Time to meet the Hangman….

Although there are some amongst us who find the subject of the death penalty distasteful – equally there are many of us who are morbidly fascinated by it…. I’m sure all of us can name some of the condemned men and women who went to the gallows, especially those from the more notorious and controversial cases….but what of the men who carried out such executions? Who were they, what was it that attracted them to the profession and what qualifications were required to fulfil such a position…?

Hanging as a method of execution in Britain is thought to date from the Anglo-Saxon period; the first recorded official hangman was Thomas de Warblynton, during the 1360s. There was once a time when many ‘perks’ accompanied the job, often a house went with the position – and the hangman may have had other lucrative sidelines attached to his trade. He may have had an agreement with the local surgeon to supply the occasional corpse for ‘medical research’ – or perhaps he would sell pieces of the rope used to hang a well-known notorious criminal as souvenirs…. In the early days he was even entitled to keep any property the convicted person had upon them at the time of execution, including clothing….

Hanging outside Newgate Prison – Public Domain

As time went by and the profession became more regulated, many of the perks disappeared. The post of ‘official’ hangman was not really a recognised position; executions were the responsibility of the under-sheriff of a county and it was he who usually got someone in to do the deed…. A good hangman would be in demand and would travel to wherever he was needed…. The post of hangman was much sought after from the mid 1800s and remained so until the abolishment of capital punishment in 1964. Each vacancy would attract many applications, even including some from women….

To be a hangman a candidate had to be able to work under pressure, have a strong stomach and be psychologically sound. After the application had been received police checks would have been made, not only for the obvious possible criminal record but also into the general background of the applicant. For example – one candidate, Arthur Gill (a butcher from Harrogate) was refused after police checks revealed he was known for his loose morals…. Another, a police officer named Henry Kirk, was passed over because he had a morbid interest in the job….

Once the checks had been carried out an applicant may have been called for an interview at the prison and undergone a medical examination. One of the main qualities sought in a successful candidate was a strong sense of discretion; one such hopeful, a Daniel Clifford from Fulham, showed off his interview letter to the blokes in the pub and got himself black-listed before even making it as far as the interview….

If accepted, the successful applicant would then attend a 6 day training course; initially this week of induction would have taken place at Newgate Prison, London – but after its closure in 1903 the training was conducted at Pentonville Prison. Only at this stage would governors determine whether a candidate was competent enough to be added to the ‘list’ of approved hangmen. In 1938 there were just seven men on the list who were judged “competent to carry out duties”…. Nearly always the men had settled home lives with stable run of the mill jobs; they were usually married, often with children….

Once approved, the hangman had to sign the Official Secrets Act; he had to adhere to a strict code of conduct at all times, discretion being of the utmost importance. He was expected to avoid attracting attention to himself whilst travelling to and from the prison and both the Prison Governor and Medical Officer would have kept a record of his conduct…. Talking in public or speaking to the press would not have been tolerated…. Equally, offering to carry out a specific execution would have resulted in being struck off the list – the potential hangman had to wait to be contacted if his services were required….

1874 Triple Hanging at H.M. Prison Gloucester Paul Townsend brizzle born and bred on Flickr.com

By 1874 executions in Britain were becoming less commonplace and the job of hangman changed from being that of a salaried position to becoming a fee paid per job…. For example, the typical fee in the early 1930s would equate to approximately £100 in today’s terms – one and a half guineas paid at the time of the execution and then a further guinea and a half a fortnight later, once the authorities were satisfied with the conduct of the hangman in the time that followed….

One of Britain’s last executioners was Harry Allen, known as ‘Hangman Harry’, who officiated between 1941 and 1964. He was the chief executioner at 41 executions and acted as assistant at a further 53, including the controversial hanging of Derek Bentley in 1953. Harry applied for employment in the prison service in the 1930s but was rejected – however, he was successful in his application to be added to the Home Office’s list of executioners. He witnessed his first hanging in 1940 (that of William Cooper at Bedford Prison) when he was 29 years of age…. During his role of executioner he pursued a career as a publican, running a couple of pubs during the 1940s and 50s….

