had proposed to dismantle it and relocate it to the US.

The Grade II listed building, at 26 Church Plain, was preserved and has become a place of pilgrimage for Black Beauty fans.

It was originally a 16th or 17th-century timber framed house, later plastered, part bricked, and then restored in 1932. Restored again in 1976, nothing of the exterior is now original, according to Heritage Norfolk, although it does have a timber frame visible on the interior. The window on the brick ground floor is genuine late 16th century. In recent years, it has been used as a tea shop.

Gemma Walpole, Executive Director for Income and Engagement at Redwings, said it was important to the owner that the property be used in a way that’s a fitting legacy to Anna Sewell and her work to improve horse welfare.

“So it makes perfect sense for it to be a showcase for the work Redwings does today. We could not be more honoured to be able to look after this important building and use it to showcase Anna’s story and share how our work addresses the horse welfare challenges of today.”

A plate from an early edition of Black Beauty, by illustrator Cecil Aldin.
Black Beauty with his mother. From an early edition of Black Beauty, by illustrator Cecil Aldin.

One of the most successful novels of all time, more than 50 million copies of Black Beauty have been sold worldwide. It was one of the first books to use an animal as a narrator, and is considered one of the top 10 best selling novels for children, although the author intended the work for an adult audience and those who worked with horses.

“Anna didn’t write the novel for children. She said that her purpose was to ‘induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses’.” Walpole said.

Black Beauty was the only book that Anna Sewell published. She died only five months after the novel was released in 1877, and never witnessed its enormous success or the influence it had on changes to horse welfare in Victorian Britain.

Sewell sold the novel to Norwich publisher Jarrolds on November 24, 1877, when she was 57 years old. She received a single payment of £40 (£3456 or $US4630 in 2017) and the book was published the same year.

After the publication of 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, of hepatitis or tuberculosis. She was buried at the Quaker burial ground in Lamas near Buxton, Norfolk, not far from Norwich.

A plate from an early edition of Black Beauty, by illustrator Cecil Aldin.
A plate from an early edition of Black Beauty, by illustrator Cecil Aldin.

Redwings is holding an official opening on Friday, August 26, and Sewell House will be open to the public on days to be confirmed. It will be staffed by Redwings employees and volunteers.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary was established in 1984 and is currently responsible for more than 2000 rescued horses, ponies, donkeys and mules across Britain.

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