Mention the Norwich pub, the Jolly Butchers, to most people of a certain age and they’ll shiver. After the tremors die away, the words, just the two, will be exhaled, ‘Black Anna’. This dynamo has a plaque on the street where her pub used to exist in praise of her – the site has been converted to offices. But for years she dominated her territory and affected the lives of so many.
Black Anna was special
Named ‘Black Anna’ possibly as a result of her habitual style of dressing – always black, or even her magical and strong personality – Black Anna was a force to be reckoned with.
Antoinette Cararra, Anna’s birth name, was born in Norwich in 1905 to a family of Italians who had walked from Medina to the UK. Her mother, Elisabetta, hired piano organs from Norwich’s Newman’s Yard and was known as ‘queen of the organs’, and this may well have given rise to Anna’s love of music. After a career in ballroom dancing, Anna married Kenneth Hannent and the two of them took over Ber Street’s Jolly Butchers pub in 1935. The pub also contained a dosshouse, or lodging house, for rough sleepers and those who habitually drank too much. Anna maintained this up until her death in 1976.
A friend to GIs
During the second world war the Jolly Butchers gained a reputation as a cheap place to stay amongst the American servicemen. Anna had a very strong voice and soon learnt many of the blues and jazz songs imported by the airmen and the legend of her live performances was born. Sophie Tucker, one of Anna’s favourite singers, was a great inspiration.
Kenneth died not long after the war and Anna took over the pub licence on her own. Not only did she delight the patrons of the Jolly Butchers with her music, but she also went on tour and performed at festivals with some of the greats, including Mick Mulligan, Chris Barber, and the pianist Derek Warne from the Ted Heath band. She hated microphones and when singing in the pub she felt that her voice was strong enough to be heard without amplification.
When asked what she thought about the English jazz scene musicians, Anna responded by saying: “they’re good but too perfect – no feeling, they don’t miss a note, they’re dead from the neck up.” As the clips in that conversation show, Anna never held back.
With a reputation for speaking her mind, Anna was also known for her kindness. One of the dosshouse inhabitants was in tears when she died as he’d lived there since the end of the war and Anna had always looked after him and his colleagues.
Her sense of humour was quirky: a mannequin’s head and some plastic joints of meat adorned the ceiling of the pub. When the smoke in the bar became overwhelming, Anna simply removed the doors to allow the fresh air from the outside to waft through the pub.
A unique personality
Anna was a truly unique personality, and those who heard her perform were enthralled. As Nic Granda Barton, former owner of the Take 5 bar (now Louis Marchesi) explained:
“I was at the Jolly Butchers for a workmate’s stag do in 1971. The place was packed but it seemed that she sang to me alone. Afterwards I learnt that my mates felt the same. She had the uncanny skill of making everyone feel special.”
Anna ran the pub successfully on her own for over 30 years, creating a warm and invigorating space for all. The pub played a key role in the thriving Norwich music scene and many local musicians received their first opportunity at performing by accompanying Anna at the Jolly Butchers.
A lifelong teetotaller, she was kind to those with a drink problem. She was renowned for speaking her mind. Some might call her a maverick, but she was simply a very strong and wonderful woman.