Harry performed one of the two final executions in England, that of Gwynne Owen Evans on August 13th 1964, who was hanged at Strangeways Prison (Manchester), for the murder of John Alan West. At the same time the simultaneous hanging of Peter Anthony Allen was taking place at Walton Gaol (Liverpool), performed by Robert Leslie Stewart…. Harry also conducted the last hanging in Scotland, of Henry Burnett at Craiginches Prison and that of Robert McGladdery at Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He always wore a bow tie when performing an execution, as a sign of respect to the person who’s life he was about to take ~ perhaps a respect ingrained into him by his mentor, Tom Pierrepoint, to whom he was assistant to at the beginning of his career….

The Pierrepoint family – probably the most famous of names in the history of British executioners – a dynasty….

Thomas Pierrepoint (left) and nephew, Albert Pierrepoint (right) – 1st January 1947 – Public Domain via Wikipedia
Henry Pierrepoint – photo taken 1909 Source: Daily Mail – Public Domain via Wikimedia

“As long as I can give in the last moments of these people, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done, if I can give them the respect and dignity at the last moment.That’s my job and I can come away satisfied”…. – Albert Pierrepoint

All three men connected to this ‘dynasty’ had a common agenda – pride and the wanting to be humane and respectful. Henry Pierrepoint carried out 105 executions during his time as assistant and then chief executioner; his brother Thomas, succeeding him in his role, performed a further 294. Henry’s son, Albert – born 30th March 1905 – was to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle and was to become recognised by the Home Office as the most efficient executioner in British history. Albert hanged over 400 convicted criminals, possibly even as many as 600…. Among the executions performed by Albert were those of Derek Bentley, Ruth Ellis and also Timothy Evans, who was wrongly hanged for a crime committed by John Christie – who Albert was to later hang…. He also travelled to Germany and Austria some 25 times in order to carry out approximately 200 executions of those convicted of war crimes after WW2….

After his father had retired as executioner the young Albert became close to his Uncle Tom – he was allowed to read the diaries his uncle kept, recording the details of the executions he had carried out. At the age of 11 years Albert wrote an essay for school saying that when he grew up he wanted to become the Official Executioner…. On leaving school Albert became a drayman, delivering for a wholesale grocer. In 1930 he learned to drive, not only a car but a lorry too – enabling him to earn £2 and 5 shillings a week….

On April 19th 1931 Albert wrote to the prison service and offered his services as an assistant executioner to his Uncle Tom; he received a letter back saying there were currently no vacancies. Later that same year the current assistant, Lionel Mann, resigned and Albert was called for an interview at Strangeways Prison. He succeeded in making it to the next stage of the selection process and attended a training course at Pentonville Prison, London; he was added to the list of assistant executioners on the 26th September 1932. Albert was on his way to fulfilling his ambition – something his mother was apparently none too happy about – she did not wish her son to become assistant executioner, she had a stomach full with the past career of her husband….

The first hanging Albert attended was that of Patrick McDermott on the 29th December 1932 – a young farmer who had murdered his brother. The Chief Executioner was his Uncle Tom. Albert’s first execution that he performed himself was that of gangster and nightclub owner Antonio “Babe” Mancini on October 17th 1941 at Pentonville Prison….

On August 29th 1943 Albert married Annie Fletcher; he had continued working at a grocers and Annie ran a sweetshop/tobacconist in the same street…. At some point in their relationship she learned of his ‘other career’ – but she said nothing – waiting for him to tell her in his own time; as always discretion was key…. Albert finally told his wife of his other life at the beginning of 1944. It was during his travels to Germany and Austria that the Press learned of his identity and he became regarded as a bit of a ‘war hero’ – giving the convicted Nazis what they deserved…. It was the rise in income from these extra executions that enabled Albert and Annie to become landlord and lady of a public house near Manchester, aptly named ‘Help the Poor Struggler’….

In 1956 Albert had a dispute with the Home Office over his fees as executioner. In the January he had travelled to Strangeways to perform the execution of Thomas Bancroft. The preparations had been made – but less than 12 hours before the appointed time Bancroft was reprieved. Albert put in a claim for the full fee (£15) – but the Home Office would not pay as the execution had not taken place – a cheque for £4 was offered to cover his expenses. Some say he had actually already made up his mind to resign by this point anyway, as he had received a lucrative offer from a popular weekly publication to reveal his story and the last moments of those convicted criminals he had executed…. The Home Office wrote to him asking him to reconsider his resignation – they were fully aware of his worth…

“A condemned prisoner is entrusted to me, after decisions have been made which I cannot alter. He is a man, she is a woman who, the Church says, still merits some mercy. The supreme mercy I can extend to them is to give them and sustain in them their dignity in dying and in death. The gentleness must remain”…. Albert Pierrepoint

