Helen Allingham 1848-1926

Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson was born in Swadlincote, a village in Derbyshire, England. She was the oldest of the seven children of Alexander Paterson, a rural physician, and Mary Chance Herford, daughter of a wine merchant.

After the death of her father during a local diphtheria epidemic, the family moved to Birmingham, where, at the age of seventeen, Helen secured a place in the Royal Female School of Art in London. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy School.

She began working as a commercial artist, and her commissions included providing the illustrations for Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd".

Helen's work now began to bring her into contact with many of London's most prominent writers and artists. Her path crossed with that of William Allingham, renowned Irish poet and editor of Fraser's magazine. They married on August 22nd 1874.

Twenty-four years older than Helen, William Allingham was a well-established figure in London's Victorian literary circle, and close friends with Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. While living in London, the Allinghams had three children. In 1881 they moved to a small village, Sandhills, in Surrey, and it was here that Helen developed her fame for painting cottages.

This was not out of a sense of sentimentality, however, but, with the onward march of industrialisation in England, railways were cutting through the countryside, and 100-year-old thatched cottages were rapidly being modernised or demolished. To this day, her works are consulted by architects to better understand the construction techniques of a lost time. The roofing tile manufacturing firm, Marleys, have a large collection of Helen's original works, due to the close detail she pays to the portrayal of tiled roofs in her watercolours.

The Allinghams returned to London in 1888, as William's health was declining; after William's death in 1889, Helen and her young family were dependent on her painting skills. In 1890, she was the first woman elected to the Royal Society of Watercolours. She also illustrated several books of her husband's poetry. Helen continued to paint and exhibit her work up until her sudden death in 1926.

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