Helen Allingham, (1848-1926) the well-known artist of pretty cottages was born on the 26th September 1848 at Swadlincote, Derbyshire. She and her husband, William Allingham, moved to live at Sandhills, near Witley in June 1881. They remained here until 1887. William, an Irish poet, wrote a diary, William Allingham’s Diary 1847-1889, which included their time in their house also called Sandhills.
On 11th May 1882 their third and youngest child, Henry William, was born at Sandhills. Her only known self-portrait was painted in 1885, and she painted her children, Eva and Henry William at Sandhills.
While in Witley Helen and her husband, William, socialised locally with Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet, and his son Hallam. They were friendly with the Tennysons, and her paintings of his houses were published in Houses of Tennyson. They met Myles Birket Foster (the artist and painter,), Sir Robert Hunter (one of the founders of the National Trust), Randolph Caldecott (the artist and illustrator), Edmund Evans (the engraver and printer), Miss Kate Greenaway (the book illustrator), Alfred Russell Wallace (the naturalist and evolutionist), Mr Ramsden of Busbridge Hall and the Huxleys (Leonard and Julia) of Charterhouse. They knew Gertrude Jekyll and visited her garden, studio, and forge. Helen painted the south border of Jekyll’s garden, the south border, which is on view in Godalming Museum.
William Allingham in his diary wrote that on the 3 September 1886 they came to Godalming with their three children and saw the Wild Beast Show. ‘There were camels on grass, lions, an African elephant, and monkeys. To see the Irish giant and the Missing Link one paid 2d extra’.
In 1886 she held her own exhibition at the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street on ‘Surrey Cottages’, with 62 paintings, which was very successful. The following year her exhibition ‘In the Country’ had 82 paintings. Many old cottages were painted before they were demolished or altered. She painted Oakhurst Cottage, Hambledon, which is now owned by the National Trust.
Helen died in 1926.
The Helen Allingham Society was formed in 2000 devoted to the appreciation of the life and works of one of the finest watercolour artists of Victorian times.
Godalming Museum owns this painting by Helen Allingham of Gertrude Jekyll's border at Munstead Wood
Godalming Museum © 2009