It was at this point I intended to continue with a look at one of the Pierrepoints’ predecessors from the previous century, another well-known hangman in British history – one William Calcraft. However, on reflection Calcraft does not have a place here amongst the ‘gentlemen’ of executioners (if one is permitted to describe them as that)…. The Pierrepoints displayed respect and discretion – Calcraft was obviously cut from a different cloth…. He perhaps deserves a blog post all of his very own – but I may not be quite so respectful due to the way he went about things…. I’m now off to see if I can find out a little more about him….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have found this via Facebook a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….

You may also enjoy Frances Kidder ~ the last British woman to be publicly hanged….


June’s Jewels….

If you are born in the month of June, then you are lucky enough to have not one but three main birthstones….

Perhaps the most well-known is the pearl. Unlike most gems – (which are found within the Earth) – pearls are formed in the shells of oysters, clams or mussels and are organic in origin….

A particle of rock, a grain of sand or a parasite may find its way into the mollusk’s shell…. As it becomes an irritant the creature then encases the foreign body with layer upon layer of the material that forms its shell. This material is actually a relatively soft form of a carbonate mineral called ‘aragonite’ – and when pearls are formed inside the shell they are often very irregular in shape and have little commercial value. The pearls that are sought after are the ones that form within the tissue of the mollusk; these are spherical or teardrop in shape and are perfect for jewellery making…. Today oyster farms produce a steady supply of ‘cultured pearls’….

A newly-opened freshwater oyster, showing the rows of cultured pearls inside. Photographed in Shanghai, China. Author: Istara via Wikimedia Commons

Kokichi Mikimoto was the creator of cultivated pearls and Japan is famous for its cultured pearls; Australia and the Pacific Islands are also well-known for them. Oysters that are two or three years old have an irritant, such as a fragment of mother of pearl, inserted into their fleshy part – they are then submerged into water in mesh bags and fed for up to 7-9 years – then they are harvested for their pearls….

Image: Mikimoto Kokichi inserts nucleus in a pearl shell via Wikimedia Commons (between 1945 & 1954 – Public domain)

Some of the most exquisite pearls are found in Sri Lankan waters and the Persian Gulf; with their soft cream colour they are known as Orientals. Pearls can be found in fresh water too, (known as freshwater pearls), for example – in mussels in the forest streams of Bavaria, Germany and the Mississippi River….

Generally we think of a pearl as being white or a soft cream; however, depending on the environment and the species of mollusk colours can vary – green, lavender, yellow, blue, grey – even black pearls (found in the Gulf of Mexico and the waters of certain Pacific Ocean islands)….

Akoya Pearls black & white. Author Mauro Cateb via Wikimedia Commons

The most beautiful pearl ever (considered by experts) is ‘La Peregrina’ – or ‘The Wanderer’ and was once given by the actor Richard Burton to his wife, Elizabeth Taylor; but the gem has a much longer provenance than that…. Originally it was found in the waters of the Panama by a slave in the 1500s ~ who used it to buy his freedom…. In 1570 the pearl was given to King Phillip II of Spain; the pearl was mounted in platinum, its one and a half-inch length adorned with diamonds. It then came into the hands of England’s Queen Mary I and then into those of Prince Louis Napoleon of France. He sold it to Britain’s Marquis of Abercorn, where it remained in the family until 1969 – when they put it up for sale at Sotheby’s; which is where Richard Burton acquired it….

Queen Mary I wearing ‘La Peregrina” – Public domain

The largest pearl ever is believed to be the ‘Pearl of Asia’, weighing over 5oz and measuring about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide…. The Shah Jahan of India gave it to his favourite wife, ‘Mumtaz” – he must have adored her as it was also she he built the Taj Mahal for….

Pearls were thought to have medicinal properties and were used in Europe until the 1600s to treat various diseases, including insanity. Even today medicine in Asia uses ground-up low-grade pearls….

Pearls are believed to bring longevity, wealth and power…. And – we all know that saying “Pearls of wisdom”…. a biblical term – “that to waste wisdom on fools is like casting pearls before swine”….

The second birthstone associated with June is Alexandrite – an extremely rare gem which is highly desirable. It is named after Czar Alexander II, when he was still Prince Alexander of Russia, as the stone was first discovered in an emerald mine in Russia’s Ural Mountains during 1839 and on the Prince’s birthday….

