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Obituary: Norwich writer Ann Farrant leaves behind a legacy in the arts

PUBLISHED: 14:41 21 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:47 25 November 2019

Ann Farrant with her biography of Amelia Opie, on Opie Street, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams

Ann Farrant with her biography of Amelia Opie, on Opie Street, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2014

Writer, fundraiser and campaigner Ann Farrant helped foster a better understanding of a fascinating woman from Norwich's history

The double portrait of Amelia Opie, painted by her husband John Opie. Ann Farrant organised an appeal so that the Castle could buy the picture for the people of Norfolk.

Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceThe double portrait of Amelia Opie, painted by her husband John Opie. Ann Farrant organised an appeal so that the Castle could buy the picture for the people of Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Writer Ann Farrant has died. Ann, who wrote an acclaimed biography of fellow Norwich author and campaigner Amelia Opie, also spearheaded two fundraising campaigns to secure important pieces of art for Norwich Castle museum, worked as a journalist and was the mother of five daughters.

Ann, who celebrated her 80th birthday earlier this year, grew up in Cringleford as Ann French and began work at Eastern Counties Newspapers, now Archant, when she was just 18.

"She tried to join at 16 and the editor told her to go back to school to get her A levels!" explained Ann's youngest daughter, Katy Webb.

She went on to work as a producer for the BBC. In her 60s she was accepted on to one of the University of East Anglia's writing courses. She achieved an MA in life writing in 2002, winning the first Lorna Sage memorial prize for her dissertation on Norwich writer and anti-slavery and anti-poverty campaigner Amelia Opie, which she later turned into the book, Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity.

Her expertise in the life of Amelia Opie led to two successful fund-raising campaigns to buy a sculpture of Amelia for Norwich Castle and then a £10,500 double portrait of Amelia by her artist husband John Opie. She also gave a series of popular talks and guided walks focussed on Amelia for successive annual Heritage Open Day events. She was proud of her own Norfolk heritage and keenly interested in local and family history.

She continued writing articles for the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News throughout her life. "She had ambitions to go to Fleet Street, but got married and had babies instead," said Katy. "She loved being a mum but she loved writing too. In those days you had to leave your job, but she carried on writing as a freelance. She was one of four women who called themselves Quartet and wrote about family life - I suppose it was a forerunner of the mum blog."

It was a family tragedy inspired that Ann's first book. Her oldest daughter, Rosamund, was just three years old when she died of complications after measles. Devastated, Ann, who was pregnant with the third of her five daughters at the time, began a lifetime of fundraising for children's charities.

She set up the Norwich branch of the Children's Research Fund to finance research into childhood diseases, became a founder member of Cruse Bereavement Care in Norwich, and was a lifelong campaigner for Unicef. "She wanted to stop other parents having to go through what she went through. She was a great believer in vaccinations and I think that is why she chose to raise money for Unicef," said Katy.

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Ann travelled to the Philippines to see some of the charity's work first-hand, and returned to Norfolk to write and talk about the experience.

She was also aware of the impact their sister's death had on her other daughters, Lulu, Charlotte, Emma and Katy, and her carefully researched book Sibling Bereavement: Helping Children Cope with Loss is packed with case studies and expert suggestions for families facing their own tragedies.

As well as her books and journalism, Ann helped launch a newspaper, Encore, for Norwich Theatre Royal in 1973 and was on the original steering committee for Norwich Puppet Theatre, which opened in 1980.

In her spare time Ann enjoyed gardening, travelling, theatre and opera, and spending time with her five grandchildren. Katy said she was remarkably fit and active until she was diagnosed with bowel cancer this summer. Around the same time she also had to cope with the tragic loss of another of her beloved daughters, when Emma lost her battle with an auto-immune illness and died, aged 50, after an unsuccessful liver transplant.

Even while convalescing after an operation this autumn Ann was still filling notebooks with ideas for newspaper articles and researching the life of John Opie, with a view to writing his biography. "She had an adventurous spirit," said Katy.

Sadly she was too ill to attend a ceremony this autumn to hang the portrait of Amelia Opie which she helped secure for Norwich Castle , but Francesca Vanke, a senior curator of fine art for Norfolk Museums Service, said: "Ann Farrant was a great expert on the subject of Amelia Opie, and was instrumental in enabling Norfolk Museums Service to acquire in 2008 a marble portrait bust of this important local and national figure, and earlier in 2019 a superb double portrait of Amelia, painted by her husband, well-known contemporary artist John Opie. Ann helped us immeasurably with this acquisition, and raised considerable funds towards it, motivated by her belief that this artwork should be on public display in Norwich, the city of Amelia Opie's birth. The portrait will be a lasting memorial to Ann's enthusiasm and generous support, as well as her scholarly expertise."

Ann's funeral will be held at Earlham Crematorium on Monday December 2 at 12.30pm. Family flowers only but donations in her memory can be given at the service or directly to Unicef.

Amelia Opie was born in Norwich in 1769 and died in the city in 1853. For many years she lived at the top of the lane between Castle Meadow and London Street, which is now named after her. She was a poet, best-selling novelist and a committed and effective campaigner for the underprivileged and against slavery.

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