Black Beauty author Anna Sewell letters discovered

Anna Sewell collection of letters The rare collection of letters includes those written by her mother, father and aunt to Anna Sewell
Anna Sewell collection of letters There are few letters in existence with Anna Sewell's signature
Anna Sewell collection of letters The poem Anna was working on was about the death of her brother's child

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A rare collection of letters, signed by Black Beauty author Anna Sewell between 1820 and 1860, has been brought back to her home county of Norfolk.

Local historian Glynn Burrows snapped up the letters, described by Norfolk archivist Frank Meeres as "valuable" in terms of social history.

Mr Burrows said there are seven letters written by the author and a working manuscript of a poem.

Anna Sewell finished her only novel in 1877 and died five months later.

Family letters

Mr Meeres, from the Norfolk Record Office, said to find letters from Anna Sewell was "quite uncommon".

He said: "I'm sure they are valuable in terms of cash and they are valuable in terms of what they would tell us about life in Victorian England.

"They'd certainly be something we'd like to show to the public."

Mr Burrows, who found the letters on an internet auction site, said there was one letter signed "your loving sister Anna Sewell" and several signed "Nannie", her family's pet name for her.

Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell
  • Anna Sewell was born to a Quaker family in Great Yarmouth in March 1820
  • When she was about 14 she sprained her ankle which was then treated badly
  • As she couldn't walk properly, Anna relied on horses
  • She began to write Black Beauty when she moved to Old Catton in 1871
  • Black Beauty was published by Jarrolds in 1877
  • Anna died five months after its publication
  • The book went on to become a huge success, being distributed by animal rights campaigners as well as bookshops

Sources: Dr Adrienne Gavin and Puffin Books

Other documents in the collection include letters relating to her brother Philip, and from her mother, Mary, father Isaac and aunt Emma to Anna Sewell.

"The interesting ones are the family ones," said Mr Burrows.

'For instance, when her brother lost one of his children, Anna wrote a poem all about his little girl who died, and there's actually a working copy of this poem... where she's crossed words out and changed the wording."

Anna Sewell's biographer, Dr Adrienne Gavin said the find was exciting.

"It's a rare find," she said.

"There are not many letters in her own hand that exist and they'll shed more light on the woman who wrote Black Beauty and who was active in charity work among the poor.

"She wrote Black Beauty on her death bed in her mid 50s, and died five months after it was published."

For Mr Burrows, who hopes the letters will eventually be housed in the Norfolk Record Office, the collection brought back memories of his childhood.

"When I was little my dad always used to read me and my sister a couple of pages from this great big copy of Black Beauty before we went to bed," he said.

"So [the find] took me back to those days in the '60s."

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