Alexandrite is unusual in that it changes colour according to the light…. In day light it is green, occasionally with a blue tint. However, in artificial light it becomes violet, or a reddish-purple…. Sri Lanka is the main source of Alexandrite but has also been found in Brazil, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Burma….

Chrysoberyl var. alexandrite under UV light long waves. Image: Geri Parent via flickr.com

Because the gem is only a relatively recent discovery there has been little time for myths and legends to surround it….but in Russia particularly it is believed to being luck….

The third birthstone for June is the Moonstone; so named as silvery rays appear within the gem as it is moved around, resembling moonbeams. ‘Pliny’ – an ancient Roman historian, believed the moonstone changed in colour with the different phases of the Moon; this belief remained widespread amongst people until the 1500s. Ancient Romans also thought the image of the goddess of the Moon, Diana, was captured within the gem….

Credit: Amelia ISA via flickr.com

Moonstones belong to a family of minerals called feldspars – roughly 50% of the Earth’s crust is made up of feldspar. The best moonstones are found in Sri Lanka but they are also found in the Alps, Madagascar, India and Burma. A common variety of the gem is labradorite which is a popular choice for jewellery. Those who wear moonstones are thought to be brought the power of wisdom, victory and health…. In India moonstones are often displayed upon yellow cloth – the colour being sacred…. It is believed a spirit lives within the gem that is meant to bring good fortune….

Frances Kidder ~ the last British woman to be publicly hanged….

On the 29th of May 1868 Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Within Prisons Bill – ending the hanging of convicted criminals in public view…. The last public execution in Britain was that of Michael Barrett at Newgate on the 26th of May 1868.


The previous month saw the last public hanging of a woman, one Frances Kidder, aged 25 years old, at Maidstone Prison on the 2nd of April….

It was a case that divided the British public – the Mayor of Hythe and others petitioned to have her sentence commuted…. Some newspapers reported her story with sympathy – whereas, there were others who saw her as an evil woman who got her just desserts….

Frances was born in 1843 to John Turner, an agricultural labourer and his wife, Frances (nee Drury), in New Romney, Kent. In 1861 the young Frances went to work as a house servant for John English (a bookmaker and newsagent) and his family, in Folkestone. In 1865 she met and married William Kidder, a green grocer….maybe it was a marriage of necessity rather than for love, as Frances had his child before the wedding took place – she gave birth to a daughter, Emma…. William also had two other illegitimate children from a previous relationship (a detail it appears he may have neglected to inform Frances of) with an Eliza Staple, a house servant. Eliza died in 1863; the younger of the two children was sent to live with relatives but the elder sibling, Louisa, aged around 10 went to live with her father and his new wife in Hythe, Kent. By all accounts Louisa was quite a lively child and things were on a rocky footing from the onset of the relationship between the little girl and her step-mother…. Frances was very cruel to the child – she beat her frequently with what ever implement came to hand; she forced her to wear rags, often starved her and even made her sleep in the cellar on a pile of old sacks no matter what the weather…. Children being mistreated in Victorian times was a common occurrence – but in this instance the treatment was so bad that next door neighbour, William Henniker, reported the abuse. As a result the police charged Frances with cruelty and she received a fine. Louisa was sent to live with a guardian – unfortunately her father did not keep up with the maintenance payments for her and the child was returned to William and Frances – and the cruelty began again….

William had a business, dealing in potatoes – Frances helped her husband with his work. In July 1867 there was an accident; a horse bolted and Frances was thrown from a cart….possibly sustaining brain damage. In the words of her husband “she was in a fit for about four hours and she has been strange in the head ever since”….

The following month, on August the 24th Frances went to visit her parents for a few days, in New Romney, taking her own daughter Emma and Louisa with her. It was whilst passing the time of day with her parents’ next door neighbour, a Mrs. Evans, that she apparently revealed how much she detested Louisa and that she had no intention of returning home with her ~ “I mean to get rid of that bitch Kidder’s child. I hate the sight of her as she always making mischief. I do not like other people’s bastards”. Frances often referred to her husband’s daughter as ‘his bastard’….

