Who was Susan Horner?

A child using a quill pen in the School Room at the Apprentice House, Quarry Bank Mill

Susan Horner was a Scottish nineteenth-century writer and translator who published works on history, architecture, art, and the politics of Italy.

Early life

Horner was born in 1816 to Leonard and Anne Horner. As the daughter of Leonard, an eminent geologist and social reformer, she received a liberal education. Her parents encouraged scholarship for their daughters and all five of Susan’s sisters published books or translations of German or Italian texts.

Abroad in Europe

Like many educated upper-class ladies in the nineteenth century, Susan travelled abroad to Europe and settled in Florence for an extended stay in 1861- 62. 

The Horner family’s interest in the political unification of Italy allowed Susan to meet many of the most prominent Florentines and other Italians of the era, and she was well connected to both political and literary circles in Italy. While in Italy, she kept detailed diaries of her travels and even wrote about her experience of being shipwrecked off the Italian coast.

For the love of Italy

Horner was an academic at heart and, though she came from a respected British family, she never married. Although women were not typically encouraged to pursue higher education at this time, Susan received a first-rate education of art history by studying works of the Italian Renaissance located in the Uffizi and throughout Florence.

Together with her sister Joanna, Susan wrote the guidebook Walks in Florence to cater to the already well-established tourism industry on the Continent.

Academic, author, activist

Horner was a scholar and author in her own right, but she also offers a different perspective on women’s lives in the Victorian era. Like Susan, many nineteenth century women travelled far and frequently, contributing to the development of tourism, museum collections, literature and academic scholarship.

Exterior view of Quarry Bank Mill

Quarry Bank  

Susan's father, Leonard Horner, was an educational reformer and factory inspector at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. Some minimal education was provided for the children who worked for Samuel Greg at Quarry Bank, but Leonard advocated for better education and working conditions in the mill and other factories. It is thanks to Leonard and his dedication to learning that Susan received the kind of education she needed to write her academic guidebook to Florence.