Helen Allingham ever-popular watercolours of cottages, whether they were found in Surrey, Berkshire, Kent, Middlesex or the Isle of Wight. She and her husband, the poet William Allingham, moved to the hamlet of Sandhills. The area provided her with abundant subject matter, and her cottage scenes were particularly in demand. In 1886 an exhibition of them, entitled Surrey Cottages, was held at he Fine Art Society, and another, In the Country, followed in 1887. Both were sell-outs.
It is often said that Allingham paints an idealised picture of country life, that the cottages cannot always have been embowered in lupins and clematis, or inhabited by sweet-faced girls with nothing to do all day but play with the kitten or admire the latest brood of chicks. It is true that the reality was often much harsher and less picturesque, but Allingham's paintings, though undoubtedly idealised, were not merely escapist. They have an underlying seriousness of purpose in that she was attempting to record a way of life and a type of vernacular architecture that were disappearing even as she painted. As William Allingham wrote in the catalogue of her 1886 exhibition, 'in the short time, to be counted by months, since these drawings were made, no few of the Surrey cottages which they represent have been thoroughly "done up", and some of them swept away'. Seen in this light, Allingham's cottage paintings may be seen as part of the current movement to protect the countryside and the architectural heritage, movement epitomised by the foundations of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 and of the National Trust in 1895. Many of those most closely involved with these developments, including Ruskin, William Morris, Tennyson, Carlyle, Octavia Hill and Gertrude Jekyll, were either known personally to Helen Allingham or belonged to her extended circle.