Postcard map of Kent – image Alwyn Ladell via flickr.com

On the Sunday morning of their visit Frances claimed she was feeling unwell and was not up to the planned walk with her parents…. She told them she would rather stay at home with the children. As soon as her mother and father had departed she suggested to the girls that they visit a fair in nearby New Romney….and so the trio set off – on foot. It was when they came to a point known as Cobb’s Bridge – a passing over a small stream of water – that the event happened. Frances forced Louisa into the water, she held her face downwards, drowning her in less than a foot of water…..

Meanwhile, Frances’ parents had arrived home to an empty house – at the same time William arrived to collect his wife and daughters…. Concerned William and his father-in-law decided to go and look for them. Frances returned whilst they were out and took the opportunity to rush to her room to change her clothes….

Returning to the house William and Frances’ father immediately realised something was wrong and that Louisa was missing. Her father then discovered the wet muddy clothes that Frances had discarded; she refused to say what had happened…. Due to the previous history of cruelty and Frances’ current state of mind her husband and father decided it was necessary to go to the police…. They returned with a Constable Aspinall, who arrested Frances on suspicion of murder….

When questioned Frances claimed Louisa had fallen into the stream after being frightened by some horses near to the bridge. A search was organised – by now it was dark; Constable Aspinall reported: “It was a clear star lit night and we were furnished with lamps. There was a heavy dew on the grass. Someone noticed something white in the ditch. I threw my light in that direction, it was the body. She was lying on her back, her head was under the water”….

Louisa’s body was taken to the ‘Ship Inn’ to await an inquest. Frances was charged with her murder and taken before the magistrates where she was remanded in custody; the following day she was taken to Maidstone Prison. During the journey she suffered several fits and they had to stop at Ashford Police Station until the seizures had subsided….

Once at Maidstone Prison Frances remained on remand for six months; William did not visit his wife at all in that time – rumours began to circulate that he had begun a new relationship – with Frances’ younger sister….

Frances came to trial on the 12th of March 1868; it was presided over by Mr. Justice Byles – and Court appointed barrister, Mr. Channell acted as her defence. The prosecution raised the cases of her former abuse and cruelty towards Louisa and her previous threats to kill the child…. Among the witnesses against were her own mother, father and sisters. Another witness claimed to have heard a muffled sound at the time but was unable to determine whether it was laughing or crying – but it sounded like a child…. The doctor who had examined Louisa’s body confirmed sh had drowned but saw no signs of violence having occurred. The barrister made little reference to the fact Frances had received head injuries during her work accident the month before Louisa’s death – injuries that could have affected her personality. He did however, suggest that the witness statements had been exaggerated….

Frances herself maintained her story that Louisa had fallen into the water throughout the trial…. “Some horses came along and frightened us. We panicked and my little Louisa fell into the river and drowned”….

On summing up Mr. Justice Byles instructed the jury that if they had any misgivings as to the circumstantial evidence provided to them, they must give Frances the benefit of the doubt. The jury had no such doubts – the trial had taken 6 hours – a guilty verdict came back within 12 minutes…. As the death sentence was passed Frances remained calm and was able to walk from the dock unaided….

Frances was returned to Maidstone Prison to await her execution. It was in the condemned cell that she confessed to a Reverend Fraser (who had been teaching her in religion during her time on remand). William visited his wife twice during this period; on both occasions they argued about his relationship with her sister, which he had finally admitted to. She was also visited by her parents and her daughter, Emma. As the day of the execution drew nearer, Frances became more and more hysterical….

On Thursday the 2nd of April 1868, at just before 12 noon, the appointed hangman – William Calcraft – the under sheriff of the county, the prison chaplain and a number of prison officers came to the cell.

William Calcraft

Calcraft pinioned Frances with a strap pinning her arms to her body at elbow level; her hands were tied at the wrists. She was led out across the prison courtyard to the main gate….the doors swung open to reveal the gallows that had been erected just outside – in County Road….


Frances had to be helped up the steps to the platform; she then had to be held on the trap doors by two prison officers whilst Calcraft made the final preparations. The whole time Frances prayed intently – her last words were “Lord Jesus forgive me”…. Calcraft released the trap and Frances dropped approximately 18 inches; she then struggled for 2 or 3 minutes in the agony of strangulation. Only her top half was visible to the well-behaved crowd of some 2,000 people who had gathered to watch – a large number of them women. Frances’ body was left hanging for an hour before being removed and buried in an unmarked prison grave….

There were those in the crowd who came to witness the execution of what was in their eyes an evil stepmother who had murdered an innocent child in cold blood. There were others who thought she had been misrepresented – and the injuries she had sustained in her accident should have been taken into consideration…. Then there were the ones who were angry about the way William had treated his wife – fathering illegitimate children and replacing her with her sister so quickly…. (reports say an effigy of him was burned in Hythe after the execution)…. But for whatever reason they chose to attend all of them must have been united in sadness over the death of little Louisa….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end ~ then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated ~ I’m not trying to sell you anything, I’m just simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….

You may also enjoy The Man they could not hang….

The Cottages of Helen Allingham….

Recently, via my work in the antiques/vintage field I came across a couple of framed prints from the early 1900s, by artist Helen Allingham.

Photograph from “Happy England” published 1903 (public domain)

Helen was undoubtedly one of the finest painters of the Victorian era, well-known for her paintings of cottages; Helen had close links to this area of Surrey and many of the cottages that she painted were local to here….

Helen was born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson on the 26th September 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near to Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire. She was the eldest of seven children; her father, Alexander Henry Paterson was a doctor and her mother, Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a wine merchant. Before Helen reached her first birthday the family moved to Altrincham in Cheshire. Tragedy was to hit the family when Helen was just 13 years old; in May 1862, after treating victims of a diphtheria epidemic her father caught the disease himself and died, along with her 3-year-old sister, Isabel….

Helen’s mother took her young family to Birmingham to live – to be near to family who could help provide for them. From a young age it became obvious that Helen had talent as an artist; her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford and aunt, Laura Herford were both successful artists in their own rights – and so it was only natural that Helen was to be encouraged…. She enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design – and then at the age of 17 achieved a place in the Female School of Art, London…. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy School, where she became influenced by Masters, such as Sir John Everett Millais – co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement….

Having a need to support herself, whilst continuing to study, Helen took on work from engraving companies, sketching figures and scenes.

In 1869 she was commissioned by a magazine to produce a series of full-page illustrations; she also did commissions for other publications and for children’s books…. In 1870 she was employed by The Graphic, a high quality magazine – she was the only woman at the time to be taken on by them – her reputation was gaining and she became more and more in demand…. She finished training at the Academy in 1872, to concentrate on her career producing illustrations – such as those for Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’….

It was around this time that Helen met fellow artist Kate Greenaway, at evening classes and they were to become life-long friends. It was also about this time that she met well-known Anglo-Irish poet and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, William Allingham, 24 years her senior; they were married on 22nd August 1874.


As William was well established, Helen no longer had a need to work; they moved to a house in Trafalgar Square, London and she began to concentrate on painting watercolours, her absolute passion….

Study of flowers…. Public domain – Image: Irina via flickr.com

In 1874 two of her pieces, ‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Wait for Me’, were accepted for an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Both paintings sold and further commission works came in….

In 1875 she became the first woman to be granted full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society; this was also the year her first child was born. Helen and William had three children, Gerald Carlyle in November 1875, Eva Margaret (Evey) in February 1877 and Henry William in 1882….

Having spent happy family holidays in the countryside Helen started to paint rural scenes…. It wasn’t long before the Allinghams decided to relocate to the country and moved to Sandhills, a hamlet close to the village of Witley, in Surrey. It was here that she gained her fame for painting cottages….

The time at Sandhills was a productive, successful period for both Helen and William. He found inspiration for his ‘William Allingham’s Diary 1847-1889’…. A work that reveals much about Victorian literary life…. William had many great writer friends, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson (a life long friend), George Eliot, Thackeray, the philosopher Carlyle and others….all who feature prominently in his writing….

Helen’s own work flourished; her cottages became particularly popular back in London and were much sought after. In 1886 she was invited by the Fine Art Society in London to hold her own exhibition entitled ‘Surrey Cottages’ – she exhibited 62 paintings. The following year another exhibition, this one called ‘In the Country’ saw her display a further 82 paintings….

However, Helen had another reason for painting cottages…. She was an environmentalist – following the same path as the likes of William Morris and John Ruskin…. Old cottages were being destroyed, either literally by demolition or by unsympathetic restoration – as, with the arrival of the railway network, wealthy Londoners were buying up rural properties for weekend retreats – old cottages that had stood for centuries…. Helen’s way of preserving their memory was through her painting, she would endeavour to capture their image before they were destroyed or changed beyond recognition. She paid great attention to detail and portrayed them with intense accuracy…. Occasionally she would add ‘licence’ by reverting modernised features back to the original; maybe reinstating lattice windows or a thatched roof for instance…. In fact, even today, her works are still studied by architects to understand how these old cottages were built….

William and Helen lived a happy life during their time at Sandhills. Witley and the surrounding area had a large, thriving community of artists and like-minded people. Helen’s friend Kate Greenaway lived close by….as did others, such as printer and engraver Edmund Evans, illustrator Randolph Caldecott and watercolourist Myles Birket Foster. The Allinghams knew Gertrude Jekyll, who lived in nearby Busbridge and Helen painted in Jekyll’s garden; one such piece ‘The South Border’ is now displayed in Godalming Museum….

In 1888 William’s health began to fail. Wanting  to be near their London circle of friends – and where their children could obtain the best possible education – they decided to return closer to the city and moved to Hampstead. Helen however, continued with her work recording the timber-framed cottages and their inhabitants, by travelling back to Surrey and Kent by train….

William died in 1889, leaving the family with little money. Once again Helen had to depend upon her skills to support herself – and now her children too…. Her cottage paintings continued to sell well, often fetching a good price. In 1890 she became the first woman to be elected into the Royal Society of Watercolours….

Sometimes she would travel further a field to paint – such as Ireland, France and Venice.

Once a year she would exhibit in London, her cottages ever gaining in popularity…. A collaboration with Marcus B. Huish on a book, ‘Happy England’, published in 1903 about English country life, featured some 80 of her colourplates. A further book in 1905 with her brother, Arthur Paterson, ‘The Homes of Tennyson’ saw another 20 plates and Stewart Dick’s ‘The Cottage Homes of England’ published in 1909 featured 64 more…. Whilst Helen was never particularly wealthy, she and her children lived comfortably….

The Homes of Tennyson…. Image: emmeffe6 via flickr.com

It was during a visit to a friend in Haslemere that Helen was taken ill; she died on 28th September 1926, two days after her 78th birthday…. An incredibly talented lady – (once remarked upon by Vincent Van Gogh whilst he studied English illustrated journals) – who lived an extraordinary life…. I, for one, am delighted that I came across those prints from 1903….needless to say I have decided to keep them rather than sell them on and I’d love to add to them to make a collection….

As I have gathered together the images for this blog I have been looking closely to see if this old place could possibly be the subject of one of Helen’s paintings…. However, I suspect it would be highly unlikely, as fortunately over the centuries little has really been done to completely change its original appearance…. Who knows, when Helen Allingham was painting her cottages, this one may even still have had its thatched roof…. Sadly it no longer has – but it did have one once – I’d love to have seen it then….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you have found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX…. (Below are some more images of Helen’s paintings for you to enjoy)….

Our very own Saint George….

I have always assumed a country’s patron saint would be native to that land – or at the very least would have spent part of their life living there…. However, this is not necessarily true; indeed our very own Saint George never even set foot on English soil…. In fact, I say ‘our own’ – but to be correct it has to be pointed out that we actually share him with many other countries, cities and organisations…. George is also patron saint of lands and places such as Beirut, Malta, Portugal, Ethiopia, Georgia, Catalonia, Serbia, Lithuania, Venice, Palestine and the City of Moscow. He is the patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry….farmers, riders and more recently scouts. He is believed to help those suffering from plague, leprosy and syphilis….

Carlo Crivelli : Saint George – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It is thought George was born in Cappadocia – (now part of modern-day Turkey) – around 280 AD, in to a wealthy Christian family. His father was a soldier and it was after his death that George’s mother moved the family back to her native Palestine…. George grew up and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier, serving as an officer in the Guard of Roman Emperor Diocletian….

In 303 AD Diocletian ordered the systematic persecution of Christians; George refused to take part and also refused to renounce his own Christianity…. Some believe that initially Diocletian tried to persuade George to convert by offering him land and wealth – when this method failed he gave orders for George to be tortured. It is said he was forced to swallow poison, was crushed between spiked wheels and boiled in molten lead…. each time his wounds healed overnight – the work of God…. George was told if he offered a sacrifice to the Roman gods his life would be spared. A crowd gathered to witness him doing so – but in front of all the onlookers he prayed to the Lord instead…. A great flash of fire came from Heaven, an earthquake shook the ground, buildings and temples collapsed…. The sign was taken that God wished George to die for his faith….and so he was beheaded at Lydda, Palestine on 23rd April 303 AD; he died the death of a Christian martyr. Some say Diocletian’s own wife was so impressed by the resolve of George that she converted to Christianity….only to be beheaded herself….

Saint George of Lydda Image credit: Roman Zacharij via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain CC BY-SA 3.0.

Upon canonising St. George in 494 AD Pope Gelasius I apparently remarked of him…. “Whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are only known to God”….

The earliest known reference to St. George was the account by St. Adamnan, Abbott of Iona in the 7th Century. He had heard the story from a French bishop who had travelled to Jerusalem. It was during the Crusades of the 10th and 11th Centuries that returning soldiers brought back with them stories they had learned from the Eastern Orthodox Church – and so St. George’s reputation grew…. But it wasn’t until 1483 that the tale became really well-known, when Caxton printed it in a book called The Golden Legend – a translation of French bishop Jacques de Voragine’s work, telling of the lives of saints….

Stories during the Middle Ages centred very much around the beliefs of the time – tales were embroidered with myth – such as the legend of Saint George and the Dragon….

Saint George Slaying the Dragon. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France. Public domain CC-BY-2.0.

A city in Libya, possibly Silene, had on its outskirts a small lake, inhabited by a plague infected dragon…. The creature was terrorising the city, killing many of the people…. To try to keep the dragon appeased the city dwellers began to feed it with two sheep a day….but it wasn’t long before the supply of livestock ran dry. The King devised a lottery scheme so that local children were chosen and fed to the dragon…..then one day his own daughter’s name was drawn…. At first the King tried to bargain for her life – but the people were having none of it as so many of their own children had already been sacrificed…. It was as she was being led to the lake that George rode by and encountered the fair maiden and he enquired as to what was happening. The maiden begged him to carry on his way as the dragon would surely kill him too…. As they talked the creature suddenly came charging towards them; George leapt upon his horse and drew his sword and smote a cross into the dragon’s flesh – he then speared the beast and threw it to the ground…. He told the maiden to take her garter and fasten it around the creature’s neck and when she had done so it became meek and followed her back to the city…. At first the people panicked but George told them not to be afraid; he promised that if they were to believe in God and become baptised he would slay the dragon. The King was first to do so, followed by all his people….George killed the dragon; it was then dragged from the city to the fields, needing four ox carts in order to do so…. The King built a church at the site where the creature was slain and a fountain sprang up – giving healing water for those who were sick….


The earliest church known in England to be dedicated to St. George is in Fordington, Dorset….and in 1222 the Council of Oxford named April 23rd as St. George’s Day…. But it was King Edward III who really set the ball rolling on the path to him becoming our patron saint….

When in 1327 Edward III came to the throne, after the disastrous reign of his father, he needed to make England strong and powerful once again; with his bravery, honour and gallantry St. George was an ideal image to portray this…. Around 1348 Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, our system of knighthoods and honours; he made it under the patronage of St. George…. Since the 14th Century St. George has been seen as a ‘Protector of the English’; he became adopted by us as one of our own…. Soldiers once wore white tunics with the Red Cross of St. George on the front and back….the flag became incorporated in the Union Jack….



In 1415 Henry V gave a speech at the Battle of Agincourt, citing St. George as England’s patron saint. As a result Archbishop Chicele raised the importance of the saint’s feast day – thus making April 23rd officially St. George’s Day….

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor (the venue of a certain soon upcoming Royal wedding) built by Edward IV and Henry VII as Chapel of the Order has its official badge showing St. George slaying the dragon…. The George Cross inaugurated by King George VI in 1940 and given for acts of heroism and courage in circumstances of extreme danger (mainly to civilians) also has a dragon slaying George depicted upon it….



Although not a national holiday there will be those in England who will be flying the flag of St. George this coming April the 23rd…. As a nation we don’t go overboard with the celebrations on our patron saint’s day….some may choose to wear blue as this was rumoured to be St. George’s favourite colour – or maybe a red rose, which is associated with his death…. Some towns and cities, such as Manchester, have a St. George’s Day festival – but for the rest of us, if we are so inclined, we may enjoy a spot of Shakespeare, sing Jerusalem, partake in a little Morris dancing or eat a hearty traditional English meal, such as a roast dinner, bangers & mash or fish & chips….



Whatever you get up to on Saint George’s Day….have fun….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers’ page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….